By M. H. “Mac” McIntosh

With the addition of the Internet to your marketing toolkit, you probably have questions about what role online marketing or the Internet should play for your company and how much of your marketing budget should be used to fund it.

I work with dozens of companies selling products or services to the water treatment marketplace. So I’ve had a chance to see what’s working in regard to online marketing, and what companies are spending to do it. I’ll share some of what I’ve learned with you.

Start with the website
If you’ve got an established website, I’ll bet you’re in your third or fourth round of redesigning by now. When it first appeared, it was probably a messy collection of technical support information and difficult to navigate. Then those in marketing turned it into an online brochure. Then you added a few bells and whistles to make it hip and easier to use. Now you’re rethinking the purpose of the site (Good!). And you’re probably confused about exactly what to do with it next (I’m not surprised.).

Bridge to success
Think about how your website can act as a bridge between your marketing and sales. In other words, use marketing to drive people to your website, then use the website to give them the information they need and encourage them to take the next step in the buying process by identifying themselves.

As Kristin Zhivago, editor of Marketing Technology, says, “Your website isn’t a place, it’s a process.” Think about why people visit your site and try to arrange your web pages and the information they contain in ways that mimic their searching and buying processes. If your website visitors know the product number, let them access it that way. If they only need a flow meter, for instance, let them get a list of flow meters with clear explanations on those that are good for certain applications. If a small municipal water treatment plant isn’t sure what they need, give them a path that shows the products or services that are appropriate for their applications.

User-friendly approach
Zhivago also compares your website to a swimming pool with a bottomless deep end that you invite people to visit for as long as they want, and dive as deep as they care to. Do you have shallow, top-line information available on your site? If they need more depth, do you make it easy to find?

Think about offers you can make that will entice visitors to identify and qualify themselves. Can you create a free guide for selecting your kinds of products or services? Can you offer a white paper that explains how their kind of operation is successfully using your technology to solve problems? If so, use it as bait for having your visitors share their names, titles, companies and contact information.

One thing not to do is make visitors sit through a “flash” animated commercial every time they visit your site. You may think it’s cool, but it just wastes their time!

Email
Sending email to people who have expressed an interest in your products or services is a very cost effective way to market to them. Many of my clients are shifting a large portion of their direct mail dollars into email.

Be careful not to be labeled a “spammer”—someone who sends unwanted or unsolicited email. If you have email addresses for your prospects and customers, but they haven’t expressed interest in hearing from your company by email, be sure to ask their permission before starting a campaign. I recommend that you ask them how they prefer to be contacted. By email? Fax? Snail mail? Telephone? Most will opt for email or fax, saving you money either way. Then give some thought to what you plan to send and how frequently. Sometimes I feel more like a punching bag than a customer as I get slugged with too many offers—many not appropriate for me—too often by companies who think they are doing “customer relationship management.”

Newsletters
My clients report great success with online newsletters—whether published by their own company or when they sponsor or advertise in an industry newsletter published by others. Why? Because the folks receiving the newsletter have opted-in or requested the free subscription and are more likely to read it and notice your ad or sponsorship.

Directories
Print directories are handy, and online directories are always up to date. Most directory publishers are publishing both, frequently offering you exposure in both mediums for the same price. Keep in mind that directories are often where buyers look when they’re seeking new suppliers and have immediate needs.

Content
Industry websites want online content to attract and keep visitors. Many refresh their content daily or weekly. This gives you plenty of opportunities for editorial contributions. Email the online editor, asking him/her what they are looking for and offering to supply appropriate releases, articles or contacts for possible interviews. You might be surprised at how receptive online editors can be.

Banner ads
Conventional wisdom is that banner ads don’t work. Anti-banner pundits quote statistics, such as only 0.5 percent of the people exposed to banners click through, to support their argument.

Think about it. What miniscule percentage of the people searching at yahoo.com or altavista.com are the decision makers, specifiers or recommenders for your products or services? No wonder the click-through rates are so low!
Your banner ads shouldn’t be there. They should be put in the right places instead—on vertical industry, publication and association websites already serving the markets you wish to reach. Then, not only are you creating awareness with the right audience, your click-through rates will increase significantly.

Rather than simply running your banner ads on the home page of the website, consider placing your banner ad only in special sections that relate to your products and services or linking them to appropriate keyword searches.

How much to spend
In 2000, I found that most of my clients were spending just under 10 percent of their marketing budgets for online marketing tactics like those mentioned above. This year, I expect that number to double to 20 percent. (Please note that this doesn’t include funding e-commerce initiatives for online order processing, because that usually comes out of sales or operations budgets.)

Where is the money coming from? Occasionally it comes from larger marketing communications budgets. A trick for getting a larger budget is to plaster the conference room with all your competitors’ ads, webpages and literature, then invite your boss in to discuss your budget. When he sees everything the competition is doing, he might just have an impulsive response and boost your budget!

Funding for online marketing, however, is usually reallocated from other media. For example, a number of my clients have shifted half or more of their direct mail budget to email and cut out marginally producing trade shows and secondary advertising buys to free up money for Internet-related expenditures.

Conclusion
Keep in mind that as radio didn’t replace newspapers and TV didn’t replace radio, online marketing isn’t going to replace your print advertising, direct mail, trade shows, public relations and other marketing concepts. Instead, it’s another effective way to reach your prospects and customers and should be included in your marketing mix.

About the author
M.H. “Mac” McIntosh is president of Mac McIntosh Inc., a Rhode Island-based sales and marketing consulting firm. He can be reached at (800) 944-5553 or email: mcintosh@salesleadexperts.com

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