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September 20, 1997. Case Study: ""

    This is a short case study about a fictional website called "" This case will illustrate how "it's not just about putting up a website any more." The Internet is quickly moving beyond the status of "digital brochure." Careful thought and planning must go into creating a coherent online offering that is consistent with the company's brand, creates real value for the company, and is useful and relevant for the company's audience. For example, we must assess five areas for any web offering: technology, design, value creation, integrated media, and business model. All of these have to work together to form a coherent online strategy.

    Because of the open-standards nature of the enabling technology, most everyone will have access to the same set of technology tools for making an online offering (e.g. email, HTML editors, chat rooms, discussion boards, online balloting). The key to crafting a successful website is an in-depth understanding of these tools, where they are appropriate, and how to integrate them into a coherent online offering. For example, some technologies are appropriate in some cases but not in others and some business models are appropriate in some cases but not in others. It is our hypothesis that while most client companies are "experts" in their own industry and business, they should carefully consider working with an Internet development firm whose focus is Internet strategy, not just producing websites. By combining the client's knowledge of their business with the knowledge and experience of the Internet strategy firm, a successful online offering can be created.

    Let us look more in depth at our fictional website, The subject of healthcare was chosen because of the wide latitude it gave us. We could explore the whole range from entertaining to serious topics, from a young audience to an audience of seniors. Using three examples, we will illustrate the careful thought and planning that must go into any online offering. For each example, we will comment on the five areas and how they work together. 1) We will assess what technologies are the most appropriate and effective to deliver the content to the intended audience. 2) We will examine the qualities of the design that will help to convey the content. 3) We will identify the value that is created for the company that makes the online offering and also the value conferred to its audience. 4) The concept of "integrated media" means that the online offering must not and cannot work in isolation. By using innovative cross-media promotions, the online offering will be more valuable itself and will generate greater value in the "real world". 5) Finally, we will outline the business models that are appropriate for each example. This is meant to be a very brief discussion of issues and not meant to be comprehensive and exhaustive. Details of any real implementation will depend critically upon the audience, the industry, the goals, etc. of the company creating the online offering.

Feature of the Week - The Common Cold

    The first example within the website is the Feature of the Week. Each week a new topic is introduced and covered. For example, this week the common cold is featured. By using the Internet to deliver the information, rather than television, radio, or print, we can not only easily reach a global audience at fractional cost, but also involve the audience in the creation of content. The interactive nature of this medium, unlike broadcast or paper-based media, allows the audience to submit their own stories of home remedies for the common cold. Furthermore the audience feedback from around the world will give users of the site the benefit of seeing how other cultures treat medical illnesses. Over time, as the website accumulates audience-generated content, the website itself becomes more and more valuable to new visitors who can look back at past topics. And all of this came about without the expenditure of great sums of money by the company to create all of the content.

    The technologies that would be appropriate here include threaded discussion boards for posting of audience-generated content. There is no need for real-time interactive chat rooms in this case because people are most likely coming to this area of the website to search for information or share their home remedies. Second, to enhance the interactivity, a balloting system can be installed to allow visitors to vote on which cold medicine seems to work best. This could even be extended to help pharmaceutical companies in their clinical trials. Third, a dynamic archive of the audience generated content is key to this section so that content can be accumulated and accessed by future visitors. And fourth, users can submit questions to the pool of expert physicians via online forms. These questions are routed to the appropriate physician for an answer, wherever in the world they are. When the answer is submitted, the question/answer pair can be stored in an expert system for future reference. It could even be made searchable and browseable by future users of the site, thus reducing the need for human experts to answer the questions.

    As far as design, since this section is very broad in nature and covering a new topic once a week, the design should also have very broad appeal. The design look and feel can successfully convey the brand attributes of the website. The value of the website to the company that creates it is repeat traffic and loyal users. Audience members know to come back to the site for new information and fresh content. The value for the audience is clearly that this is a central location for finding medical information. As they come back frequently, they will even feel a sense of community and meet with friends who regularly visit the website no matter where they are in the world. In this case, the use of the Internet medium and the appropriate technologies has allowed the company to involve the audience in the creation of the content. As any traditional magazine will attest, content generation is extremely costly. Here, by providing the topics of discussion and the forum for sharing information, content is created and accumulated at minimal cost.

    For this section of the website, the business models that are most appropriate are advertising and sponsorship. The audience that comes to this section are seeking information, for example about the common cold. Companies that have products related to this topic now have a captive audience, who have self-selected themselves by interest. This focused audience is the most attractive for companies that have relevant products. Furthermore, studies have shown the Internet to be an increasingly important resource for information needed during the purchase decision. Sponsorship is also an appropriate business model here because companies have the opportunity to convey positive brand attributes by sponsoring topics or forums which audience members feel are beneficial. These business models contrast to the subscription model. A subscription model would likely not be appropriate here because most case studies have shown that Internet users stay away from having to pay subscriptions online. Finally, for this section, the concept of integrated media speaks to tying the weekly content to another medium, for example, a simulcast radio show each week. The radio show raises awareness of the website to an audience who might not yet be online; and the radio show can draw from content from the website which offline audience members may not have benefited from otherwise. This cross-media approach is essential in increasing the value of each medium in complementary ways.

Health and You - Kids Section

    The second example from the website is one that deals with children and "edutainment" - fun educational tools delivered via the website. For this example, we created a fictional game of operation, based on the legendary Milton-Bradley game, "Operation." It was a simple board game where children try to extract plastic pieces, "bones," from the patient without being buzzed for an unsteady hand. Our version would require the student to "read up" on online resources (e.g. interactive dictionary or encyclopedia) in preparation for the operation. By accumulating a central repository of high quality educational information, the student can access and learn from anywhere in the world. Then during the operation "game" which could be administered like an exam, the student could answer multiple choice questions. Since the Internet medium is an interactive medium, innovative ways of participatory learning can also be achieved. For example, using live "chat" and online balloting technologies, a group of students can collaboratively discuss and decide on which is the appropriate next step to the operation procedure. This was impossible to deliver this kind of education with paper-based or broadcast media.

    The design of this section of the website, would of course fit the age of the student audience, ranging from a "cartoony" look and feel for younger audiences to a more serious educational interface for older students. The value of this section of the website to the company can be committed, repeat traffic from schools who may rely on these tools as an integral part of their education. The value to the audience members, the students, is clearly that they now have educational tools that engage them in the process of learning, decision-making, and information gathering. These tools are highly complementary to the traditional delivery of "static" and one-way information through textbooks.

    The concept of integrated media logically extends to traditional textbooks. The students can prepare for the online exam by studying from books. By integrating these two media, students will have the benefits of traditional learning when they are not online and interactive learning when they are online. With regard to business models, clearly the advertising and transaction models are not appropriate. The audience is in this section of the website to learn and would not like to be distracted by ads trying to sell them something. Furthermore, depending on the age of the audience, they may not even have the money, the credit card numbers, or even the right to make purchases for themselves online. Sponsorship and subscriptions may be the most appropriate business models here. Textbook publishers are likely candidates for sponsoring these educational tools or even supplying the content for them. And schools have the incentive to subscribe to using these tools to improve the quality of their education.

Make a Difference - On the Hill Today

    Finally, we turn to the most serious example from the website. Here audience members play a significant role in shaping healthcare legislation. Using live streaming media, audience members of the website can see what is going on live in Congress and what issues are being debated. Drawing upon real-time news feeds users can immediately read breaking news and commentary related to the topic of interest and even do research on the topic using online resources. Then using real-time balloting, each audience member can even submit his/her opinion to the appropriate congressman in real time, to influence the vote. This truly enables a democratic process that was simply not possible with any other media. Further, by opening the forum up to a global audience, input from people in other healthcare systems could potentially help to solve some of the toughest problems and issues faced in healthcare today. The value of using the Internet medium for such "serious" purposes include empowering individuals with information and enabling them to influence the democratic process in real time.

    The concept of integrated media for this section of the website implies the integration of telephone and television. For example, the audience members who do not have online access, can still participate via the phone. Television can report the results of the democratic actions taken through the website. Both of these cross-media efforts will increase awareness and use of the Internet medium. Finally, an advertisement business model may be appropriate here. It parallels the paid television ads that political parties currently use. Also, for those audience members who are serious about their participation in the democratic process, they would likely be willing to pay a subscription fee to get access to members-only sections where they have additional functionality and resources.

    Thus, in conclusion, this is a brief overview of a fictional website called Using this case, we have shown detailed examples including audience participation, interactive learning, and online democratic process through the Internet medium. The appropriate use of technology, design, integrated media, and business models are key to the creation of a successful online offering.

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