Net-centric culture

In 1999, Jakob Nielsen published his seminal work, Designing Web Usability. In our view, this is still the most important book to read if you want to build a successful web presence. And while the printed screenshots are dated, the core messages and learning remains timeless.

We are currently writing the modules for a University degree and wanted to include his concept of Net-centric culture for future marketing managers. Yet we could not locate a single published online article dedicated to this topic. There isn’t even a mention of it on Nielsen’s own website. What does it mean to be net-centric?

Let’s begin by quoting Nielsen himself:

“Finally, and this is the hardest of all… being Net-Centric requires the entire company to get behind the website to deliver an optimal customer experience in the online world. No web team, no matter how good, can create a website that really works if the rest of the company is mired in the physical world and unwilling to put the Internet first in all aspects of virtually all projects.

Many Internet-only start-up companies do have the right attitude and organize their entire corporation around the goal of serving customers online. But it is a hard transition for a legacy company as long as most departments are staffed by people who do not view the Web as a strategic imperative. Therefore, most big-company websites will remain unnecessarily complex for many years to come because they will attempt to paper over an underlying reality that is not Internet-centric.”

Source: Designing Web Usability. Jakob Nielsen. 1999. Published by New Riders Publishing. P382 to 383.

Netcentric Culture

This statement was made before the advent of social media, email marketing and the plethora of digital marketing available today. If it was ‘hardest of all’ then, it must be off the scale by now.

Creating a net-centric culture has very little to do with technology and everything to do with people. In a recent meeting, we met an online retailer that had plateaued turnover and had been trying everything possible to take the next step. One year later their turnover had increased 33 percent. They didn’t achieve this breakthrough by increasing their digital marketing presence, the business owner took a decision to invest in becoming net-centric, in the simplest way.

“I employed two people who were dedicated to answer the telephone and to manage Live Chat enquiries.”

That was literally all he did. He shifted the culture by saying to his staff, we are an internet business, service and responsiveness is the priority.

Obviously the larger the organisation, the more challenging this becomes, changing culture is one of the most challenging scenarios in business. It takes time – more people, more time.

Be net-centric is a timeless piece of advice. For a digital marketing strategy to be successful, people must be permitted and enabled to think in a net-centric way. That’s training and systems in the real world, not the virtual one.

To future marketing managers, putting people at the heart of the digital marketing strategy is the most important decision they will ever make. As Nielsen says…

“No web team, no matter how good, can create a website that really works if the rest of the company is mired in the physical world.”


Article written by Elliot Forte, Director at Business Think Ltd.

Associated Reading:

9 Leadership Steps for Corporate Culture Change – Forbes.com