The days when companies could buy a magazine ad or a 30-second primetime spot and have a well-rounded marketing strategy are long gone. These days, having a web strategy is not only important but increasingly complicated. Just in the last 10 years, companies have gone from thinking about advertising on websites and with search displays, to having to incorporate blogs, social networks, and mobile platforms.
While all these new ways to interact and be informed may be good for the general public, for a company's marketing team they can present a daunting task: How do you get a customer to focus on your product when their attention is being pulled in a host of different directions?
Companies are "all struggling with this problem," says Mani Iyer, CEO of the Silicon Valley-based marketing software provider Kwanzoo. "Consumers are more sophisticated now. They don't react to just an email with text and images. They want things that are more engaging; they want things that are more interactive."
It was with this in mind that Iyer launched Kwanzoo. What he says his company is trying to do "is empower marketers so they can quickly and easily build out highly-engagable marketing campaigns."
One of Kwanzoo's offerings is the ability to help companies create "smart polls and surveys" for customers, in which a customer's answers directly influences what the next question in the poll or survey will be. Kwanzoo will also supply the coding so companies can place these polls and surveys virtually anywhere they choose -- be it a website, blog or affiliate site, or a mobile landing page.
Iyer and his Kwanzoo team can help marketers with virtually any type of marketing outlet out there -- from email, websites and affiliates, to blogs, social networks, and mobile devices such as iPhone and Android.
Those are just the options that exist right now. Iyer says his company is "constantly keeping an eye" on what new marketing options are around the corner. He's sure they'll come -- and with them, still more ways for customers to be targeted. Companies will have to adapt to the new marketing options because, as Iyer says, they "don't have a choice."
"I don't think it's going to get any easier; I think it's going to get harder," Iyer says. "For marketers, the proliferation of channels is going to continue."
Obviously, not all of these channels are the same and, according to Joseph Wykes, president of the web content management software provider Percussion Software, neither are the people that use them. Wykes says it's important for companies to see which visitors to their site are using desktop or laptop computers and arriving via Facebook or Twitter, and which are visiting the site via mobile devices -- and then think about "how content can be matched to the visitor."
Consumers of content are "already impatient, but that is enhanced with the mobile device," Wykes says. "The experience must be optimized."
"The audience that comes to them from mobile is looking for different things," Wykes adds. "In mobile, they're not at work, they don't have access to a desktop or laptop computer; they're on the go."
To assist marketers in figuring out which portions of their sites are being accessed by what devices -- and to help them make changes accordingly -- Percussion offers what Wykes calls "the dashboard for marketers."
Wykes says the dashboard is a "single-page view into what's working and what's not working."
Each day, when users of the dashboard log in, they are greeted with a report of what portions of their site are being used the most, how customers arrive at the site -- and how they are looking at the site. The dashboard also grants companies the ability to quickly make changes to areas of the site they feel need to be improved upon.
"The dashboard is providing a level of control and understanding and actionability," Wykes says. "You can not only measure you can action your content immediately."
Slow and Steady Wins the Web Marketing Race
Web marketing strategist Rich Brooks at Flyte New Media has his own thoughts on how companies should deal with what he calls a "ginormous buffet of marketing choices." Simply put: start slowly.
"The biggest mistake companies make is that their eyes are bigger than their stomach: they try and do a little of everything, and fail," Brooks says. "A better approach is to start with one or two platforms, the ones your customers and prospects are already using, and get really good at those. After a while, blogging, or tweeting, or updating your Facebook business page becomes second nature and it takes very little effort to keep it going. That's the time to try something new and add to your marketing channels."
Brooks also says it's important for companies to determine just who it is they're most trying to reach, and then plan accordingly. "There is no one right channel for every business," Brooks says. "You need to start with where your audience is. The best way to do this is to survey your current customers and ask them where they hang out online, or how they gather information.
"If you're a B2B company than LinkedIn is a likely channel," Brooks adds. "If you're targeting stay-at-home moms, you might get better traction on Facebook. If your audience doesn't likely use social networks -- at least for business -- then I would consider creating valuable content and pushing it out on a company blog or branded YouTube channel."
Email's Staying Power
While there may be no magic bullet when it comes to reaching people, a new survey indicates email is still companies' preferred way to do it. Last month, Strongmail, a provider of interactive marketing solutions for email marketing and social media, released the results of its "2012 Marketing Trends" survey, which the company says "provides unique insight into how businesses plan to budget and prioritize marketing dollars in the New Year."
The survey was conducted in November, and 939 businesses participated. Of them, 92% said they planned to increase or maintain their marketing spend in 2012, and 60% said they planned to increase their email marketing budget, compared with 55% for social media and 37% increasing their mobile spending or search (such as SEO) spending.
Kara Trivunovic, global director of strategy at Strongmail, says there were no "major surprises" in the survey -- not even the strong showing of email amid all the other, newer choices around.
"There's always going to be a place for email," Trivunovic says. "We're a long way away from having a more efficient way of getting customers."
Trivunovic noted that all of the social networks out there still "use email as a key; you have to have email to sign in." The top email marketing initiatives for 2012, according to the survey, are increasing subscriber engagement (chosen by 48% of the survey participants), improving segmentation and targeting (44%) and growing opt-in email lists (32%).
Incidentally, growing opt-in email lists is something Brooks is a big advocate of. Brooks says his experience has been that when he posts a message to Twitter and sends the same message to a "similar-sized email subscriber base," the email response is "head and shoulders" above the response on Twitter. "When you build up an email subscriber base, these are people who have agreed to receive emails from you," Brooks says. "At the very least, they have to delete your email to move on; no similar action is required of Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. That keeps you in front of them."
While email may be the most popular channel for companies, it is of course by no means the only one -- and, like Iyer, Wykes and Brooks, Triunovic realizes the arrival of the next great new marketing channel is inevitable. And companies will initially respond to that next new channel "just as clumsily" as they have in the past, she says with a laugh.
Triunovic says that when email first took off, companies would basically send out scanned-in versions of the hard-copy advertisements they'd been mailing to customers. "When we went from direct mail to email, it wasn't for a good year that marketers realized they needed a different set of standards," she says, adding that a similar thing happened when Facebook and Twitter arrived. Initially, she says, companies "simply took emails and put them" on the social media outlets.
"Whatever the next new thing is," Triunovic adds, "we'll treat it like we do Twitter, and try to figure it out along the way."
Photo courtesy of thms.nl from Flickr Creative Commons.