What you can learn from the portals

The top Web portals have done an incredible job aggregating information and services they don't even own.

In contrast, most Fortune 1,000 companies own a wealth of information but have done a poor job aggregating it on the Web for their customers and trading partners. It's time to learn from the Web portals the lessons that apply to other corporations.

Aggregation. This is a core competency of portals, one from which other firms can learn the most. Portals started as Web directories or search engines. They've extended this model by integrating, aggregating and repurposing a plethora of information services they don't necessarily own, as well as introducing new services based on existing ones. Yahoo Classifieds alone provides listings from Apartments.com, Cyberhomes, Homes and Land, NewHomeSearch.com, Owners.com, Re/Max, RentNet, The Real Estate Book and others. Excite has combined its classifieds section with an auction component.

Electronic customer loyalty. The top 10 portals receive an average of 14 million unique visitors per month, according to Relevant Knowledge's July survey. That's a sign of customer loyalty. Most large companies dream of even 5 million unique visitors per month. Portals earned customer loyalty because they understood that content drives customer retention; they've mastered the transition from content sites to electronic consumer communities. If, for example, you rely on a portal to maintain your financial portfolio, that company owns a piece of your interest. You migrate to the site time and again.

Virtual partnerships. Virtual partnerships are assembled and implemented almost at a moment's notice. There's a feeding frenzy to make the whole online world larger, benefiting all participants. As an example, Netscape's new online strategy hinges on a variety of virtual relationships.

Content syndication. Syndicating your aggregated content is the ultimate test of market acceptance and reach. Any company should find ways to syndicate high-value content to any of its electronic business community members. This could be sharing inventory levels, production information, customer satisfaction results or any information that could be reused for other purposes.

Co-branding. The Internet is full of co-branding deals. For example, Excite and Children's Television Workshop [Sesame Street] created a co-branded area for Webcrawler's Kids & Family Channel. Nonportal companies are picking up on the trend, but slowly.

The digital brand. Portals are redefining it. Whereas existing brands are struggling to extend their reach to the Internet, 'Net brands are bursting into traditional media and physical locations to splash their names around the real world. Yahoo Gear merchandise is available in more than 130 retail outlets. Even multinational Unilever, with its panoply of traditional brand power, is becoming a prominent tenant on AOL, further validating the digital brand imperative.

Organisational models. Most employees in portal companies are involved in the research, development, manipulation, production and presentation of information. Because most Fortune 1,000 companies are heavily dependent on physical products and process, this makes half their workforce obsolete. Of course, this isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, but atom-based companies are finding themselves competing increasingly with bit-based companies that have an organisational structure advantage - a fact of the new economy.

The main Web page. God bless the home page! That page still says it all, and the first impression is long-lasting. Every portal's home page has many functions ready to be activated. At best, most large companies offer only a handful of functions.

(Mougayar is author of Opening Digital Markets (McGraw-Hill, 1998) and president of CyberManagement, a management consulting firm. His Internet address is walid@cyberm.com.)

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Walid Mougayar

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