Guest Speaker: John Carrieri, Founder, Colleges.com
Interviewer: Diane Watlov-Collins, President, MARKETINGWEB.COM
Date: December 16, 1998

Welcome to the MARKETINGWEB.COM Forum! The purpose of this Forum is to provide online discussion concerning the methods of Internet marketing.

** Marketingweb enters

Marketingweb: PLEASE NOTE: Questions are not taken from the floor during the interview. Questions are submitted for our guest speakers prior to their interviews through a link provided on the Forum page. This is in interest of time. Thank you for your compliance with our Forum netiquette policy.

Marketingweb: Our featured guest speaker tonight is John Carrieri, CEO of Lost Reality Studios and the Founder of Colleges.com, the #1 college site according to USA Today Polls. Welcome, John!

jcarrieri: Hello all!

Marketingweb: Many companies today are trying to develop online communities within their target markets. Some are meeting with measured success while others are failing. What in your opinion does a target market need to qualify as a candidate for successful online community development?

jcarrieri: Well I guess first off, you have to declare what your objectives are in building an online community. An online community can be as broad based as trying to capture anyone on the Internet to as small as the Chinchillas Appreciation Group.

jcarrieri: Not to be ambiguous, different developers / creators have different goals. If you want to build a local user community you'd focus on building it with local content or local interests. If you're trying to capture a whole market like we are doing with Colleges.com you need to fulfill the desires and interests of college students and college bound students.

jcarrieri: So to sum up, I believe that any target market could work to create a successful community, you just need to make sure you really understand the market and provide the viewers / users with what they're looking for.

Marketingweb: Our experience has shown us that several factors need to be present in a target market before attempting to develop an online community.

Marketingweb: These are: Some level of experience with the Internet; a need for information, products and services to meet a common goal or goals; the ability and willingness to make a purchase; the ability of the membership to communicate effectively with one another; and the opportunity to develop strategic partners.

Marketingweb: Do you agree?

jcarrieri: Well, I'd agree with that. That sounds like a textbook definition. Each community need is a bit different. The willingness to purchase is not necessary to make a successful community site unless commerce is an important part of you're strategy.

jcarrieri: On Colleges.com we will be fulfilling a need for students with products such as textbooks, clothing, and much more but overall it comes back to what is the mission of the site. A teen site for instance, would definitely need to have chat. Not that we all don't like to chat but teenagers are the masters of it.

Marketingweb: I understand your point, however, the willingness to purchase is important to a company developing a site for the purpose of selling products, services and information over the Internet. Agreed?

jcarrieri: Agreed. You then have to figure out how best to supplement that commerce objective with content and services as well. Otherwise, you are building just a commerce site and users / consumers will not "hang out" on the site.

Marketingweb: That's true. It does come down to doing your market research and knowing what your market needs and wants.

Marketingweb: Obviously, attempting to design an online community without performing target market research is tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot. Using technology that is not intuitive, or causes pages to download too slowly or requires the installation of several plug-ins, or that which is simply beyond the technological capabilities of the majority of your market only spells disaster.

Marketingweb: After you identify a market how do you determine what design technology to use in the development of the community site?

jcarrieri: Well the technology used depends on the expected size of the site. If we're talking the Chinchilla Appreciation Group, we're probably talking a small scale site which can be run on a personal computer. If you're talking a large site like Colleges.com you have to build an architecture that is scalable.

jcarrieri: I could go on for hours explaining scalability and systems but you really have to first try to figure out what is a realistic number of members that will be signing up for the site and how many will be online at any one time.

jcarrieri: If you're talking a large site, I'd would recommend UNIX based servers. We use Sun Servers, and Oracle as a database. We also use Ichat for most of our chat rooms.

jcarrieri: There's no right answer to this question. You just have to really plan up front to make sure that the solution that you choose will accommodate the incredible growth of your successful site!

Marketingweb: So in essence once again, market research is extremely necessary in order to properly plan for the development of the community.

Marketingweb: What about the technological capabilities of your prospective community members?

jcarrieri: Yes, extremely important. We researched the College market for more than a year before we launched the Colleges.com. The tech capabilities of the users is very important to your technical choices. For instance, with respect to Colleges.com we built a very graphically rich site. We were able to get away with that because a large percentage of the users have high speed Internet access at their dorms and Universities. We are building customization features though that a user on a slower speed connection such as a modem, will be able to choose so that the site works adequately with their connection speed.

Marketingweb: Once the community site has been designed what do you feel are the most important methods of promoting the site both on and off the Internet?

jcarrieri: Well, each market has a different attack strategy. I believe that off-line marketing is very important. Every medium has it's benefits. Magazines are a great way to hit a niche market. Radio is a cost effective medium to hit a regional market and TV is just to expensive in most cases, in my opinion.

jcarrieri: I believe that the Internet is a great way to advertise because if you take advantage of the technology you can really attack the appropriate consumer. OOPS! I guess attract is a better way of saying it.

Marketingweb: I agree that it is very important to include traditional advertising in your Internet marketing campaign. According to the 1997 Internet Users Survey 36% of those who said they access news online stated that their major source for the news was still television. Only 16% said their major source was online. My point, we're in the game but we don't own the playing field just yet.

jcarrieri: I agree. That's a fair assessment.

Marketingweb: What about online methods?

jcarrieri: With respect to online advertising / marketing I think that the search engines obviously are important, but I believe that will change over time. Search engine strategy is very frustrating. One minute you're in the top ten and the next you're in the top 1,004,567. They change their criteria and in most cases you can program you're meta tags so carefully and so perfectly that you would think you should be number one in the rankings but find you're off in space. There's just no exact science to it, in my opinion it's all voodoo.

jcarrieri: But online targeted advertising gets you results. Also, if you try to advertise whether it's with banner ads or another creative mechanism like the Interstitials on Colleges.com, the creative is extremely important to achieve high click through rates.

Marketingweb: How about press releases and solicited email?

jcarrieri: Well free advertising is always the best! PR is a science, and one of the most effective ways to market your company. Sometimes you get it for free with out even asking. With respect to Colleges.com we had USA Today rate us the number one College site. Not bad, since we had only launched a month earlier.

jcarrieri: With respect to my other site, www.jokes.com we've been written up in numerous publications like London's Evening Post. The beauty in the Internet is that it is International and that you have viewers looking at your sites from all of the world.

jcarrieri: Of course you need to always continue to push the PR...and PR creates more PR. One way to start is to release PR releases. You might get the help of a PR specialist with the writing of the releases and then try PRnewswire to distribute them. Prnewswire - www.prnewswire.com has many different distribution options. Their US1 distribution also releases your news to web sites as well as magazines and newspapers.

Marketingweb: That's great information, John.

Marketingweb: We all agree that in order to obtain membership for a community you must offer prospective members something of value. The job doesn't stop with the sign-up process.

Marketingweb: How do you keep them coming back?

jcarrieri: Well, again that depends on your community. Free email is one way to attract and keep loyal members but having a good domain name is probably important or else they won't bother with your email solution.

jcarrieri: Think you're funny, well get a free email account @jokes.com. Are you in College and don't want to worry about whether you're changing universities or ISPs, get a free account @Colleges.com.

jcarrieri: Other good ways to attract repeat visits is to provide prizes and contests for the members. On Colleges.com we give away a Palm Pilot every week. We give away free Internet access for a year for Free! We give away free computers, trips, scholarships, courses, etc. and I can tell you that the members appreciate it and keep coming back for more. You have to let you're members know that you really appreciate them.

Marketingweb: That is incredible and brings up a very important point. In order to be able to offer such quality merchandise, etc. the value of strategic partners comes into play.

Marketingweb: What do you feel are the best methods of being able to attract strategic partners?

jcarrieri: Well, you have to have a good story. First off, do you really have the right market that they're interested in? If you do great, how are you really capturing that demographic? You must show them that you are capturing the market and that you have innovative ways of providing and marketing the strategic partners' products and services.

Marketingweb: When a site has come to this point of having captured a market and developed strategic partners the next steps seems to be to try to attract venture capital.

Marketingweb: What do you consider to be the best means of going after venture capital?

jcarrieri: Well, I think that investment is a better way to describe it, at least idealistically. You want to grow your company and that often requires additional funding. That investment can come from a number of different means.

jcarrieri: If you serve a particular niche market and you're successful in that niche, then you might think about what traditional companies in that sector might be interested in investing. Perhaps a magazine publisher or a media giant such as AOL or other large online entity that would be interested in adding your niche play into their portfolio.

jcarrieri: With respect to Venture Capital, you need to be careful. In general I'd have to say watch your back. They're after only one thing, maximizing profits and that will often come at your expense.

jcarrieri: There are a few good Venture Capitalists that bring a lot of value and management experience to a project. It's just hard to find them, like anything good in life. You might start by running your ideas by a good law firm that specializes in Internet startups. They will first tell you whether you have a valid idea/site to bring to the VCs and will introduce you as well. I'm not a liberty to suggest particular firms, but please ask for examples of their past deals and I believe you can gauge your chances of success with them.

Marketingweb: John, you have provided us with some very valuable insight. We appreciate your participation in our Forum!

jcarrieri: Your welcome!

Marketingweb: We have been speaking with John Carrieri, CEO of Lost Reality Studios and the Founder of Colleges.com, the #1 college site according to USA Today Polls.

Email: jcarrieri@lostreality.com;
Web site: http://www.lostreality.com and http://www.colleges.com
Phone: 619.597.7580

Marketingweb: That concludes our interview session.

jcarrieri: Sounds Good, Take care and signing out : )

Marketingweb: We thank those of you who have taken the time to view this session live. The transcript will be online tomorrow for the rest of our Community to view.

Marketingweb: Good night all!

** jcarrieri exits.

** Marketingweb exits.





Copyright © 2008 Marketingweb.com
All Rights Reserved.