Considering An International Venture of Your Choice and Building on Relevant Theory, Provide a Critical Analysis of Current Online Strategy and Recommendations for the Future
The Internet and social media has changed the way that international ventures conduct business. Hence, in order to properly explore and evaluate the opportunities and limitations that the global online environment provides to international firms, the aim of this paper will be to assess the current online strategy of an international firm and to provide recommendations for further action needed. The firm chosen for the purpose of analysis in this paper is Nirala Sweets and the marketing tools and framework used to assess Nirala’s online effectiveness were the Hubspot Marketing Grader along with the aid of academic references to support the argument. For the sake of a more thorough analysis the Hubspot Marketing Grader has been used to compare Nirala Sweets’ online activity to that of its competitor, Ambala Sweets.
International Entrepreneurship is defined as the “combination of innovative, proactive, and risk-seeking behavior to cross national boundaries and create value in organizations.” (Oviatt & McDougall, 2000). Hence, for the purpose of this paper, international enterprises will be defined as “innovative, risk-seeking, and pro-active organizations which conduct operations in or coordinate activities across more than one country.” Accordingly, global online entrepreneurship is defined as “the combination of innovative, proactive, and risk-seeking behavior that involves using e-business technologies to cross national boundaries and create value in organizations.”(Morgan-Thomas et.al. 2009). For the purpose of this paper, e-marketing will be defined as “the extent to which social media, Web 2.0, and other internet technology is used to enhance exposure, for the purpose of advertising and communication with potential customers.” Therefore, based on these definitions, the key parameters of the paper will be to assess how Nirala Sweets has expanded its operations as an international enterprise and to what extent the company is engaging in global online entrepreneurship. The paper will aim to analyze how effectively Nirala Sweets is exploiting e-opportunities and whether it is creating value for the firm. In order to do this, the firm will be evaluated according to its use of social media, Web 2.0, and other parameters concerning its online activity. The paper will also attempt to question whether online presence is essential for firms such as Nirala Sweets and to what extent it is needed. Moreover, based on the analysis, recommendations for strategies regarding improving the firm’s online presence will be provided.
Nirala Sweets was founded in 1948 by Taj Din who was a migrant from Amritsar, India to Lahore, Pakistan. The company began from a small breakfast shop located in the inner city of Lahore and expanded to a large chain of shops located throughout Pakistan giving their customers the delight of quality food products prepared in “desi ghee” and exquisite cuisines which were not provided elsewhere. The company has now grown to be an international enterprise and expanded its horizons to countries such as the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Nirala is a renowned name amongst its industry and has a strong reputation for providing quality and variety to its customers. Over the years, Nirala has gained brand recognition and holds a place of trust and prestige in the eyes of its consumers (Nirala, Irresistible Temptations, 2012).
There are two types of firms existent upon the Internet. The first type of firm are E-commerce firms which use the Internet as their main source of business and most of their transactions and customer contact is conducted online. These firms do not generally have physical locations and operate in a virtual environment including firms such as EBay, Amazon, and other internet based businesses. The second type of firm is the non-Internet related firm which uses the Internet as a marketing tool or a source of communication with its customers but is not dependent upon the Internet as a marketplace. Such firms have a physical location and rely on the Internet for supportive tasks (Morgan-Thomas et. al., 2009). Nirala Sweets is categorized as the latter non-Internet- based firm which operates in a physical marketplace but utilizes the advantages that online entrepreneurship may provide to businesses. The company is a business-to-consumer organization that sells directly to its customers and uses the Internet as a space for marketing and interaction through the basic features of a website, Twitter profile, and a Facebook page (Hubspot Marketing Grader, 2012).
Nirala Sweets’ online activity seeks to market its products and enhance its virtual presence, yet it also focuses upon expanding its horizons by selling its products online. Products are available for order on their official website and can be delivered anywhere within the UAE and Pakistan upon request (Nirala, Irresistible Temptations, 2012). While the company seems to be utilizing the advantages that the Internet has offered to global business such as maximum reach, speed, ubiquity, and a location and time independent marketplace ( Porter, 2001) the Hubspot Marketing Grader has given it a 38 marketing grade out of a total possible score of 100 (Hubspot Marketing Grader, 2012). The Hubspot Marketing Grader has its limitations in the sense that it does not consider a company’s presence across all mediums on the Internet such as LinkedIn and other social media, does not account for the type of company being analyzed, and does not consider other factors relevant to the company’s activities online that may affect its internet marketing scope. However, the Hubspot Marketing Grader has made a few fair points regarding the company’s official website which may be worth noting when analyzing the company’s online effectiveness.
Upon observation, Nirala Sweets’ website may be giving its users the benefit of “experiencing functionality” which means that the website is relatively easy to navigate, downloads with speed, and contains authentic and reliable information. However, when it comes to “experiencing exposure” the website may be lacking in a few fields. While surfing the website, the content and design are simplified which enable a user to comprehend and perceive the data provided. The information may be authentic and acceptable and since there is very little content provided, the information may also have high levels of retention. However, the headings and content seem to be unable to grab the attention of the users as they may be too simplified and lack essential information. As outlined by the Hubspot Marketing Grader (2012) the internal pages and page descriptions of each page are not unique and seem to be bland and uninteresting for the user. Hence, the user who lands upon the site would be lacking the benefit of “experiencing intimacy” which is enhanced through customization, communication, and options for leisure activity on the site. Likewise, the user would also be lacking in “experiencing evangelism” which is enhanced by the customers feeling that their opinions are valued by the company. The Hubspot Marketing Grader also points out that visitors on the company’s website are not engaged in the website and stay or revisit seldom which may be highly consequential in the company gaining online sales (Hubspot Marketing Grader, 2012).
However, the Nirala website does have some positive aspects as there is use of Google Analytics in order to gather information to make data-driven decisions. The website provides contact information and access to the company’s management and has links to the company’s social media pages on its official site. It also makes use of a landing page to retrieve a small amount of visitor data for purposes of future strategic planning (Hubspot Marketing Grader, 2012).
Perhaps it is the nature of the business or its lack of online dependence that has led to its low performance in search engine optimization. While the company does generate an adequate number of results in search engines, perhaps more focus upon “search marketing”, which refers to ensuring one’s offering is prominently visible on the results page of search engines, may improve its prospects and increase the level of online sales ( Hubspot Marketing Grader, 2012).
Just as global online entrepreneurship has redefined international business and granted firms access to a large mass of foreign customers, (Morgan-Thomas et. al., 2009) the growing effect of social media upon international business cannot be ignored. “Social Media” refers to “a group of internet-based application that builds on ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user generated content.”(Kaplan & Heinlein, 2010). The social media platform includes sites such as Facebook and Twitter which allow users to openly interact and share their opinions, videos, and other content. Twitter is said to trigger effectual cognition within entrepreneurs and enable the dissemination of information, (Fischer & Rueber, 2011) and Facebook is home to millions of consumers around the world. Hence, social media presence is essential for firms who want to be virtually present for their customers. Moreover, it is a perfect platform for receiving feedback and conveying information to millions of customers around the world. While Nirala Sweets has a highly popular Facebook presence with approximately 3,572 fans associated with their page, their Twitter presence is less than commendable (Hubspot Marketing Grader, 2011). The company may be afraid of the stage of “effectual churn” in which a company loses credibility and the interest of its readers because of excessive irrelevant and uninteresting posts, (Fischer & Rueber, 2011) or may feel threatened with the concept of “open-source branding” which gives customers an equal or greater right than the marketers in determining the brand image and how the brand behaves (Fornier & Avery, 2011) However, their Twitter presence which shows a substantial difference in between their Tweets and the fact that none of their Tweets are in response to customers, shows that the company is not interacting with its customers enough ( Hubspot Marketing Grader, 2012).
The company lacks in the area of blogging as it does not have a blog (Hubspot Marketing Grader, 2012).However, the question is whether a company such as Nirala Sweets requires the use of a blog? After all, the company is not technology-oriented and is not constantly innovating like Apple, Sony, and other big brands. Blogging would also mean that the company may lose control over the message that they are trying to convey and too much interaction may lead to exposing the public to the company weaknesses and shortcomings (Fornier & Avery, 2011). The fact that Nirala’s competitor Ambala Foods also lacks the use of a blog may also question the necessity of having one (Hubspot Marketing Grader). However, blogging does increase content, enhance search engine optimization, and increase user involvement. While it may have some detrimental effects, this does not necessarily suggest that it cannot be utilized in a beneficial manner (Jackson et. al., 2007).
After a thorough analysis of the firm’s level of online involvement and e-marketing strategies, the core question that needs to be addressed is whether intense Internet presence is essential for a firm which has established its brand name in the market a good 50 years ago when the Internet was not even prevalent? Does the firm need to engross itself in enhancing its “search marketing” techniques and engage in “social media optimization”, which refers to efforts to increase visibility in the social media network? (Ledford, 2009).
While Nirala Sweets has a large customer base offline and has an established brand name, it has expanded its horizons internationally through the use of the Internet. While the Internet does pose the limitation of customers having a persistent attraction of physical markets, especially in the case of Nirala Sweets, in which customers may wish to taste the products before purchasing them; the Internet has allowed Nirala to expand its reach and target an audience across borders that was not accessible to it before. The Internet has given Nirala a new marketplace and an opportunity to interact with its customers on an enhanced level. Hence, there may be a few areas of deficiency when it comes to the area of online effectiveness that the company must focus upon.
The prime source of online presence for the company is the company’s website. Since the company has expanded to an international enterprise and is targeting several different segments of customers, it is important for the company to consider the impact of culture. The company’s sweet products are used for special occasions such as birthdays and weddings, and hence the products hold a special point of intimacy and personal belonging with the customer. This gives the company the opportunity to enhance the connection with their customers by enabling their customer to “experience intimacy” when using their website. Nirala may do this by the use of marketing automation software which can customize the webpage for each customer according to their previous selections and preferences (Hubspot Marketing Grader, 2012).The company may also use their website to interact with customers on a higher scale and increasing the customer’s sense of “experiencing evangelism” by encouraging them to provide opinions and feedback. Nirala can also use its website for inbound marketing strategies in which it collects information regarding customer’s birthdays, weddings or wedding anniversaries, and other special occasions and then sends them customized offers based on their needs. The company can also increase the customer’s sense of belongingness by adapting the website to different languages. The current website is featured in English and while the company’s customers may be familiar with the English language, they may feel a stronger connection with the company if the company featured the website in Arabic and Urdu as well. To enhance user engagement on the site, attention may be given to the graphics and more use of Web 2.0 software. The design of the site may need to be slightly altered as well to grasp the attention of visitors.
While the use of social media may be a hard decision to mediate upon in a company like Nirala Sweets, the company may use this unique platform to develop a strong sense of branding. Facebook has made it clear that Nirala is not an “uninvited brand” within its realms as perhaps Wal-Mart was when it initially created a page upon the social network (Fornier & Avery, 2011). Hence, enhancing interaction upon Twitter may prove to be beneficial for the firm. While I agree with the concept of “effectual churn” which is caused by excessive irrelevance in posts (Fischer & Rueber, 2011), Nirala does not seem to be interacting with customers at all. Perhaps the company can draw from the points suggested by Kaplen and Haenlein (2010) regarding the use of social media and enhance its Twitter presence by being interesting, active, and honest. While Kaplen and Haenlein (2010) also suggest” being unprofessional”, this point is debatable and may pose to be problematic for a firm with a strong image such as Nirala.
As mentioned before, the company may not need blogs presently but it can increase its online effectiveness by making use of one. Some ideas for blog topics that the company can articulate are health tips regarding the use of its products. Explanations of the ingredients used in new products, suggestions of ways to use Nirala products (such as cereals advertise themselves as breakfast foods and snacks), and providing a few healthy recipes. It is understandable that Nirala cannot reveal its real recipes online as it will harm business, but the company can incorporate many other topics into its blogs.
Lastly, once the company focuses upon these aspects of e-marketing it will also improve its search results on search engines which will mean it is engaging in search engine optimization.
While Nirala is doing relatively well according to its size and the type of industry it is operating in, there is massive room for improvement in order for the company to take advantage of the full opportunities that the Internet and social media are offering to businesses today.
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