Crucial to success of digital marketing

Crucial to success of digital marketing – strategy

Bill Bishop

With all the hoopla being generated by the Internet media mill, you can be forgiven for thinking that digital marketing is as easy as setting up a home page on the World Wide Web. After all, there are millions of people on the Internet, and its size is growing exponentially. All you have to do, the reasoning goes, is place your home page on the Web, and scores of rich, well-educated consumers from around the world will be clicking their way to your site. These affluent individuals will then buy your products and use your services. It’s a snap.

The truth is, digital marketing is a lot more complicated than just setting up a home page. In many cases, setting up a Web site is a very limited marketing option. It’s like setting up a billboard on a deserted country road. Nobody is going to see it, and it isn’t going to generate any sales. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the opportunities presented by digital marketing are even greater than all the hype has led you to believe. You just have to look into the matter a little deeper.

To help you plan your digital marketing strategy, consider the process as a series of steps that will save you considerable time and money.

Step 1: Clarify your business objectives.

Your business objectives should drive your digital marketing strategy. Before assessing what digital tools you want to use, define the goals you have for your organization. In most cases, your objective will be one or a combination of these:

* Increase sales and revenue

* Lower cost

* Improve customer service

Of course, you may have many other goals you want to achieve. But if you analyze them closely, you’ll probably find that they’re sub-goals of the big three. Remember, your business goals, not the technology, should be your priority. There’s no point in developing a strategic digital marketing plan if it doesn’t help you achieve your business objectives. You may discover that your company is not ready to use digital marketing and that traditional advertising and promotion are still the best strategies for your company.

Step 2: Assess the capabilities of your market.

Assess the digital capabilities of your target market. What type of computer equipment do they have, and what is their level of computer literacy? Research shows that most users of the Internet’s World Wide Web are male, university educated, and under the age of 30. If that’s your market, then setting up a Web site is probably a good idea. However, if you are trying to reach senior citizens, you’ll find fewer of them on the Web.

Step 3: Gather and identify information that will interest your customers and prospects.

Now that you have identified your business goals and your target market, determine what type of information you want to provide in a digital format. At this stage, it’s important to understand the difference between digital marketing and traditional marketing.

* Digital marketing is generally non-intrusive. Unless the consumer wants to access your information, he or she can avoid it easily. As a result, you have to make your digital information so useful and appealing that the consumer will seek you out, then come back again and again.

* Digital marketing should appeal to reason and logic. Because traditional advertisers have a short time or a limited amount of space to convey a message, they usually try to appeal to feelings and emotions. But digital marketing tools are not constrained by these limitations. You can have as much information available as you want without incurring significantly higher costs. Additionally, digital consumers are usually looking for information, not sales hype. As such, your digital marketing tools must be well organized and detailed.

* The hard sell doesn’t work in digital marketing. Because digital marketing is non-intrusive and can be avoided by your audience, you can’t use hard-sell techniques. To develop a relationship with your potential customers, you need to provide a lot of useful information first.

* Digital marketing must be visually appealing. In the digital arena, you cannot afford to look second-rate. The digital consumer has very sophisticated visual tastes, so make sure that your digital promotions are crafted by professional designers.

Step 4: Choose the digital tools that will help you implement your strategic plan.

When selecting digital marketing tools, choose carefully and start with the basics. The most popular digital tools are listed below in order of increasing complexity. Also included are suggestions on how to best use them.

E-mail: The most basic digital marketing tool is E-mail. Everyone who has an Internet connection has an E-mail address. You can begin by compiling a list of your customers’ E-mail addresses. Using this list, you can then send out bulletins and newsletters electronically to thousands of people in a matter of seconds. Think of it – no more printing and mailing costs. E-mail is probably the most overlooked digital marketing tool, and yet it could be the most effective.

World Wide Web Home Page: You can create a Home Page for your company on the Internet’s World Wide Web (WWW). It’s one of the fastest-growing areas in digital marketing. Your Web site can be anything from a simple page that explains your services to a catalog with built-in online ordering. To be effective, your site should contain information that’s constantly changing and extremely useful to your audience. Your home page should give the viewers a reason and a way to provide you with their E-mail address.

Your Own Bulletin Board Service: Running your own computer bulletin board service (BBS) can be a very powerful marketing tool. It allows you to combine your internal E-mail network with a BBS that can be accessed by your customers, suppliers and prospects.

BBS Service Bureau: You can operate your own BBS at a very low cost by hiring an outside service bureau. All the trouble of operating the BBS is handled by the service provider. This also is an excellent digital marketing tool if your market is well defined and you wish to completely control the process.

Commercial Online Services: A number of organizations have chosen to place their information on one of the major online services such as CompuServe or America Online. In this way they gain exposure to the subscribers of these services. This can be an effective marketing tool, but it shuts out anyone who is not a subscriber.

Electronic Promotional Material: Any marketing piece formerly destined for print – such as a brochure, flyer, newsletter or annual report – now can be converted into a digital format. Using a program such as Adobe Acrobat, you can take a publication and create a digital version that can be displayed on computer. The digital document can be distributed on disk, sent out by E-mail or posted to your BBS or World Wide Web site.

Multi-Media Presentations: Multi-media presentations can be exciting promotional tools. In essence, they are interactive movies displayed on computer. In addition to live action sequences of animation and video, multi-media presentations can have interactive buttons that allow viewers to choose the information they want to see.

Databases: A database is like a large filing cabinet that contains information that’s easy to find and sort. If you create a database that’s up-to-date and complete, you’ll have a powerful marketing tool. This database can be placed online or on CD-ROM.

CD-ROM: Many companies distribute promotional material on CD-ROM. For example, Toyota has created a CD-ROM that contains pictures, videos and specification sheets about its line of automobiles and vans.

SmartCards: To gather information in a retail environment, you might consider developing a Best Customer Club, which allows customers to accumulate points using a SmartCard, or swipe card, at the checkout location. You can then gather digital information about the customer’s buying habits and preferences. This database of information can be used to project future sales, manage inventory levels and develop promotional offerings custom-designed for each customer.

Digital Kiosks: Another idea is the use of a kiosk – either in a retail location or on the Internet – that gathers market information from customers. The kiosk asks the consumer to answer questions about his or her likes and dislikes, and provides some kind of reward for completing the survey. For example, the retail kiosk could spit out a series of coupons. The online kiosk could send the customer an E-mail message that contains coupons or online bonus points – redeemable for online software or real-world products.

Reverse 1-900: Don’t forget that the telephone also is a powerful digital tool that can be used to gather information that can be automatically entered into a database. Consider the idea of a Reverse 1-900 number allowing people to dial up your number and answer a series of questions using their touch-tone keys. For completing the survey, they could receive U.S. $5 or more off their next telephone bill.

Other digital marketing tools: When assessing a new digital tool, make sure that it can be easily used by your target market, and that the technology will not quickly become obsolete. For every useful tool, hundreds of others will never catch on.

Step 5: Execute your strategy by using the digital tools in an integrated manner.

Digital tools must be used as part of an integrated process. You’ll have the most success if you combine a number of the different tools. For example, you can use your Web site to gather E-mail addresses of your customers, then send them regular E-mail bulletins that include coupons. Or you can use a 1-900 number to gather market research, then provide a traditional direct mail piece to your customers based on their specific preferences. The possibilities are endless.

Step 6: Combine traditional and digital marketing.

It’s important to realize that digital marketing is not the answer to all your promotional needs. In order to generate interest in your Web site, your BBS service or your CD-ROM, you should use traditional promotions as well. For example, you should include your E-mail address and Web site address in all advertising. As well, you can issue news releases to generate articles about your Web site or CD-ROM in newspapers and magazines. You also can put your E-mail address on packaging. Remember, digital marketing may never completely replace traditional marketing, but more likely will complement it.

Step 7: Set up a digital marketing command center.

When designing your digital marketing strategy, plan what resources you’ll require within your organization to handle its implementation. To execute a comprehensive digital marketing campaign you’ll need the following:

* All of your organization’s logos, corporate brochures and marketing material in a variety of digital formats.

* A digitally equipped marketing department including computers with CD-ROM drives, color scanners and a wide variety of software such as QuarkXpress, Photoshop, Illustrator and MacroMind director.

* A company-wide E-mail system with access to Internet E-mail.

* Network-wide, direct or stand-alone dial-up access to the Internet.

Step 8: Store digital information in a database.

You should keep standard versions of your digital information in a central database. For example, the text for your brochure should be saved in a word processing file, so that it can be exported into the numerous formats you may choose to use in the future. The same goes for your corporate logos, scanned artwork and electronic logos. The files in this database can be made available through online technology to your employees and to your customers and prospects. By storing your data in a central database, you’ll be able to distribute it in all of the currently available, and future, digital formats.

The challenge of digital marketing:

Given the rapidly changing nature of digital technology and its expanding proliferation throughout our economy, your digital marketing strategy will need to be constantly reviewed and updated. The company that provides its customers with useful information in the fastest and most convenient manner will win. If you haven’t started to develop a digital marketing strategy, the time to begin is now.

Bill Bishop is president of Toronto-based Bishop Information Group Inc.

COPYRIGHT 1996 International Association of Business Communicators

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group