When it comes to marketing your company, do the words online, Internet, electronic media, or Web-based make your palms sweat and heart beat faster? There's no need to fear online tools to market your business when you remember the basics. Here's a quick guide to get started.
First and foremost, you must remember the fundamentals of any good marketing program. Failure to plan is planning to fail, so spend the time needed to answer these three key questions:
1. What is your marketing objective and strategy?
2. Who do you want to receive your message?
3. How will you know if the program is successful?
A good marketing objective is measurable and specifically addresses what you want the plan to accomplish. For example: bring in 10% more leads, increase revenue from current clients by 15%, or raise awareness of services. "Make more money" does not qualify as a marketing objective. Once the objective is set, the next step is to determine the target audience—or who is to receive the message. Remember that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients. Paint a detailed picture of these clients so that you can attract more of them. Look at details such as company size, type of business, management philosophy, primary accounts, and location. Once you know who you're fishing for, you can fish in the right places! This is an especially critical step when planning online marketing campaigns because there are so many options. And finally, before starting, address how you will know if the plan worked. If you do not address this early on, you may find that you don't have key information or data to track success. For example, if your objective is to increase leads, do you know how many leads your sales team is currently bringing in without the marketing program? By determining how success will be achieved and setting up a process to track this success, you can determine if your investment paid out or not. Once you have the answers to these three questions committed to paper, you can then begin to analyze which online option is right for your company. And one universal truth of online marketing is that there are lots of choices. According to Emarketer.com there are over 3.6 Web sites which account for over 300 million Web pages. How are businesses accessing and using this content? According to Nielsen Net Ratings, which monitors online activity, there are nearly 45 million people accessing the Web while at work. During the month of March the average user spent over 27 hours on the Web during work hours and visited nearly 100 unique Web sites. The average surf time was about 30 minutes, with any given page being seen for less than one minute! This means that you must have your objectives and target nailed down before committing one dollar to the Web. What are business people doing while on the Web? According to the Bridge Agency, a Cincinnati-based online firm, the top activities are accessing e-mail, using search engines, and researching products and services. Nearly half of users send electronic greetings, enter contests or sweepstakes, access local information, instant message, or download software. This corresponds with the latest data from Nielsen Net Ratings, which shows the most frequently visited sites (aggregated by parent company) by at-work users are Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL Time Warner, Amazon, Google, Terra Lycos, About-Primedia, eBay, USA Network, and CNET Networks. You can see the most recent list at www.netratings.com. These figures demonstrate how flexible and personalized the Web really is. The key to successful online marketing is understanding how your targets use the Web at work and reaching them during that time. The best way to do this: Ask them. Ask your clients and prospects: What sites do you use during work? What sites do you find most helpful in doing your job? What e-mail newsletters do you regularly read? What search engines do you use? Where do you go online to find the latest industry news? This does not need to be a formal study but can be gathered informally in person, on the phone, or via e-mail.
Select an Ad Format
Once you know who you want to reach and how that group uses the Web, you can then determine which type of online marketing program is the best match to meet your objective. Again, the Web offers many choices. The oldest and most basic form of advertising on the Web is the banner ad. Derived from traditional magazine and newspaper advertising, this is an ad that appears on a Web page in a pre-defined space (usually the top or side). Banners are available in many sizes and are usually priced based on the number of people who visit the page. Numerous studies have concluded that banner ads significantly raise awareness of advertisers. Users remember banner advertisers even if they don't click on the ad, and many brands see significant increases in offline sales. Banners are not the best choice, however, for driving traffic to your Web site or for generating online purchases. In general, the banners that work best are page dominant ads (the biggest ad on the page) and animated and active ads (containing a link to additional information). Designers and technology are moving banners from static placement on a page to highly creative, interactive experiences. Known as "shoshkles," these ads feature flying birds, cars driving across pages, balls bouncing, and other surprises that move, dance, and jump across a page. Eyeblaster (www.eyeblaster.com) is a leading producer of these type of spots. Given the novelty of this format, these ads are receiving a lot of publicity and talk around the water cooler. Long-term, they may become more burdensome to users who do not want to wait while Britney Spears completes her dance before seeing the latest weather report. Most research shows that consumers prefer information and content over entertainment. These types of ads can be very expensive to produce which, can be a drawback for small companies. The key to a successful banner campaign of any type is to choose the sites most used by your target—remember question number two? Don't confuse size with success. Big audience numbers do not always translate into the most successful sites. Many times a small targeted site that provides meaningful content to your target will outperform a mass media site that attracts many people—of which only a handful match your client profile. Moving from banners, the next option is pop up ads or unders, sometimes called daughter windows or Superstitials. These are ads that appear as separate windows when you open a page. These ads can only be closed when a consumer takes some action. Because these ads are so intrusive, they are highly controversial. The Internet Advertising Bureau has issued a voluntary guideline to regulate these forms of advertising in order to make them more user friendly. The regulation states that "a banner may play audio and/or video content after a user clicks on it and should display a visible stop or pause button once the audio/video begins." Several programs have also been created to disable these ads before they reach the consumer. If targeted correctly, these forms of advertising can be effective, but they should be used with caution for fear of irritation. Whether using banners, buttons, pop-ups or shoshkles, there are many easy ways to promote your business online. Cross-promote related vendors, such as surveyors or home inspectors, on your Web sites and ask them to do the same. Add client links to your company Web site, and see if they will provide a link to your site. Make sure that your company is listed on all industry Web site link lists (such as the ALTA® search for members section).
For small businesses the most affordable way to tap into the potential of the Web is to use e-mail and e-newsletters. These tools move from building awareness to driving loyalty and usage. When done correctly, e-mail is much cheaper, faster, and easier than traditional mail or faxes and has higher success rates. For e-mail campaigns to be successful, you must have the right mind-set. According to Debbie Weil, president of WordBiz.com; "Successful e-mail marketing is not a one-off acquisition campaign to collect e-mail addresses. It's a strategically planned retention program of mailing e-newsletters, special promotions, and product updates to your opt-in house list with the goal over several quarters of converting your prospects into customers."
A successful e-mail program does the following:
Stephanie Padgett is lead consultant for Strategic Growth Partners. She can be reached at 513-688-1624 or firstname.lastname@example.org.