Over the past few weeks there has been a rash of new internet
retailers hiring in PR expertise to build their cyber brands.
US children’s e-tailer eToys has appointed Jackie Cooper PR; media group
Bertelsmann’s on-line book and music outlet BOL.com has picked
Powerhouse; and jungle.com, which sells CDs, videos and DVDs, has turned
to Cohn and Wolfe, to name but a few.
In the run-up to Christmas, competition in the cyber high street is set
to be fierce. For PR, this is an exciting prospect.
With many strong internet brands - such as book retailer Amazon -
already out there, and an increasing specialisation on the net - Boots
and Hollinger are about to launch a women-friendly site called
handbag.com - it is no longer enough to set up just another web site. An
increasing number of companies are thus likely to need consumer
For a brand which already exists in the real world, this is a genuine
opportunity to extend core values on-line.
Joe Public Relations managing director Matthew Wood says that this is
just what his company has been doing for Tesco Direct. ’Tesco is a huge
consumer brand, so as we rolled out its internet shopping service to the
regions, the same brand messages of value for money and service still
apply,’ he says.
But for cyberworld-only brands, there is a need to create a distinct
identity. Jan Stannard, joint MD of PR agency Marbles, which carries out
consumer PR for a range of e-tailers, says: ’After you’ve analysed the
brand characteristics, the main differential with competitors is always
going to be content-based.’
At a basic level, this means that whatever a brand promises, if an
e-tailer fails to deliver on-site navigation, product or service, its
brand values are empty. However, Stannard adds: ’If a company chose to
do some platform work - a book site might decide it is going to position
itself as an educational specialist - then you would have to look at
off-line activities such as sponsorship to gain a competitive edge.’
Although a PR strategy has yet to be unveiled, these are the sort of
activities that BOL and its agency Powerhouse plan to implement over the
While around 10,000 new users go on-line each month, establishing a real
world presence is still regarded as central to any launch strategy for
those who can afford it.
Last month, to drive traffic to its launch site, jungle.com pushed its
key message ’We’ll beat all prices’ to potential customers through
radio, print and poster advertising featuring jungle animals and a
pounds 10 million product give-away.
Jungle.com team leader at Cohn and Wolfe Chris Cox explains: ’We gave
people a compelling reason to visit the jungle.com site and taste the
jungle shopping experience, without ’taking the plunge’ of giving out
their credit card details and paying for a transaction.’
After last week’s security crisis over Microsoft’s Hotmail service, this
’something for nothing’ initiative has proved to be a smarter move than
But with on-line consumers able to be fickle at the press of a button,
building a distinctive brand is also a matter of maintaining customer
In many ways this so-called problem of ’stickiness’ is one of site
content and levels of service. Grace Fodor, director of Fodor Wyllie
which handles the on-line arm of book publisher Harper Collins,
fireandwater.com, says: ’It’s incredibly difficult to develop loyalty,
but you have to create a reason for the client to come back. As the
internet is a real-time medium and you have very little time to make an
impression, compelling incentives and special offers that are
continually updated are essential.’
This creates interesting choices for companies which exist both on-line
and off-line. Dixons’ out-of-town software outlet Jakarta, for example,
sells products both in-store and through e-commerce.
’To make it more competitive on the internet, it has to offer large
discounts. But it also has Jakarta.com terminals in-store,’ says Vikki
Stace, managing director of Powerhouse, which handles the Jakarta
However, some companies have decided to create a cyber-only brand for
their e-tail presence, despite having a strong real world identity.
Prudential, for instance, has marketed itself to young professional
net-users with its Egg service, while Fodor says that Harper Collins
went for the name fireandwater ’because with books, the relationship
tends to be between author - not publisher - and consumer.’
This highlights the need to pay attention not only to what people want
to buy, but also how they like to shop.
In the US, on-line retailer e-toys has targeted young mothers by
creating word-of-mouth about its ’different’ shopping experience.
According to European marketing director James Bidwell, over the coming
months his company plans to create similar excitement in the UK.
To entice parents and other relatives to its site, e-toys is likely to
push such unique offerings as its ’wish list’ service, where youngsters
can create a list of top toys that is e-mailed to various relatives in
time for some serious shopping before birthdays or Christmas.
While the core work of differentiating an e-commerce brand is in many
ways the same as that of any brand, there are also less traditional PR
techniques for creating a unique personality.
In the US, video e-tailers are increasingly looking to post
off-the-wall, independent reviews of films on their sites. ’You can be
much more anarchic on-line,’ says Stace, ’You can set up autonomous web
sites that are official, but take a more guerrilla approach to