IT and community building case study: MPG was a newly merged group producing and distributing newspapers, magazines, films and books with a chain of retail outlets aimed at the lesbian and gay communities in UK and Germany.
Millivres Prowler Group
The problem: To build more than a dozen distinct branded websites, to attract new and repeat customers, and to convert those customers into online and high-street shoppers.
Constraints: No in-house technical knowledge. No web-design ability in each brand. Editors based in different offices and countries. Minimal budget - the sites must contribute to profit rather than being a marketing cost.
Build a single database-driven site with many different 'skins'.
Add an easy to use web based content-management/order processing system.
Build mini-systems leveraging existing strengths of the company. (Such as e-postcards or news/information forums). Deploy these across the different sites to encourage visitors to come back time and again and to interact with each other - known as buiding an 'on-line community'.
This system was deliverd by us in 2000 but is still in use today generating millions of page-impressions, and sales revenue of many hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum.
To get people to the site in the first place we optimised the content for search engines - using the existing assets of MPG to offer travel guides, legal guides, photo galleries and free e-cards to encourage people to get their friends to visit.
To retain visitors and keep them coming back the sites use all of the following techniques:
- Bulletin boards
- Chat forums
- Online polls
- Emailout newsletters
- International travel guides (with holiday promotions)
- Employment ads from the newspaper
- Legal information
- Scene guides
- News excerpts from the magazines
- Customer logins
- Customer product reviews
- Feedback forms
- Links to other sites of interest
Back office systems:
Intranet: We built an intranet for MPG to communicate all their production schedules and product information and images.
(An intranet is a website with forms and pages that can only be used within the company - though in MPG's case it is available anywhere in the world, using the world wide web).
The same database is used for the intranet as for the live websites. So once a product's publication date arrives it immediately becomes promoted (automatically) in the relevant shops and websites across many different brands. It doesn't require a lot of management or human intervention (It has always been a joke at MPG that even if the building fell down the websites would merrily go on dealing with customers as if nothing had happened!)
As well as communicating product details the intranet allows editors to update the content on any page or text-box of the many websites, online, instantly, from wherever they are in the world - new content is just dropped into the design as the page is displayed to the browser.
Order processing: We are very proud of the order processing system installed once the websites began swamping the office with orders. The system uses the same product database and allows customers to effectively process their own orders - once payment is taken (also online) a packing list is printed in a centralised warehouse serving all the brands.
MPG now put all orders coming by post and phone through the same system; data entry screens were written which have reduced processing times dramatically (to just a few seconds for a simple order from a repeat customer). This has had a very positive impact on net margins and also allows Customer Service to be done from anywhere - even by home-workers on maternity leave.
The above is an example of a huge system used by over 100 people and many thousands of customers. We ended up recruiting and training an in-house team to take over development from us, but it ran quite happily for years with no in-house tech person.
It has paid for itself many times over. We may be able to do the same for your company, on a smaller, or larger scale?