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This is a section of text that didn't make the cut in one of my chapters in Online Marketing - a customer-led approach. Perhaps it was too personal a view for an academic text?

The Internet is, essentially, a medium of communication. Certainly it complements the marketing mix but it brings little, if anything, that is completely new. Although the Internet may have spawned new industries, they are only extensions of offline practices. For example, there is the phenomenon of the 'eBay trader'. This is not the person in the street who occasionally puts their unwanted gifts on the auction site, but the person who has developed a business - often part time - selling products using eBay as their retail outlet. But it has always been the case that anyone could sell things at auction houses [or perhaps car boot sales]. Online auctions might be new, auctions are not. Whilst the Internet - through eBay - has provided a new channel for retailers, it is still retailing. Other elements of the online marketing mix have more obvious offline descendants. For example; e-mail marketing is direct marketing; viral marketing is word of mouth; online advertising is advertising.

What is debatable, however, is whether or not the Internet is a channel of distribution. Certainly for a limited range of digital products - software for example - it most certainly is. Similarly, online banking takes the bank's services to the home of the customer - though they would still have to physically visit the bank to deposit cash or sign forms.

But is the Internet a channel of distribution for other - tangible and intangible - products? If, for example, a plumber has an entry in a telephone Yellow Pages directory and a customer rings the listed number that is deemed advertising - an element of the promotional mix. If that same plumber has a web site and a customer contacts them using the email listed that would still be advertising - part of promotion, not distribution. If a customer goes into a DIY shop, purchases a drill and takes it home with them, this would be a channel of distribution for the drill manufacturer. That same customer could also have gone online to the website of the same DIY outlet and purchased the drill. However, the drill has still to be physically delivered, or distributed, to the customer's home. Furthermore, if the customer purchases online then collect the drill from a physical shop is the online element promotion or a channel of distribution? The question then, is this: Is the point [or method] of physically taking possession of the goods or the point of purchase - online, a virtual point - the channel of distribution?

It would be logical to suggest that the online shop is the channel of distribution, but that would be to ignore the critically important issue of actually getting the goods to the buyer which must be considered to be part of 'distribution'. The argument can be extended to the offline world. A customer purchasing a new sofa, based on viewing a demonstration model in a showroom, would rarely take it home with them. The sofa would be delivered at a later date. In this case is the showroom part of promotion or a channel of distribution? As it is generally accepted that a retail outlet [whether or not the goods are physically available there and then] is part of the channel of distribution then it is logical that a website where purchases can be made should also be deemed a channel of distribution. A website that provides only information but not the means to purchase online is part of a promotional effort.

Of course technology is adding to - and improving on - what the marketer has in their tool box, but the basic models [advertising, direct marketing etc] have been around much longer. The significant difference is that the Internet is an interactive medium of communication. Commenting on the Internet [as a business model] in its early days, Hammond [1996, Digital Business, Surviving and Thriving in an On-line World. Hodder and Stoughton.] summed up the new media well, saying: 'Above all, the Net is about inexpensive, instant communication and it opens up completely new types of interaction within companies and their suppliers, potential employers and their marketplace'. This interactivity allows for quicker response to, and measurement of, marketing communications - but they are still only responses to communications.

The Internet brings a lot of benefits to the modern marketer. It does not, however, make bad products good, inferior marketing strategies worthy, or poor marketers able.

There is nothing new in marketing on the web : 1 is an abridged version of this argument.

This musing was written circa 2006/7

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