WWWIZ INTERVIEW:

Doug and Melody Wolfgram

by Cynthia Gregory Wilson

In the beginning, way back in the 1980s-practically ancient history at the rate technology is changing-a young computer industry hotshot with a physics degree from Oregon State University appeared on the scene. Like other industry icons, Douglas E. Wolfgram had the magic touch. He developed PIG-DOS, an enhanced version of Apple's operation system, and Pillbox, a three-dimensional graphics game, and it was good. Then, Wolfgram and a couple of pals developed a drawing program named MouseDraw and a script-driven presentation program named Flashgun. At the 1984 SoftCon trade show in New Orleans, Wolfgram demonstrated both products. A company named Mouse Systems, Inc. liked MouseDraw so much they bought exclusive rights to the program and paid Wolfgram to continue to develop the program under their guidelines. This program eventually evolved into the first and most successful program of its kind at the time. It was called PCPAINT, and it was very, very good.

By the mid-80s Wolfgram began to look for the next great creative challenge. He evolved Flashgun into the industry defacto standard for professional presentation graphics, GRASP. With the exciting new development of GRASP, Wolfgram was able to form a new compay with the explict purpose of developing interactive
marketing software. Today Wolfgram runs GRAFX Group, Inc., one of the country's most prized multimedia development firms.

Melody Wolfgram joined GRAFX Group in '94 to head up the Internet marketing group. Melody brings her own blend of marketing, advertising and public relations to the GRAFX Group matrix. Since the early 1980s, she has designed and developed products and marketing efforts for such notable hardware and software vendors as AST, Novel, SCO, and Microsoft. With a career spanning multiple creative industries, Melody also worked beside some of the first innovators to bring computer automation to music and film, allowing musicians to create stylized digital music.

WWWiz was interested in the Wolfgrams' views on the Web, the way they use it, and the future they see for the mother of all communications systems. We tracked them down at the GRAFX Group headquarters, located in an office park on the top of a windswept hill in San Clemente.

WWWIZ: How would you describe the Web?

DW: Traditionally, it was an information exchange medium for corporations, universities, for educational, and government, and now it's a place for people to congregate electronically.

If you ask a million people what a telephone is, you'll get the same answer from all fof them. If you ask a million people what the Web is, you'll probably get a million different answers. The fact is, the Web is a communications medium, just like the phone. But it's also an information distribution service. The way business is changing, communications is the key to everything we do. If I'm in business, I need to communicate-information, products, services, all kinds of things. If I believe that my customers are on the other end of a communications vehicle, then that's an effective vehicle for me to use-whether it's a magazine or the Web. The cost to be on-line and to deliver can be far cheaper than launching other types of marketing and advertising campaigns.

MW: It's a new medium in communication, and communication is the key word. It is far more open than any medium has been in the past. And it has its own particular culture that goes along with it. The culture of the Internet is such that [people] expect that information to not so much be consistent, but changing. They have a "more" attitude. "Give me more, more, more."

It's a culture that will definitely continue to alter communication. Traditional media, television, radio, newsprint, has been very closed and one way. This new medium is based on an open exchange of communication. Sometimes it's difficult for clients to understand that yes, you can put information out there and protect it. You can put a brochure on-line and retain its integrity. As clients get on board with it, they realize how effective it really is.

WWWiz: The information is now available and people can't stand not to use it!

DW: It's convenience. Part of what makes this medium good is that it's so easy and so cheap. It's the broadest market and the cheapest communication medium ever invented. We've been talking about advertising and marketing. The truth is that traditionally, the Internet was not commercial at all. But the World Wide Web brings about a whole new ball game. The Web is definitely a commercial enterprise. It will be paid for by commercial entities, not by universities and government grants and all the other things that funded it for the first 20 years. You're definitely going to see a lot more commercial activities going on.

The medium itself is growing as fast as the number of people using it. People go to the Internet for one reason only: to get information.

WWWiz: How does the Web fit into your marketing matrix?

DW: Most companies that are involved in mass market approaches to selling in the last twenty years are changing back to relationship marketing. Instead of taking one product and trying to gain 10% market share, they are now saying, "Let's go get a customer, sell that customer all of our products and keep that customer for a long time." There are many benefits to this. The customers in this particular arena are not influenced as much by negative economic cycles. They are not price-sensitive-they are more service-aware.

There are cost benefits involved. In the mass-marketing approach, you plan your business around cost to reach customers, whereas in one-to-one marketing, you can actually measure the cost of a sale.

There are two technologies that support sales and marketing in a one-to-one environment. They are: notebook computers and multimedia-these allow you to address the one-to-one marketing with a very high level of emotional influence. Other benefits are customization at point of sale. You can't do that with paper brochures. If you're going after a particular market, and you want to sell that customer all your products, you need to customize everything to that customer, because everyone's needs are different. So having flexible and exciting materials that are customized at point of sale is a very good way to influence an audience.

The Web provides a powerful distribution vehicle for interactive marketing materials. That's why it is a logical extension to our overall business strategy and mission.

WWWiz: What is a practical use for the Web?

MW: Service & support. A service organization that gets a lot of 800 number calls can use it to great benefit. They can put up actual diagrams, photos or even video about how to service and support their product. People can actually go online, view those elements, and answer their own questions. That is a really exciting aspect, because the cost of 800 lines is so tremendous and the worst thing for a customer to get is the busy signal or to wait. So online service and support is going to grow rapidly. There are a lot of people who are using it. Again, it's information, information, information. It's not just fluff. With the Web, you have the glitz and glamour of the graphic interface combined with the clear, concise delivery of requested information.

WWWIZ: That brings up another question. Do the Web graphics have an emotional impact?

MW: Absolutely.

WWWiz: Why do graphics matter?

DW: I think partially, because of information translation. If the graphics are done right, you can get more information faster by glancing at a graphic image than by reading a paragraph of text. Graphics relate information faster than the traditional written methods. Also, there's a retention value and an interest level that influence the mix.

Factoid: By the end of 1995, for the first time, consumers who have been active for less than one year will make up the majority of online users. More people will join this year than will join in all previous years put together.

WWWiz: As a marketing company, how do you use the Web?

DW: When someone calls and tells us they want to be on the Web, the first thing we do is a marketing needs analysis. Sometimes we tell them they don't need a Web page! We're a marketing company first, and a Web page developer second or third or fourth. A lot of people get caught up in the fervor. Some engineer at a giant corporation says, "We need to be on the Web," and a senior executive goes to a marketing seminar and is told, "You ought to be on the Web." Sometimes you get those two together and there's a huge gap. In between, there's a lot that has to be done before a successful Web implementation occurs.

WWWiz: What makes a good Web page?

DW: Web pages vary. Go to the Buena Vista page. Look what Disney has done. [The page] has 200K graphics, it's slow and cumbersome, and you can't find anything. Then you go to George and Sal's Disney page, who happen to be a couple of consumers who love Disney and do it for fun, and it's great fun. It's fast and there's a lot of information there, because information is being provided by people who want to communicate with you, not by someone who's trying to put a corporate image out. There are many similar examples. Who wants to go in and browse through 17 menus and then download a 5MB movie trailer that plays a quicktime movie this big? [holds hands to form a softball-size frame]

WWWiz: Then who should be on the Web?

DW: Anybody who has a product to sell to 17- to 35-year-old males will have a huge mind share. It breaks down from there. The Intertnet is getting huge. For example, we're doing a whole system for little kids under 12 years old. Although it's only .3 percent of the market-.3 % of 30 million is still several hundred thousand kids.

There are three kinds of business communication going on on the Web: business-to-business, business-to-consumer, and business-to-itself. For example, one of our major clients, Toshiba America Inc., wants to communicate with its various offices and operating companies across the country; they want to communicate with consumers and with all their vendors, suppliers and resellers. They really need a three-layer system. A company like Toshiba could use the Web to deliver new product information to consumers, new pricing and incentives to resellers, and internal communication between companies.

MW: I was listening to NPR and heard about a small business who was producing salsa, and selling it on the Internet. It was exciting to me, because it shows how a small group who doesn't have a lot of money can get on the Internet. What they did was, they showed the labels and the ingredients. When you go to the store, what do you look at? You look at a really fancy, high-end label, and the ingredients. They sell their product in an on-line transaction. Here you are on the Internet, looking at labels. You can't look at the color or texture of what's in the jar, but so what? They probably scanned in a label, a very low-cost idea. I thought that was great. I would order salsa online, wouldn't you? I mean, you see a great-looking label, it costs a few bucks, and they send it out to you. They are able to keep their costs down and have world-wide exposure.

DW: Catalogues and mail order make shopping even more convenient on the Internet. If I'm up in the middle of the night, and my mouse breaks, I'll go on-line and order one. Right then. I don't have to stop and go driving anywhere and go shopping for a mouse. I don't mind if I pay a little more for that product, because of the convenience. You're talking about the entire world at your fingertips. Automobile manufacturers, coffee vendors, salsa makers can all provide products and services online.

WWWiz: Should a Web page be simple or sophisticated?

DW: It should be as simple as possible. Our tag line is "interactive communications by design." It gets back to communicating with people. When I first started doing this work, I could do graphics nobody had ever seen before. I could do things with a computer nobody ever thought of before. I got well known for doing cool things nobody had been able to do. Those days are long gone. There are a jillion writers and artists and illustrators who have all the tools to do cool special effects.

We focus on the real meat of it, which is the design. We look at any communication strategy or issue as a problem or series of problems. A design poses solutions to those problems. Our designs solve business communication problems. From that standpoint, a simple design is by far the best. If you glance at a multimedia screen and can't tell within about four to five seconds what it's about, I think it's a bad design. A good design means you communicate it cleanly, efficiently and effectively. Sophistication is for those who are trying to impress the leading edge of the industry with what can be done. If you go back to focusing on giving information to the customer, you find that simplicity and elegance are key to everything. That's what we try to do.

WWWiz: What browser do you use?

DW: Netscape, Mosaic, Prodigy, NetCruiser. I like Netscape, because it's what I've always used. It's one of those things-you get comfortable and you use it. As soon as Windows 95 is released, I'll start using it. They do stuff like "drag and drop." You just drag a site to your desktop and whenever you want, you just click on it and it'll log you on the Internet and it'll go to that site for you automatically. Just like anything else on Microsoft Network, an Internet site is just another option. That'll be really nice. There are a lot of technological changes coming out.

WWWiz: What is the trend for the average user?

DW: Almost everyone I talk to uses Netscape. Many people will use AOL or Prodigy, I think for a while, at least.

WWWiz: What's the future?

DW: I'm not a fortune-teller, but my gut tells me that technology is the key. Watch the developments in technology...

Doug Wolfgram may be contacted at: dougw@gfx.com
Melody Wolfgram may be contacted at: melw@gfx.com



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