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    Eight Ways to Customize Online Marketing
A key quality of the Internet is going unrecognized -- and underutilized -- by marketing professionals. But once you understand the potential of customized communications, you’ll find ways to use the web to get your company closer to its customers and to energize sales.

Just a few years ago, the Internet was significant only if you were a computer specialist or a staff member at a university or research facility. Most people would not have predicted that the medium for FTP and Telnet would become a vehicle for the most intimate and immediate form of media-based marketing communications ever seen.

But that’s exactly what’s happened. Today, marketing communications delivered via the Internet can put new life into business goals such as helping your salesforce, reaching prospects and doing sales follow-up. Try incorporating the suggestions offered below in your marketing campaigns.

Use targeted web pages with a short shelf life. Companies are spending too much money standardizing (and limiting) their web communications with too-strict guidelines. Don’t worry too much about a traditional publishing model with pages, chapters and volumes. This works to some degree for static corporate sites, but there’s greater marketing potential if you think of the web as a fluid, transient medium.

As an example, think of a virtual trade show booth. You could include the virtual booth’s URL in your pre-show promotions and implement virtual tour technology from a company such as iPIX to let people visit your booth in advance. As soon as the show is over, you can dismantle the virtual booth by taking down the site.

Because you know that you’re creating a site that will be deleted in a short period of time, you can make it small (only a few pages) and keep expenses down. But it’s a great marketing investment, because it delivers a timely message of particular interest to your customers. Tactics such as this keep your web presence fresher and more intimate.

Support international grassroots sales initiatives. Use the Internet to share marketing materials internationally. My company recently completed an Internet-based marketing image bank for one of our clients. From that image bank, sales and marketing staff located on three continents can review and download graphics files. Sales reps can download low-resolution images for presentations, while overseas advertising agencies and marketing departments can obtain high-resolution images for ads and special promotions.

Now, we’re consolidating those images with text and putting them in libraries of electronic sales brochures for all 50 company affiliates. By keeping the contents of each brochure current, we’ll ensure that every affiliate has the most up-to-date sales messages. Employees around the world can download a file, take it to a local printer and have as many copies printed as they need, anytime they need them. You could create such a library using a web-based media storage service such as MegaStorage.com.

Energize your e-mail address gathering and filing system. For all our clients, e-mail is the favored form of business communications. Yet, until we suggested it, not one of them had a complete e-mail address book or mailing list for new business prospects.

Don’t let your company be caught in this situation. Call a meeting with sales, marketing and IT to select a database, then establish a system to collect names, permissions and e-mail addresses. GoldMine Software’s GoldMine, Interact Commerce’s ACT! or Microsoft’s Access are good candidates for a database of this type.

Use videoconferencing. In a few years, when you respond to an e-mail from your bank, you’ll have the option of seeing a representative on your computer screen while you talk. This type of one-way teleconferencing is the kind of new service to incorporate in your marketing planning and it gets you c-l-o-s-e to your customers. WebEx and PlaceWare’s MyPlaceWare are already providing these types of conferencing services.

Offer your printed materials any way your customers like them. Innovations that are bringing print-quality display technology to digital media -- such as Microsoft’s new ClearType or activePDF’s PDF (portable document format) products -- when combined with the merging of palmtops, laptops and digital books, will lead to digital storage of all printed materials. Plan to provide advertising in multiple formats, sizes and shapes to suit these diverse devices, with multimedia extensions and links to your website.

Use images in your letter templates to speed sales. Digital imaging is quickly becoming an everyday sales tool, so why not take advantage of the falling prices of digital cameras and use this technology to help your salesforce? Create a set of e-mail or word processing templates for form letters and include product images. Your salesforce will love them because they can pop them up and use them in seconds.

Use new product web labels. We predict that legislation will require a product Internet address for every product manufactured by 2003. At a product’s URL, a consumer will be able to find maintenance, warranty and parts information. We think the mandated time periods will be 10 years for hard goods, such as appliances, and five years for soft goods, such as clothing.

This new resource will link consumers to their possessions -- and to the manufacturers of those possessions. This will be a great boon to marketing departments at companies making great products, and an awful headache for those at companies that aren’t.

Make trade shows an e-marketing experience too. We have a client who knows from experience that the likelihood of making a sale of equipment valued at $100,000 can be especially high from contacts made at his trade show booth. When a booth visitor’s badge is swiped through the reader -- and that ID includes an e-mail address -- our client identifies a product that interests the customer.

All those contacts -- with customer name, title, e-mail address and the designated products -- are e-mailed to us in an Excel file on a daily basis while the show is still going on. We immediately e-mail each potential customer a personalized e-brochure. It includes a greeting from the vice president of sales, shows photographs of the product, and shares useful technical information and product benefits. Links to a qualifying questionnaire are included. This is faster and cheaper than using traditional mail and gives our client a desirable high-tech image.

In summary, keep your Internet strategy agile and your eyes open for new tools to communicate your message to your customers. If you begin using these techniques now, you’ll be ideally positioned to take advantage of the more sophisticated multimedia and personalization tools that are coming.

About the author:
Jess Gregory is executive vice president of VAMCOM & Partners, a Parsippany, N.J., agency that specializes in designing marketing communications programs that closely integrate traditional and online media.
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