In the current economic client, many businesses are focusing on efforts that contribute to high ROI (return on investment). High overhead departments and marketing campaigns are getting slashed as managers tighten their belts. This emphasis on “low costs, high returns” can mean a shift in focus away from traditional marketing & sales efforts (such as maintaining an army of reps out in the field) and towards interactive marketing campaigns. By interactive marketing, I’m referring to the collective group of newer, “next-gen” techniques such as search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click or cost-per-click (PPC or CPC, respectively) advertising, email and newsletter marketing, social media marketing, and mobile marketing.
So why is this industry one of the few currently experiencing growth? It’s simple, really – when done correctly, interactive marketing provides some of the lowest-cost, highest-yield returns. By and large, this is because of a) the ability to accurately & precisely target the segments that will generate the most revenue and b) the immense amount of data that can be used to track, analyze, and refine the campaign(s). These two factors (combined with the relatively low overhead of running most of these campaigns) are why the web marketing sector is still growing.
But for folks that have limited experience with these marketing techniques, choosing the right avenue to reach potential customers can be pretty overwhelming. By forgoing research and strategy, many companies end up choosing tactics that won’t work because they simply do not fit the firm’s objectives – in fact, sometimes folks forget to even define these objectives!
Below is a quick run-down of the biggest names in web, search, and mobile marketing. Many companies apply these jointly, but the ones that are successful know what to expect from each campaign. If you’re just jumping into the stormy seas of interactive marketing, read on – you’ll get a brief description and some examples of what you can accomplish with each technique, if applied successfully.
1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization is a comprehensive technique to move a website “up” in search engine results pages for certain queries or phrases. The vast majority of search users never move past the first page of results (usually 10 listings) – for example, Coca-Cola being listed on the 4th page of results for the search “best soda pop” would obviously limit their reach & visibility to potential customers. SEO work involves, among many other things, making a site simultaneously user-friendly and “search engine friendly.” Use caution! Some firms or individuals offering SEO services often make guarantees or promises that seem too good to be true – choose wisely.
- Businesses seeking high visibility & credibility in the minds of potential customers
- Companies attempting to gain long-term visibility, especially in a highly competitive market
- Firms interested in being viewed as an authoritative source in their field or industry
- Can be deployed on both national and regional scales
2. Pay-per-click/cost-per-click (PPC or CPC)
Pay-per-click (also called “PPC” or “CPC” for cost-per-click) advertising is based around sponsored links to your site that typically appear alongside “natural” or “organic” search results in search engines such as Google and Yahoo. These links can consist of a few lines of text, or can include images and even video. Companies bid on which search queries they would like their ads to appear, and are charged every time a user clicks on the ad and arrives at their site – hence the “pay per click” name. However, this relatively simple bidding system can get very expensive when inexperienced advertisers bid on the wrong keywords or don’t craft their ads properly.
- Quickly gaining visibility near the top of search engine results pages.
- Seasonal products or time-sensitive campaigns where SEO may not be effective
- Like SEO, can target customers on a national level, down to an individual city
- Often used in conjunction with SEO services to extend reach
3. Email Marketing, E-Newsletter Marketing
Email marketing & opt-in electronic newsletters boast some of the highest purchase rates amongst online shoppers. When customers make a purchase or visit your site and sign up for your company’s newsletter, you immediately have a highly-interested segment of potential customers. By harnessing graphic-rich messages, dynamic content and advanced segmenting tools, newsletters can deliver the right content to the right people. The best email management tools boast extremely high deliverability rates and provide a great deal of power & flexibility while still remaining extremely user-friendly.
- Businesses that want to engage customers and encourage repeat purchases
- Maintaining “top of mind” in potential customers
- Companies that want brand consistency and close contact with subscribers
- Low cost, high returns – but building up a subscriber list can take time, especially if there’s no incentive to sign up
4. Social Media / Social Network Marketing
First, some numbers:
- MySpace boasts over 200 million users – greater than the population of Russia or Brazil
- It’s not just for college kids – currently, Facebook’s fastest growing demographic is the 35 – 55 age group.
- An amazing 120,000 blogs are created per day
As everyone knows, community-driven sites like YouTube, Twitter, & Digg have exploded in popularity lately – these user-focused sites, and many others, are referred to as “social networks” or “social media,” and they’ve become an important part of maintaining a cohesive and strong brand identity on the internet. Many companies tend to farm out one person to create a Facebook page or LinkedIn account, but few understand the strategy or techniques behind operating a successful social networking campaign.
Most users of social network sites are very internet-savvy, and can spot a sales pitch a mile off – and, thanks to the open community-based format on most sites, they’ll let you and everyone else know what they think of it. Because of the personal aspect of social sites (it’s THEIR profile, THEIR friends and peers, and they’ve probably spent time & effort building those two things up), many users will resent what they see as a company trying to “cash in” on something that’s so close to them. This is the reason why so many companies fail at constructing a popular, successful social media presence – they lack the entertaining content, the conversational one-on-one element, or just generally push people too hard to buy. It ain’t a used car lot, folks!
While it may take a while to see an impact on the bottom line, many companies know that their current customers and millions of prospects use these sites; this is an invaluable and low-cost link to market research & customer feedback.
- Businesses seeking to build and/or maintain their reputation across the internet
- Helping move customers from simply being a user of your product to an advocate (the brand is internalized, becomes part of their lifestyle & personality)
- Maintaining direct contact with current customers – this connection to the market provides research, ideas, opportunities, and challenges
- Attracting new customers and brand followers
- Firms willing to invest time into becoming part of a community by offering interesting, exciting, or usable content
5. Mobile Marketing, SMS / Text Message Marketing
As the two worlds of desktop computing and mobile device converge, businesses are taking advantage of consumers’ “need it now” usage of cell phones & smart phones. SMS or text campaigns can alert subscribers of special offers or deals, or provide reminders, news, or other information sent directly to cell phones. Like social network marketing, companies can build brand identity with contests & games, or gather market data by allowing subscribers to vote for their favorite products. A strategic approach to this effort (encompassing mobile site design, mini-site design, mobile-friendly PPC advertising, and SMS campaign management) can ensure that your customer base receives the right information and message.
- Attracting customers through the use of easily-digestible, informative or entertaining content
- Maintaining contact with interested subscribers via a SMS or text campaign
- Promoting user-friendliness to encourage purchases (IE, a grocery store offering a mobile site where users can shop, choose items, then pick up in-store)
- Businesses wanting to promote brand awareness, credibility, and close connection to customers
6. Comparison Shopping Engines / Online Malls
This is usually a form of pay-per-click, but it’s unique enough to warrant it’s own number. Sites like pricegrabber.com, nextag.com, or Yahoo! Shopping are often referred to as shopping engines, online malls, or price comparison sites. Typically, these sites are not retailers, but aggregators – that is, they accept product listings from multiple retailers and direct visitors to those specific sites, usually charging the retailers using a pay-per-click model. Different shopping engines target different product segments and demographics, so picking the right ones can be difficult. Additionally, most sites require retailers to submit their product listings via a specialized template file – and, of course, each site requires a different format! Search engine optimization tactics can also come into play here, in order to have your products highly ranked in each site’s internal search results.
- Established online retailers looking to broaden their reach through a new outlet
- Expanding visibility using an existing site with a demographically similar customer base, and is already trusted by a number of repeat visitors
- Obtaining highly qualified traffic through product listings in extremely specific categories
This should give a broad level overview of the different options available for newer, technology-focused marketing efforts. And remember – decide your objectives first, THEN implement the strategy!