That's precisely the target that College Pro, which franchises house-painting territories to college students on summer break, was looking to reach. An explicit hotlink ("Please visit our sponsor." it said) to College Pro's testimonial-type advertising (http://www.metweb.con/mail/collegepro/) was spread across the bottom of the Marathon home page. By late February, however, users saw the following message from Marathon marketer Bungie Software when they typed the home page URL: "Bungie Software has decided that maintaining a World Wide Web site is not an appropriate investment of scarce marketing resources."
Group Cortex constructed the site for Marathon on spec after one of its part-time programmers told Halliburton that a pre-release demo version of the game was proving popular with his fellow students. The demo strategy is to give away a fully-functioning but truncated version of a game (e.g. four levels of a 40-level program) to whet users' appetites. For example, five-million copies of the demo version of Doom, a 3-D shooter game for the PC, were reportedly downloaded from the Net. Hundreds of thousands of complete versions were later sold.
Besides offering a demo download, the Marathon site offered breaking news about Marathon ("scooping the world by eight hours on its official release date"), contained information on strategy, content, and storyline, and provided hotlinks to related information. Halliburton says that the Marathon site was a hit, but that Bungie bowed out when he proposed upgrading the site with features for which Group Cortex wanted to charge less than $1,000 a month.
As "cool" as the Web is, though, it's not quite ready for prime-time commerce, he feels. "I think there's another step to take," he says. "A little more structure, organization. A few more rules. With that kind of evolution, I think it can become a very powerful sales tool."
This illustrates an interesting phenomenon: In the many-to-many environment of the Web, you may not only have to keep up with your competition, but also with your customers. The day we talked to Halliburton, in fact, he had been up until 5 a.m. writing code and brainstorming ideas to take advantage of new interactive features offered in a just-released beta-version upgrade of the Netscape browser.
Create awareness for the site. Contribute on-topic information to appropriate newsgroups and make references to your home-page address, for example.
To draw people back, offer extraordinary content and services that are always changing.
Stay on top of the technology as it develops, particularly to take advantage of interactive features. With the new Netscape release, Halliburton says, pages can be updated even as the user is looking at them. "Now we can virtually take control of the user's machine," he says, changing content on the fly.
Use the multimedia and interactive capabilities of the medium to their fullest. "Content may be king, but it's a lot better to have exciting, compelling, interactive content than dead content," he says. The inevitable shakeout of Internet winners and losers, he feels, will revolve around this distinction as bandwidth and security issues are resolved. [Remember, however, that college students not only are technologically savvy, but also often use communication lines that are much faster than the ones normal consumers can currently access. -TF]
Security standards still need to be developed so that customers feel secure making transactions. But Halliburton points out that Prodigy, CompuServe and AOL users are "very used to spending money online," and feels that they will bring a new enthusiasm for online commerce when all the commercial services offer gateways to the Web.
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