INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: A marriage made in cyberspace

Companies are using CD-ROMs to get around the frustrating slowness of the Internet by guiding users straight to their Web sites, writes Karen Dempsey

Companies are using CD-ROMs to get around the frustrating slowness of

the Internet by guiding users straight to their Web sites, writes Karen

Dempsey



Using the Internet is like driving a Formula 1 car through a London

street in the rush hour,’ says Ted Evans, a partner in Crosswater, an

Anglo-American joint venture in interactive media.



Evans highlights one of the frustrations of the Net, that Web sites are

becoming more sophisticated but the capacity of the system to handle the

information is inadequate. Complicated graphics slow the system down and

users get fed up waiting for the information to download onto their

screens. For an advertiser, this could mean lost customers.



Until the phone lines can be replaced with fibre optic cables a solution

is being developed which involves marrying the storage capacity of the

CD-ROM with the real-time immediacy of the Net.



Complex data and graphics that usually take ages to download from the

Net can be stored on a CD-ROM and then loaded onto a computer at speed.

The CD then automatically dials the specially prepared Web site via its

built-in ‘hot link’, so users don’t have to waste time browsing.



They can instantly interact with the Net to update whatever they are

seeing on the CD with the latest on-line information. A company’s

catalogue on the CD, for example, can be instantly updated with current

prices or special offers.



‘The CD-ROM acts as a stylish marketing piece for the product, and can

therefore be used as a promotional tool that will become current and

updatable at a moment’s notice,’ says Paul Easty, head of client

services at Crosswater, a partnership between London-based Clearwater

and EPG Multimedia in Seattle.



Easty proposes using the CD-ROM as part of the marketing mix, perhaps

via direct mail, with the use of the hot link as a clever way for

advertisers to get customers to visit their Web site.



‘The first wave of promotional activity is when the CD-ROM pops through

your front door and you go and take a look out of curiosity. If it

didn’t pop through your door, would you go and visit the Web site? The

CD-ROM is a building strategy that gives a potential customer a variety

of ways to talk to you,’ says Easty.



Industry experts agree that this is one way forward for Web-related

marketing programmes.



Alex Letts, chairman of the SMI Group, an advertising agency

specialising in new technology, says: ‘It is the best way of getting

your information on to people’s desktops, and a way of enabling the

buyer and seller to interact, rather than just the one-way flow of

information.’



It is the two-way flow of information that is vital to the system’s

success, according to Rory Sutherland, Ogilvy & Mather Direct’s head of

copy. ‘The transactional element in getting feedback from the user is

critical because it prevents the CD from becoming a glorified brochure,’

says Sutherland.



‘It is not just ‘I shout, they hopefully listen’ but a reiterative

process that should benefit both parties; the advertiser knows what

interests the consumer, and the user only accesses the information that

interests him,’ he says.



He suggests that user behaviour should be logged and profiled so that

marketers can understand exactly who they are targeting and how they

should tailor their product or mailing next time.



This kind of activity is the closest you can get to true one-to-one

marketing. ‘Even though the Internet is only available to a small number

of people, direct marketers cannot ignore it because every market is a

niche market of one,’ says Sutherland.



The first companies to pick up on this system as a marketing tool were

in the information technology industry.



Microsoft is using the hot link as an additional feature on the CD-ROM

for its Encarta product, its on-line encyclopedia.The company also used

CD-ROMs to launch the on-line service Microsoft Network. The CDs were

distributed as cover mounts on a computer magazine to target non-

Internet users. The CD gave a demonstration of the network and offered

users the opportunity to sign up on-line.



‘We use CD-ROM as another element in the marketing mix because it is the

best way to demonstrate the product, and gives us the opportunity to

cross-promote,’ says Richard Hudson, account director for Microsoft at

Evans Hunt Scott.



US software company Salsa did a similar promotion. It mailed one million

CD-ROMs to prospective clients to promote its database program for

computers. The CD demonstrated the product and gave the user the chance

to buy it and load it on to the computer instantly. Salsa sold 30,000

software packages in three months.



The IT industry may have been the first to catch on, but the hot link

could be used in a wide variety of marketing situations, for companies

ranging from car manufacturers to insurance firms, charities and even

media owners.



For example, the Washington Post distributed CD-ROMs which included a

hot link to its Times Square Web site, which offers information on new

films in the form of billboards.



According to experts, this use of CDs is only the first step for a

technology that is constantly developing. The storage capacity of CD-

ROMs is likely to increase and will eventually be overtaken by more

sophisticated and speedy technology.



Sutherland says: ‘The CD-ROM survives because of the Internet’s present

shortcomings. As the network develops, the need for CD-ROMs will

decline. In the meantime, we have to target carefully or we run the risk

of the audience getting over-CD-ROMmed.’



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