Meaning Business
by Stevan Alburty

From The Net
October 1996

1996 by Stevan Alburty
    All rights reserved.




A friend of mine clips humorous or inspirational homilies from the newspaper and tapes them to her refrigerator to the point where the poor appliance looks positively bandaged. One of my favorites is:

Perhaps your sole purpose in life is
merely to serve as a warning to others.

I can't help but thinking that this aphorism functions as valid a reason as any for the existence of some corporate web sites.

Every marketing director in America right now is suffering from a severe case of web envy. They're all rushing to build sites for their company, if for no other reason than everybody else is doing it. Our mothers all cautioned us about such logic as it pertained to jumping off bridges; her words seem just as wise when it comes to stepping out into the center lane of electronic highways.

"The Internet is kind of like a gold rush," says Bill Gates, a man who would like to see every miner out there using one of his picks. "Fortunately, this is a gold rush where there really is gold." That's all the encouragement Corporate America needed to hitch up the team, throw the chillun on the back of the buckboard and head for the Klondike.

The GTE Business Web Site Directory (, which would like to be known as the authoritative Internet directory of corporate URLs, brags of the existence of over 60,000 business web sites on the Internet. Many are well-designed and offer consumers, if not value, then at least diversion. But many corporate sites seem hardly worth the effort it took to code them. Take, for example, Kinney Shoes. (

Kinney has been selling shoes since 1894. The years have not been kind. It's stores have that dowdy, strip-mall ambiance which makes them look like the type of place June Cleaver would take Wally and Beaver to shop for school shoes. The web site, all things considered, is an accurate reflection of that brand image.

"Check out our styles!" a hypertext link invites. A click reveals nothing more than a collage of a few black and white bit-mapped logos.

"Check out our holiday savings!" another banner beckons. (Holiday? I first visited this site on April 24th, too late for Easter and too early for Labor Day. April 24th happens to be Barbra Streisand's birthday, an event I, for one, always celebrate by buying new shoes, so perhaps that's the occasion they wished to honor.)

The "holiday savings" hotlink does not lead to any information on savings at all, but to a cheerless little form asking rather presumptuously for the user's name and address. If we will just give them this information, the page promises, we will be eligible for future contests. However, we've just missed, they're sorry to say, the big $15,000 sweepstakes. (The site has not been updated in over six months, so repeat visitors to the site have perpetually just missed that $15,000 sweepstakes. It's as if Samuel Beckett was designing web sites.)

The entire site consists of perhaps five pages which serve no purpose other than to enable someone at Kinney to say they have a website and are therefore, as Eddie Haskel might have bragged, "hep."

Marketing directors who are worrying if they should have a site on the Internet should start by asking themselves some serious questions:

- Who should your site be talking to? Customers? Franchisees? Vendors? Employees? (If you are building the site to impress the CEO, stop now.)

- What is the strategic intent of this site? You may not use the word "cool" in your answer. We've all been "cooled" to death. Getting a user to visit your site once is easy -- just be "cool" like the other 100 sites being launched today. If you want them to come back a second time, you'd better give them something of real value which tangibly impacts their lives for the better.

- Will anybody really care about this content? Yes, we know, you love your web site -- you're paid to. But does the content really lift your audience's Levis? Remember, corporate web sites are like your children. They're precious darlings to you, but everybody else out there may not be so enthralled with the wittle tykes.

- What do you want to be when you grow up? What are your company's business goals and how can the web site assist in meeting those objectives? (Web designers: the next time you meet with a corporate customer, start the meeting by asking to see the company's business plan. If they don't have one, make them articulate one. It does wonders for creating an authentic strategy for their website.)

The web is like any travel destination -- you should have a clear idea of why you're going there in the first place.

The Internet is not a mountain. Don't climb it just because it's there.