Internet Marketing: Evidence of a Viable Medium

Article excerpt

In 1978 the AICPA voted to remove the portions of Rule 502 in the Code of Ethics which severely limited the types of advertising the CPA could do. Although hesitant at first, advertising has become a commonly employed mode of marketing for some CPAs. The national firms advertise regularly using television, radio, business journals, and client newsletters. However, many accountants, particularly the smaller practitioners, have been reluctant to advertise using media formerly not allowed.

The opening of the Internet to the general public, advances in computer technology, and the widespread use of personal computers in the workplace and home have opened a whole new world for commerce on an international scale. The use of the Internet for promotion is a natural outgrowth of this phenomenon. To the practicing CPA, the Internet offers several major advantages over traditional advertising methods including

the opportunity to enhance the firm's image by appearing to be on the cutting edge of technology.

Internet advertising can be interactive. Questions can be conveniently addressed via the e-mail. The surfer can obtain related information by using hypertext links.

the ability to reach a large audience of prospective clients who have free access to material through the World Wide Web and other Internet access tools. The Web surfer tends to be younger, better educated, and wealthier than the nonuser and consequently more likely to need public accounting service than the general public.

the chance to level the playing field with other larger firms by developing an attractive, attention getting home page at a fraction of the cost of more traditional advertising media. Location and office environment advantages are neutralized over the net.

Although numerous businesses have been hawking their wares over the Internet with varying degrees of success for several years, CPAs and other professionals are relatively new to the field. Interest in using the Internet by CPAs is high as evidenced by the number of articles being written, the number of seminars available on the topic, and the number of consultants offering their services to the novice. In response to the potential usefulness of the Internet, the inexperience in this area, and the current interest, this study was undertaken to investigate the experiences of CPAs who were early to experiment with this newest form of promotion.

Two-Phased Survey

In order to gain insight into the experiences of those CPA firms who have tried the Internet as a form of advertising, 273 CPA home pages were downloaded from the net. The home pages were analyzed for their content, and the e-mail addresses of the firms were located. Using the email addresses, 250 firms were electronically sent a questionnaire dealing with their experiences. One hundred three of them responded.

Why Develop a Web Page?

Each firm was asked to rate the importance of six factors in their decision to establish a Web site (Exhibit 1). The scale ranged from one (not important) to five (very important). The majority of the firms believed that all of the factors were important or very important goals except to obtain clients outside of their local area. The ranking factors based on the average (mean) responses are as follows:

1. Improve the firm's image (3.92).

2. Attract new clients within the firm's local area (3.77).

3. General interest (curiosity) in the Internet (3.59).

4. Better serve the firm's present clients (3.52).

5. Complement their advertising (3.51).

6. Attract new clients outside the firm's local area (2.90).

Experiences

Start-up and maintenance costs are obvious factors to consider prior to deciding whether or not to set up a Web site. Three-fourths of the firms surveyed designed their own home pages. Approximately 40% spent less than $100 to do so and only 23% invested more than $500 (see Exhibit ). …