Posted February 5, 2003 Atlanta
Personal computers have become ubiquitous, using the Web is as common as driving on an Interstate highway, and new generations of wireless phones have capabilities scarcely imagined ten years ago.
But the principles of customer service, targeted marketing, partnership-building and frugality that fueled MindSpring's growth remain just as relevant today, says Lance Weatherby, former executive vice president of EarthLink -- whose merger with MindSpring three years ago created the nation's third-largest Internet service provider.
Weatherby, who joined MindSpring in 1995 as market development manager, is the newest entrepreneur-in-residence at the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), Georgia Tech's business incubator.
"You've got to reach busy people and things are getting more fragmented, but good marketing is still good marketing," explained Weatherby, who joined MindSpring when it was getting started in the ATDC. "Like two plus two equals four, the principles don't change."
In its early days, MindSpring focused on reaching "references" -- people to whom others would turn for information about technology -- specifically, how to access the World Wide Web that was just gaining broad public attention.
"We were very conscious of the fact that word-of-mouth marketing with new technology products is key," Weatherby noted. "Who are the people that are your reference group for the product or service you are selling, and how do you influence these people? That's why I ended up hanging out with people at local PC users groups all around the country."
All of MindSpring's marketing activities were evaluated for their return on investment, which drove subsequent marketing decisions.
"If you can't measure it, it's not marketing," Weatherby said. "Just like having discipline around a quality assurance process, you must have discipline around the marketing process. You have to know what your return on investment is from marketing the same way that you need to know your return on investment from buying a new server."