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OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS, THE ADVERTISING WORLD HAS CHANGED DRASTICALLY!

Time was, almost anyone could write a simple advertisement, place it in the local newspaper or maybe a niche magazine, and expect business to pour in.  For a long time things worked that way.  My grandfather’s shoe store in Brooklyn, New York, for example, kept in touch with his customers pretty much by advertising his weekly sales in the local newspaper every Friday. 

Starting with the Internet revolution in the nineties, technology has now reshaped the way businesses reach and keep their customers.  Moreover, the speed with which technology has advanced has made it a necessity to keep up, otherwise some other business may quickly snatch up your sales opportunities.  If my grandfather were alive today, he would be equally amazed and threatened by on-line shoe stores like Zappos and Piperlime that came out of nowhere, have no storefront and no local warehouses and which ship shoes right to your door, often charging no packaging or shipping costs or even taxes.

Now, with web presence, it’s much easier for businesses to track where and when advertising is successful, and exactly how successful it is.  The old John Wannamaker quip that “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” doesn’t ring true any more.  Web analytics can show exactly where and when advertising works and the business or interest it can generate. [See the discussion under Quants and Big Data.]  With this knowledge, you can efficiently target your customer profile (see below) through predictive marketing without wasting time and money in a “shotgun” approach toward a greater number, but potentially less useful targets.  And, as 4G LTE wireless networks are rolled out and those providers (e.g. Verizon) create software for activities like digital signage (such as Verizon’s M2M Management Center), you’ll have the capability of advertising directly to the consumer at the point of sale or elsewhere while they’re shopping, instead of while they’re at home in their Barcalounger.  [The concept of “learned targeting” web advertising is still in its infancy and evolving.  However, EPIC and other privacy advocates (see Associations) are concerned about the extent of possible privacy violations, especially by the larger organizations such as FaceBook.]

According to a 2010 Wilcox Publishing poll, the number of small to midsized enterprises (businesses) actively using social media for promotion has doubled since December 2009 to reach 54%.  The survey shows that 35% of SMEs post daily to social networking sites such as FaceBook and Twitter.  36% claim that they’ve gathered new business from the sites, even more just use it for brand awareness and networking, hoping for future business.

So, if you have a business, exactly how to you take advantage of all this new technology?

At Computer Coach, we specialize in the drafting of different plans, strategies and procedures.  Disaster Recovery Plans, Business Plans, Marketing Plans, Archive and Backup Plans and the like are a major part of our business, especially because so many of the “what-if” combinations are much better handled on a computer.  So, of course, we have more than a little advice about Internet advertising technology.

First, you need a marketing plan.  No, not an advertising plan, a marketing plan.  This includes not just advertising (in various media, including print, Internet, radio, TV, etc.), but other types of marketing (everything from sales reps to press releases, word-of-mouth to coupons, point-of sale to billboards) and promotion (personal and media connections, trade shows, contests, Chamber of Commerce gatherings, etc.).  Not only that, you have to figure what you can afford now and then estimate how you expect to grow in, say, five years.  Not only will this help you determine how much more you hope to be able to spend on marketing as your business grows, but also how much the “customer profile” you are trying to reach will expand or change over that time.

For it is that customer “profile” that will drive all of your marketing, whether it is a “wish list” that you yourself have created or it is backed up by marketing research, focus groups, surveys and the like.  It should include, if at all possible, a conscious distinction from your competitors (your “hook” if you will).  And it will likewise determine the extent, if any, of Internet marketing that may be advantageous to your business.  For example, if you’re selling shoes, you can do that from wherever you are to anywhere in the U.S., even the world, with the only variable cost your shipping charge.  For services, less so:  Computer Coach might appeal to a customer in Vancouver, B.C., but if they want a face-to-face relationship, it might not be feasible or cost effective.   Many services, such as dry cleaners or banks, are provided within a local geographic area, so the idea of universal marketing might well be overkill for those types of businesses, and locational promotion much more viable.  The size and cost of your particular product or service might also add some restrictions or limitations on the usefulness of Internet advertising - you don’t have to sell nearly as many wide screen TVs as you do doughnuts to make your monthly nut.  So you have to consider these ideas, and lots more, in drafting your marketing plan.  (Luckily, we can help you with this!)

But let’s get back to Internet promotion.  This, again, includes much more than just “advertising”.  Some tools, such as FaceBook, MySpace and Twitter, as well as the judicious use of QR Codes, create “buzz”.  That is, they provide name recognition and information that drives business to your brick-and-mortar store or website virtual store.  And buzz, with proper creation, management and a little luck, can “go viral” when it is passed around between groups of friends (for free), through such devices as re-Tweets and FaceBook’s “Like” button.  [Think the “Write the Future” ad for Nike, which was originally posted on the Web, and was then played over 9 million times over the first weekend, prompting Nike to develop it into a full length commercial campaign for its FIFA World Cup television promotion.]  In addition to such “organic” promotion, “paid” promotions such as Google’s sponsored links, Twitter’s promoted tweets and FaceBook’s engagement ads can magnify this effect. 

Once you have an on-line presence, you should use it thoroughly.  Don’t think that you set up on the Internet and just leave it there, period.  Not only should you establish and craft your image, but you should manage it pre-emptively as well.  How you do this and what tools you use will, of course, depend on your particular business.  The idea of producing a bank of pro-active content (how your product is produced, how your company is run, how it is distinguished from your competitors, your green manufacturing plan, your diversity programs and incentives for your employees, your successes, core values, low accident rate, high QA standards, high qualifications for your employees and corporation (e.g. ISO 9000), client recommendations and the like) that can be activated immediately in the event that a controversy arrives is imperative in the Internet world.  [Go no further than to remember how fast the BP oil spill blasted across the Internet, causing even BP to play catch-up damage control for months. Others:  Union boycotts of grapes because of poor working conditions (United Farm Workers Union, 1965), requiring workers to take lie detector tests asking if they are homosexuals (Coors Brewing, 1973), funding of an anti-abortion group (Domino’s, 1989), fries using genetically modified ingredients (McDonalds, 1996), providing health benefits for employees’ same sex partners (Disney, 1997), support of gay marriage rights (Starbucks, 2012) and opposing marriage equality for gays and lesbians (Chic-fil-A, 2012).]  With the cost of domains being so low, you might consider purchasing domains with negative connotations or purchasing ads, say on Google, that specifically target key words associated with a boycott, protest or legal battle that might occur against you.  In short, you must always assume the possibility of a negative incident in manufacturing, corporate relations, your supply chain or retail experience that will potentially trigger a backlash and think of ways to immediately defuse it (the old idea of “spin” updated to the Internet age).  Towards this end, you must be prepared to frequently and consistently monitor every mention of your brand, whether positive or negative, and respond to mentions, blogs, ratings or complaints quickly and in real-time.  [And please, please don’t respond by posting that same corporate self-promotional blather each time a negative comment arises.  No one listens to that, and it irritates people like me.  Respond specifically to a complaint or negative comment - tell people you’re listening and what you’re going to do.  Use it as a backstop to personally contact them, perhaps even get them to post a retraction or at least an acknowledgment of your service listening to their complaint and doing something about it.  It’s what they want.]  Because social networks have accelerated the speed with which both good and damaging news spreads, it is imperative that these messages are either propagated or defused quickly.  For larger companies, there is analytical software that takes the temperature of various internet comments about companies and products; for the rest of us, it’s plain manual checking to keep up with our status on the Internet, whether it be on blogs or site recommendations (e.g. Trip Advisor for travel, Yelp, or other review contributor sites). 

For current generations, it is fairly well established that customers are much more likely to want to eat at, listen to or wear the same things as their friends (look at Blippy.com (sorry, no longer in business, but still a good example) and Foursquare.com which allow friends to “check in” with each other from various physical locations, letting them (and possibly the entire universe) know precisely where you are, when, and what you are purchasing [see Social Networking]).  Millennials particularly are far less swayed by  “celebrity testimonials” than previous generations.  (see How To Sell To Milennials.) Foursquare and its ilk are “locationally based” marketing tools.  They can be quite useful if you have a store or mobile business and you seek to engage prospective customers while they are in your vicinity.  Therefore, if you can create a social networking environment where one of the group is aware of a purchase from you, it’s exponentially more likely that you will be able to reach and convert some of the others.  Conversely, apps like Groupon Now will allow you to click on either of two buttons on your cell phone (“I’m Bored” or “I’m Hungry”) so that you may retrieve coupons for exceptional deals based on current business considerations (location, time of day, how busy the business is right then, specials, etc.).  Other internet marketing tools like “subscription boxes” may be useful, particularly if you are a startup.   If you’ve got the resources, you may be able to engage in “data mining” so that you can obtain and analyze data from web and other resources, to target a specific customer profile.  You might even be able to extend your marketing plan to include “placecasting” (proximity marketing), where your prospective customer will be e-mailed, tweeted or called when they’re nearby your place of business or another business that sells your product. 

Your actual website and domain (name) provide detailed information, images and possibly ordering capabilities for your product or service, providing you with lots of space and time to create a carefully choreographed presentation of your business.  But your site must also be written to be readable to the increasing number of viewers who use their iPhones, Blackberrys and Androids, as well as iPads, (rather than full scale computers) to surf the net.  That is, the site must be created to be easily viewable on these increasingly smaller displays, otherwise viewers may lose interest.  Moreover, you may want to consider whether to reach your market through mobile advertising, either through a platform such as Facebook or through direct sources.

Twitter may give you the opportunity to advertise short, quick, daily specials to customers that have been loyal.  A blog, on your website or elsewhere (perhaps Amazon or FaceBook) will provide your customers with real interaction with you and your business and enable communication that may provide you with surprising results.  Contextual ads, which are highlighted links in blogs and articles can drive business as well.  And companies like Google’s AdSense service, which generate ads based on the words contained on your web pages, can be useful in generating business. Other tools, such as QR Tags, drive more business to you by expanding interaction with cell phone users to your more full-bodied Internet presence. Some businesses can successfully use YouTube, whether to demonstrate their product using video, such as an infomercial or to promote their product through humor, music (like a jingle or short song) or branding.  But not always head-on, particularly when dealing with the younger generations.  Take, for example, the YouTube video and song for Carpenter Pillows, which in its first week was viewed more than two million times and generated more than 6,000 comments.  The brand was mentioned only at the end; until then you thought it was just a video and song about growing up, later realizing that the “best friend” was actually the kid’s pillow.  Or the promotional video for Wonderful Pistachios where a guy plays percussion on pistachios while singing.

Many of these tools can also create a dialogue with your customers or potential customers, determining what you are doing right (or wrong), sustain brand loyalty, personalizing and distinguishing your product or service, finding whether possible new products or improvements appeal to customers or simply to resolve legitimate customer complaints.  These tools are also helpful in identifying and resolving other types of negative issues.  Think about BP’s site and apps managing negative publicity about its oil spill.  If you’re not monitoring those blogs which say both positive as well as negative things about you or your product [e.g. see the comments about the disintegrating Ecco hiking boots] you’re not providing customer service and you may be losing customers.  You’ve got to identify and resolve these issues quickly and publicly, usually in the same forum, to avoid a negative perception about your company or your product that can go viral as fast as positive feelings about your product.  Some of the larger companies like Salesforce.com (which purchased Radian6 for this purpose) can do the job for you, but it’ll cost.

Of course, if the end plan is to drive prospective customers to your web site for purchasing or information, you must have a site that is “engaging”.  It must be well designed and well written, but focused toward concluding a purchase by each consumer.  It goes without saying that, although you can get the customer “in the door” you still have to sell them the product and conclude the sale. The metric of “eyeballs” (how many people click and stay on one of your pages once they arrive, is most important - Studies show that consumers will wait a maximum of 25.4 seconds before clicking out if they’re not finding what they want from your site (2015, IneoQuest). Personally, I think it’s much less. And, yes, you have to know how to write.  Don’t minimize this.  Just because you know your business better than anyone else, don’t assume that you can convey this with the written word. Professional writers are probably much better at this, and they know exactly how to layout text (including fonts, styles, colors and use of space) with graphics on a written page, than you are.  Over the years, as business consultants, we’ve specialized in re-drafting some absolutely beautiful web sites which failed to consider that the purpose of the advertising was to actually sell a product to a consumer, not just entertain or inform them. Take this site, for example:  It’s not to show you how we can cram lots of “whiz bang” features on a web page.  It’s informational, trying to convince you that we know what we’re talking about and suggesting that you hire us for your computer needs.  So, with this in mind, we’ve made the fonts slightly larger, easier to read.  An easy-to-read writing style.  Plain English, with minimum complexity.  Some interesting stories or history to break the monotony and make the content memorable.  We’ve created a color scheme that provides for higher contrast, and is instantly memorable so that you will know which site you’re viewing if you come back often.  We’ve got lots of links between definitions and pages so you can thoroughly understand the text.  We’ve tried to keep the paragraphs short, the sentences short, the language less technical.  We’ve added lots of photographs and diagrams, and familiar logos as well.  Feedback tells us that this is working, so we’re happy with the results.

Toward that end, you may have to consider some degree of SEO (“search engine optimization”) to get your site noticed by prospective customers, either through paid placement, pay-for-click or some other web advertising arrangement to get your listing “above the fold” as well as through search engines (through submission, meta tags, links, predictive search results, page optimization or the like).  In addition, you might consider social media optimization, considered to be a new standard, which relies on social sites like FaceBook and Twitter to trace threads of topics that friends discuss and send to each other.  (Go to this page LINK for a full discussion about this.)

While you’re at it, if you don’t have a logo, and maybe even a slogan, this would be the time to create one.  Maybe even copyright it if it’s really good.  You can then use it to increase name or product recognition, showing it on your website, e-mails, letterhead, billheads and print advertising.  Such a graphic ties all of your advertising and product together with branding.  You don’t have to see the McDonalds name to know that the “Golden Arches” means McDonalds.  Same for “Billions Served...”  You’d love to have that brand recognition.  Logos have their own design criteria, well beyond this short discussion.

One word of warning:   Many of the same rules that apply to other forms of advertising apply equally to internet marketing.  The U.S. Federal Tade Commission, which enforces these rules, has prepared an online guide for the protection of both businesses and consumers. And depending on the nature of your business, you want to avoid the practices of “showrooming” or “scan and scram,” where your shoppers use your store as a base, then purchase the same thing cheaper on line.

Getting the picture? There is no “golden bullet” in marketing or even just Internet marketing.  It’s dynamic - at best, you’re shooting at a constantly moving target.  Demographics can change, trends can change, technology can change, competition can change, people can be fickle. MySpace can be king one year, FaceBook the next.  You can’t predict this, and anyone who tells you that there’s only one way to market is just selling you.  Hence the phrase “marketing mix”.  This term denotes that marketing is not just a single “event”.  Rather it is a dynamic, ongoing “process”.  It is a system combining several elements, each of which is constantly and continuously analyzed, monitored, evaluated and changed.

Your marketing mix includes many elements, some of which may be  on the Internet.  Not all of them may be useful.  Not all of them may even work for you. Some will be relatively inexpensive, others prohibitively expensive.  So you evaluate the results, perhaps quarterly, and change your plan to use the positive results to drive more business, delete the ones which don’t appear to be working very well.  In order to move forward, you must make decisions.  If they work, especially the first time, consider yourself lucky (and most unusual).  If not, make another decision based on the feedback from your first decision, and so forth, until you reach the optimal mix (for that particular point in time, at least).  If you don’t move forward, someone who does will probably go right past you...

TO CONTINUE, CLICK HERE FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE EVOLUTION OF INTERNET MARKETING...

For more information, please contact us.  Business plans and advertising plans and small business consulting advice are a significant part of our business. We’re here to help you!

Also, for more information, see the discussion on the following pages:  So You Think You Want a Website, Twitter, Tags (QR Codes), The Evolution of Internet Marketing, Social Networking, How To Sell To Millennials.

 

“We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we now know that is not true.”
— Robert Wilensky

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