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eContent, Commerce and Community : Get more power out of your web site :

Today almost all companies are trying to answer and anticipate the questions relating to the care and management in customer relationship (CRM), to increase market share and to optimize business processes. In order to think and act in these processes, relationships to employees, customers and partners must be optimal and flexible. Among others, the online strategy and, more specifically, the structure of the web site which harmonizes contents with commerce and the community plays a central role.

e-Commerce is fundamentally nothing more than information which is transferred electronically and linked to financial transactions. The content of this information builds the complimentary component to the transaction. Successful e-Commerce requires a thorough management of the content as well as the processing of the transaction.

Organizational Problems with Content Management
Due to the rapid expansion of the Internet, many companies have fallen into an organizational dilemma.

As practically all mid-size and large companies are using the Internet in some way or another and have set up Extranets, employees have been assigned new roles. They are becoming researchers, authors, editors and publishers as the former almost entirely paper-based Business Publishing material is being transformed to a dynamic Multi-Media world in a stormy and expanding Internet. Web Publishing has developed parallel to the Internet and is technically rather simple. Thus within the company, as well as with third party site visitors the text is often created without controls or checks from the upper management. Electronic publications are often now left up to the initiative of the employee.

Yet the advisory and information needs of the customers are continuously increasing. Moreover, the clear growth and differentiation strategy of the company to surpass the competition increases the demand for a high quality customer relationship which means that each client or visitor to a site is offered specific information or products or services.

Conflicting Demands from e_Commerce and Content Management

An effective Content Management can be the solution. However, this task is hardly trivial as several demands must be filled though they may be diametrically opposed. It can mean that separate production of electronic publications is possible without forcing the individual authors to use a specific platform. The resulting content should not be stuck in a human "bottle neck" - for example with the Web Master - rather it should flow smoothly to the employees who are part of the publications production process - or at least effected by the process. For efficiency’s sake it is important to guarantee that other employees can have full or partial re-use of the content in other formats if necessary.

E-Commerce means more than just establishing another distribution channel for product or service marketing in a company. It represents a fundamentally new form of business. Entering this field requires that all employees of all levels in the company are open and willing to learn. Although these traits cannot be forced on the employees, they can be encouraged if the employee is not required to learn it all in one step, rather in stages where he is guided in the new process of e-commerce.

A Web-Site, which has been developed using a modular system is preferable since it can lead to a timely, though gradual, introduction to the new processes which allows for process variations.

The content preparation creates its very own business process where the employee is confronted with different tasks. E-Commerce must be driven by the top management of the company.

Where Content Management and E-Commerce come together

In the meantime, dynamic creation of the personalized contents in a site rapidly gaining in importance. Such content is mostly developed using profiles which are continually being updated based on the behavior of the customer or site-visitor. This capability is critical for Customer Relationship Management (CRM). The goal is to tailor information offered based on the needs of the information receiver which is comparable to One-to-One Marketing in commercial business.

The current trends are unmistakable. Content Management and E-Commerce are dependent on each other. Many Websites, which originally began with just an informative character, are now being improved and updated for transaction processing so that owners can set up their own e-Commerce. The logical further development of a Website is to increase its attractiveness for the occasional and often coincidental site visitor but even more so for the stabile business partner. Customers and business partners want to be recognized as the individuals which they are. They can profit from an increased use of the information when it is collated and prepared for the specific target groups.

This requires competent software solutions, which can automatically process the information with the proper profiles.

The Integration of the User and Formatting the Community
Web-site visitors tend to belong to either one group or an other. On the one hand there are subscribers, or customers or business partners which, depending on the user-rights in the individual Web-site, can meet the individual’s needs and wishes and can be used interactively (www.myPortal.com). Often it is a question of the group of Intranet linked participant, frequently Extranet users are also participating. On the other hand, casual site-visitors can frequent the site. They should not have any sort of special user rights. This includes site visitors from Intranets and Extranets, particularly when the Web-site is generally accessible from the Internet. In this case the regular or occasional Surfer is meant who is addressed by the company publications.

It should be possible to create individual profiles for all these sorts of site-visitors. These profiles should contain characteristics which are attained from specific visitor information or from the behavior of the visitor gained when visiting the site. The profiles can be based on the visitor’s special interests as he selects certain products or services information. In this fashion, a collection of characteristics accumulates rapidly which can be used for individual marketing which is known in marketing circles as 1:1 Marketing. For example, visitors can, when asking for specific travel destinations, receive information not just about the transport possibilities to the destination and the local accommodation suggestions, but also the special offers tailored for that individual customer - like the sporting events or the cultural activities at a specific time of the year and so on. Of course it goes without saying, that by using Content Management the required contents must also be prepared in order to offer a wide variety of possibilities which automatically match the profile of the visitor.

A further way to increase customer loyalty exists in the setting-up of so-called Communities, which are forum like communities where Web visitors can exchange and share information. The best known form of this information sharing is the virtual bulletin board called Message Boards, where the visitor can leave messages for the other visitors to the entire community. In this way a beginner can receive answers to his questions in a certain field from experienced visitors or internal company consultants on a certain related Web Site.

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