The brief history of multimedia software has seen some people making their fortune from the Internet but far more suffering from costly mistakes. This checklist is designed to help you identify the key features in each form of electronic communication and therefore help you work out how effective any software will be, before you purchase.

Contents

1. What is multimedia eCommunication?
2. How does multimedia software communicate your message?
3. How will you distribute your message?
4. How will you measure the performance?
5. Examples.

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eCommunication Software Purchasing Checklist

A checklist for buying multimedia software - Jan 2007

Summary

The brief history of multimedia software has seen some people making their fortune from the Internet but far more suffering from costly mistakes. This checklist is designed to help you identify the key features in each form of electronic communication and therefore help you work out how effective any software will be, before you purchase.

Contents

1. What is multimedia eCommunication?
2. How does multimedia software communicate your message?
3. How will you distribute your message?
4. How will you measure the performance?
5. Examples.

1. Introduction. What is multimedia eCommunication.

eCommunciation should be a digital version or your existing communication paths e.g. an extra salesman visiting customers or the training department educating staff. It uses a combination of pictures, text, video, sound and simulation, all controlled by some interaction or sequenced events and delivery via a computer screen.

Multimedia communication is another way of doing what you do already, or more often, what you'd like to do if you could afford it. Decisions on how to implement this must be based on a good understanding of your business and what you want to achieve. Leaving the implementation to external software houses or IT departments may lead to good software, but probably won't mean good business.

A general theme with multimedia communication is that it is never as good as the real thing but it's just much cheaper, therefore allowing you to do things that you can't afford to do at present.

Computers have always been good with numbers and have transformed modern business management and accounts departments. Now that computers can handle sound, graphics, video and the Internet as well, we should see similar efficiency improvements to our sales, marketing and training departments. Perhaps not to the dizzy heights of the latest Internet millionaires but for most companies even a 5 to 10% improvement in how you communicate could bring significant savings or increased sales.

2. How does software communicate your message?

Let's evaluate each parameter of eCommunication separately. We can then compare how well a typical website or CD will perform compared your existing salesperson or trainer.

a) Most websites don't speak but only display pictures and text. Communication will always be limited without sound. Typically you may see conversion rates for websites of 1000:1, as compared to mail shots at 100:1 and telesales 10:1.

b) Computer screens are not as nice to read as paper. 5-10 seconds is a long time for someone to look at a web page. Therefore the most important part of any software is the ease of use and not loosing visitors at every click.

c) The layouts of newspapers, as with the routine of social interactions always follows known rules. The key to website usability is a navigation structure that people already understand. Therefore make sure your website works the same way as others because very few situations can justify a new or novel designs.

d) With the modern content management it can be quicker and easier to publish a web page than write and send a letter. With modern content syndication press releases can reach millions within seconds. No traditional technology can perform anywhere new this effectively.

e) Beware of over designing websites as it distracts people from reading the content. Imagine making your sales people put on fancy dress to get them noticed. Keep the site plain so that the content stand outs and visitors' eyes are not distracted by pretty designs. In most cases websites should be more like newspapers than magazines.

f) Content is king. The content is the value of your site and the reason people visit. Make as much information available as possible but ensure it is easy to find.

g) Imagine making a 60 second sales pitch in 10 seconds and without speaking. That's what websites must do and why they are only capable of delivering one or two clear messages per page. So make the one thing that moves on a page the call to action that makes you money.

h) To improve the way you get you message across add sound or video, move the things to highlight them and make the user interact with the software so that they have to think about what they are doing. Make a video or working model of what people do in real life.

i) Flash intros are another classic mistake; equivalent to making the salesperson perform a song and dance routine every time they meet someone.

j) In most situations websites are about performance rather than looks. Imagine turning up at a car rally in a new Rolls Royce. People might be impressed but you'd finish last behind a kid in an old mini.

k) Timeline presentations can be expensive, difficult to change and often don't work as one to one software. The speed will be either too fast or too slow and unlike using PowerPoint in a presentation, people can easily get up and leave a computer. Make information easy to navigate so people can quickly find small presentations on what they want.

l) Good communication needs to be two way. Websites are often only static, one way tools that don't facilitate good conversation, but they don't have to be.

m) Websites are a 'push' technology which means you must constantly direct people to visit them. You would never expect clients to visit your salesperson so in the same way the best eMarketing technologies leave the website and send people back.

n) Save money by giving electronic documents instead of paper. You can usually include additional information or free training to justify why the client should prefer a cheaper CD to the more expensive catalogues.

o) Measure your staff's current information flow and bottlenecks. Your eCommunication should replicate this and focus on any problem areas. Put the information people ask for, or use every day, online and get them to use that instead.

p) The sales process can be defined as 'attention - interest - desire - action'. All stages are important so make sure you understand what your eCommunication channels can achieve.

q) Integrate eCommunication into your business information flow, don't just use it as an afterthought.

r) Spoken information is much better than text and easy to produce digitally. Make sure you have computers with speakers so that you can listen to suppliers training programs as well.

s) People learn by experimentation so let them experiment with product simulations or business games etc. For learning the teachers mantra is :-

You see - you forget

You hear - you remember

You do and you understand

3. How will you distribute the message?

There is an increasing number of ways you can communicate with your customers electronically but they are split into two main categories. Browser based programs (all web sites) have protections against viruses and bandwidth limits. Consequently they are safe for anyone to look at but have less power and possibilities than PC or CD based applications.

Consider how and who you communicate with at present and what the costs or bottlenecks are. Replicate these key areas with electronic equivalents or create new solutions for the things you can't afford do.

a) Shifting communication online will never be as good as the real thing so be careful where you use it. Don't risk damaging critical areas of your business's communication but offer alternatives to these areas or additional services you could not afford any other way.

b) Done correctly, online lead generation can be easy and cheap. This should be a constant consideration in everything you do as all eMarketing efforts will complement each other.

c) Websites can communicate information AND/OR generate new sales leads via the search engines. Understand clearly what your site is supposed to do as the design needed for each approach may be different.

d) Don't restrict yourself with the security, bandwidth and cost limitations of browser based applications if you don't have to. Compare the educational games industry's success using CDs compared to the business training world's less effective web based solutions.

e) Many tools are now PC based but share information over the internet, keeping the benefits of both approaches.

f) You don't need to wait for people to come to you. RSS feed, peer to peer, email or SMS technologies can keep people up to date with information delivered directly to their PC or mobile or allow two way conversations.

g) Don't let IT managers run your marketing departments. Their job is to protect your computer networks so restricting applications or multimedia communication might well seem a good thing to them. This is like your HR department not allowing the sales team to visit customers because they might catch colds and crash their cars.

h) Making first contact (e.g. generating new sales leads) is a great feature of the Internet. Use Google, viral, free resources, discussion forums, newsletters, newsfeeds etc. to drive people back to your website 24 hours a day.

i) Linked website networks exist in the same way as traditional business and social networks. Source your eCommunication tools from companies that specialise and have a presence in the online communities that are important to you.

j) Unlike most things software has no material cost so you can give it away to everyone. This means you can write software that is of value to your potential clients, such as free calculators or training programs etc then give it away to automatically brings people back to your website.

k) Far more people have mobile phones than computers and they are also better at two way communications. So don't underestimate the potential of mobile communication between computers.

l) Deciding which eDistribution channel is best is a bit like deciding which mode of transport is the best. In the same way that the bus, train or car may be preferred by different people you should also make your electronic information available in different formats so that the user can choose which suits them. Try to create your information in a way that can be exported to every format, then people can choose how they prefer to receive it.

m) Develop your eCommunication tools like extending a house rather than moving home each year. Keep adding to or updating resources such as videos, website, simulations etc rather than starting complete projects from scratch.

HTML is the language of the Internet. Learning a few basic commands such as how to write a feedback link or embed an image is as easy and as important as learning to order a beer when travelling abroad.

4. How will you measure the performance?

a. It is normally quite simple to measure the size of a network, total distribution, impact and general performance. You should be able to measure the return on investment for all eCommunication tools.

b. eCommuniction can be two way so use it as a cheap and easy way to get feedback on what your customers want.

5. Examples of how eCommunication should or should not be used.

QUESTION:- Who should be in charge of eCommunication.

Company politics will have a massive effect on result, therefore the person in charge of communicating each message must have control of the eCommunication channel, even if that is only access to a secretary who can enter the content. Often IT managers want to control as large a budget as possible for a website but have no content to put in. Other departments have no time or motivation to supply content so all the effort is put into making it look nice, resulting in an expensive but worthless site.

QUESTION:- Is my website cost effective.

How many people currently spend time communicating this information at present and has it saved them time or money? Websites often make bad glossy brochures instead of good information resources that support your products or generate new leads.

QUESTION:- Do we need an online shop.

Online shops might provide cheap, global cash registers but getting people into your shop and making them want to buy something is the difficult bit.

Remember that many businesses don't have shops or cash registers. Just sales people and invoices, and it's the selling that's important.

QUESTION:- How do we generate more sales.

Find the online networks related to your business. Offer something of value such as free training that visitors will find and then get directed back to your site.

QUESTION:- How do we better persuade people to buy?

Your staff and customers may need to better understand the benefits your products provide or be more confident about changing to your supply. eLearning can help or overcome this if you use high quality, multimedia content. eLearning is not as good as classroom training but allows you to do more things because it's cheaper. You can give it to everyone, whenever they need it, 24 hours a day and as just in time training. Guided experiments work best so let people practice operating equipment or run sample projects and measure their performance.

QUESTION:- We need to inform and motivate our staff.

Electronic information is cheap and instant so use it to keep employees up to date with what is going on. Deliver daily news feeds or messages about new products, employees, contracts etc. perhaps via screensavers or RSS.

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