A website is an incredibly powerful tool. It represents a 24/7 advertising platform for most types of organisations, and for exporters it has the added benefit of providing your firm with instant global reach. A website also has the potential to inform, build communities of interest, promote your business, provide in-depth product information, generate sales, bring attention to current or upcoming ‘happenings’, news or events (e.g. changes in pricing or the introduction of a new product), provide customer support, engender customer service, proactively answer questions customers may have, and much more. The web is also a multimedia environment thereby enhancing the impact of the message you want to carry across to your customer. It is also an interactive medium enabling you to encourage a two-way conversation with your customers. It is immediate, meaning that as soon as you have uploaded your website, the latest information can be accessed by your customers.

Unfortunately, local South African firms are generally rather poor in their use of their websites as a marketing tool. (Of course, this may true of other countries as well; I haven’t done enough research to compare our (South Africa’s) use of web sites as a marketing channel with those of other countries, but perhaps I should). Local web sites are often out-of-date, poorly designed and incomplete (they basically don’t address all of the issues that they could or should). They are also not adapted for international ‘consumption’. Web sites are more often than not seen as a necessary evil by managers and exporters. These individuals may realise that they need a web site and so they may arrange to create one somewhat reluctantly, often leaving the actual planning and development of the website (including the content) in the hands of third-party or in-house designers and techies. Worse still, once created and launched, they often leave these web sites to languish, failing to keep them up to date and failing to promote them to the customer. The website is really just seen as an add-on, rather than a main-stream marketing channel for these firms.

This is a great pity, because customers the world round are turning increasingly to websites as their primary source of information about their potential business and suppliers. Companies without websites are likely to be ignored by potential customers, simply because they are not aware of them. Remember, in the 21st Century most companies seeking potential suppliers will almost certainly make use of the web as their main source of information. What is more, if these companies come across your firm through some other means (perhaps they have been referred to you by one of their customers), they are still likely to turn to the web to learn more about your firm. If they can’t find you online or your website is out-do-date or very user unfriendly, they may begin to doubt your seriousness to do business.

The long and short of it is that you MUST begin to take your online activities more seriously. These online activities include creating and maintain your website as one of your organisation’s key marketing channels, promoting your website with search engines (as this is the main means that your customers will use to find you), using alternative marketing tools to promote your firm such as banner advertising and Google-ads, and using email marketing as an additional or alternative marketing channel for your firm.

Neels Bothma (April 2009)