Pay Close Attention to the “Big Four”

Detroit automakers are making a comeback, so it is appropriate to remind marketers of the phrase the “Big Three,” which was used to collectively refer to Chrysler, Ford and GM. There was a time when American businesses closely watched the Big Three  because together, they offered real insight into the health of American manufacturing and the vitality of the economy.

Now, it seems, the same phenomenon is taking place in the online world. A new report by noted research firm Forrester suggests that those who depend on online marketing and ecommerce for their livelihoods need to closely observe the “Big Four,” namely, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Forrester based its assessment on some fairly stunning facts about these giants:

  •           Almost half of online shoppers start their research process by going to Amazon or Google.
  •           Over 40 percent of the world’s Internet traffic flows through Facebook and Google on a daily basis.
  •           49 percent of iPad owners purchase products using their iPads and 21 percent of iPhone owners purchase products using their iPhones.

Amazon’s Retail Disruption

Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, who authored the report, says that Amazon is “disrupting retail economics.” I’ve written about Amazon’s retail prowess a number of times, most recently in regard to Amazon Prime, the company’s vanguard customer loyalty program. With Prime, Amazon has crafted a clever collection of goodies for frequent buyers that few other companies can match, including free two-day shipping on millions of items, free access to ebooks in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and free instant streaming of more than fifteen thousand “Prime Instant Videos.”

Amazon Prime is but one aspect of the company’s innovation. Keeping in mind that Amazon was at one time a bookseller, the ecommerce behemoth now sells virtually everything at prices so low that online and bricks-and-mortar retailers have a tough time being competitive. In fact, thousands of small online retailers now essentially use Amazon as a portal for selling products in a kind of non-bidding version of eBay (which, in my mind, could easily make the Big Four the “Big Five.”)

The point here is that any marketer who is currently selling or intends to sell online needs to study Amazon’s model and determine how it negatively or positively impacts ecommerce goals.

Apple’s Understanding of the Consumer

Apple is the only non-Internet company in the bunch, but it has had a dramatic impact on the manner in which consumers connect with the Internet. Through the iPhone and iPad, Apple has forged new territory, bringing an intuitive ease to getting information and making purchases online. The form factor of these two devices, their connectivity, and the richly deep availability of apps for any occasion, have combined to completely recast consumer behavior and make mobile Internet access highly desirable.

No online marketer can afford to overlook the behavioral shift started by Apple and now perpetuated by Android-based devices.

Facebook’s Social Media Influence

For sheer numbers, Facebook is unmatched in terms of social media and with its IPO, the company is sure to continue its upward growth and market dominance. Mulpuru says Facebook “seems to work best when building awareness and driving ‘top of funnel’ activity,” and she views it as “more akin to television than to traditional interactive marketing.” I’m not sure I agree, unless we can define “television” as the emerging Internet-enabled television that is still in the early adoption stage.

Having a Facebook page is one thing, but online marketers will need to find smarter ways to successfully employ Facebook as an integral part of a full-fledged lead generation program. Corresponding with Facebook users is a start, but learning how to qualify them and turn them into prospective buyers is the real challenge.

Google’s World Domination

If any company is positioned to crush any and all comers, it is Google. Still regarded as the King of Search, Google is so much more that it boggles the mind. Just last week, it was leaked that Google is working an an “entertainment device,” its first serious move into hardware since it acquired Motorola. Mulpuru suggests that anyone operating an ebusiness “will need to keep the company top of mind because it maintains a majority share of online spend but promises to transform every industry from financial services to travel to health care and retail.” Google, in fact, has made acquisitions in all of these areas, and its Android operating system has been wildly successful to the extent of challenging the Apple mantle.

Learning how to work with Google, rather than against it, and to make use of its many tools, is a must for online marketers.

Sucharita Mulpuru’s advice is that we should “learn from [the Big Four’s] flexible, agile, and tech-centric approaches to growth” rather than “throw in the towel now to avoid being flattened by these tech giants.” Keep watch on the Big Four and figure out how you can leverage their success and make it your own.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.