Hanging Your Net Shingle, Part 3: Customers

March 2002 Communication

Corporate web sites are communication tools that can influence decisions and encourage positive actions. In this third part of a five part series discussing the content of new venture web sites, we will explore Itron’s new site,, with an eye to how it speaks to potential customers.

Itron is not a Chicago firm but they are one of the largest wireless data firms providing both hardware and software. The sell wireless meters modules, wireless meter reading devices, and meter reading validation software to water, gas, and electric utilities. If your Peoples Energy gas meter was upgraded with a new radio frequency attachment to it, Itron provided the unit that reads the meter, transmits the data to a mobile meter reading device, and then forwards that data for your bill. While this kind of wireless data communication may not be on the forefront of our minds, it is on the forefront of technology that has real ROI.

As an audience, Itron’s customer group will include technologist, field meter readers, and C-level finance people. Each of these customer roles will want to be able to quickly determine the companies product marketing message. Some of them will then want to see the details such as a technology description, list of benefits, points-of-parity with similar offerings, and points-of-differentiation as well. They may also want to see some of the information that an investor would be seeking such as Company background and referenced Client List to support that the company will be around to support the solution in 5 years and that the technology works.

For addressing customers, a convenient product marketing message could fit the form of: For This Target Customer, who need To Solve This Problem, we are the best at This Product Differentiating Value Offer because We Have This Product Attribute. Most firms are not going to be this succinct and blunt, but it is useful if a prospect could put this kind of a sentence together after reading a product marketing message on a web site. Itron conveniently highlights this kind of information for each of its products. For instance, their MV-90 is described in three, easily understandable, paragraphs as a software product that receives and validates meter reads. In creating a product marketing message, we could state from reading their web site, For utilities who need to collect, validate, and edit their meter reads, the MV-90 is the most complete solution as demonstrated by its acceptance as the most popular solution on the market. Even if the product differentiator appears weak, this message is acceptable. It tells us who their customers are, what the product does for them, and addresses on of the primary concerns of risk adverse utilities it is proven technology.

Often, the customer audience will be driven to a corporate web site through a prior experience such as a sales call, meeting, exhibit, VAR, or contact with similar customers. Because the customer audience will be addressed by the firm in numerous occasions, it is necessary to have a cohesive message across the customer facing portion of the firm. The web site can be used as nice place both for the initiation of conversation and for the following up of prior interactions. While brevity and clarity are useful in guiding customers through a firm’s product material, completeness is also necessary for customers requiring further information.

For prospects requiring more than a simple product marketing message prior to taking action, Itron goes on to list both benefits and use cases, then combines these stories with customer case studies and numerous relevant press releases. From the list of benefits, a careful reader could determine the points-of-parity and points-of-differentiation in conducting a product comparison with Itron’s products. Even if a firm is lacking case studies and press releases, it can produce and publish its own white papers and product brochures on its web site. While clearly not as rich as a set of customer stories, firm produced publications demonstrate the depth of thought that has gone into making a product to solve a set of problems. This is, in itself, a testimony that the product or services are sound.

Itron has nice clarity in addressing customers, yet the test comes in turning one way communication through a web publication into two way communication of email, phone, event attendance, or meeting. With clarity of a marketing message, clarity of appropriate decisions making and action can follow.

The May Report, TECH BUSINESS BRIEFS,March 8, 2002

About the author

Tim J. Smith, PhD is the Managing Principal of Wiglaf Pricing, and an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University of Marketing and Economics. His most recent book is Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures.

Tim J. Smith, PhD
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