Lucky for today’s entrepreneurs, online marketing and a vast array of Internet tools have come of age.
From a Google or Yahoo search to a Web-enabled purchase, online tools can provide a competitive edge that didn’t exist five or six years ago.
Technologies like search engine optimization, blogs, social media, digitally-powered metrics and enhanced anti-virus software along with sophisticated sales and behavioral tracking, for example, have expedited the sales reach and transaction volume exponentially.
One clear example of online marketing’s firepower came from a January 2010 Comscore.com annual holiday retail sales report showing that even in the midst of a sluggish economy, spending rose by 4 percent during 2009, compared to the prior year.
Because Web marketers have to spend only a small fraction of a traditional advertising budget, they are able to generate increased sales at a lower reach cost-per-thousand ratio — at an almost instantaneous pace. And, as a bonus, they are able to create a two-way communication platform with their customers.
Some of the country’s biggest and most successful corporations have joined the online marketing juggernaut, albeit reluctantly at first.
Wal-Mart, for example, announced last year that it plans to overhaul its 10-year-old Web site and hopes to surpass Amazon.com as the world’s largest online retailer.
In a January 6 Chicago Tribune story, investment giant Credit Suisse also predicted that e-commerce sales would increase almost 10 percent during 2010 to $144 billion.
At the same time, ComScore predicted that online sales, excluding travel, grew up to 25 percent annually from 2000 through 2009 — though the pace slowed to a mere 6-percent gain during 2008.
And the marketing technology seems to fit all types. From publishers, distributors, retailers, service providers to pizza deliverers and manufacturers working through field reps, Web-enabled online marketing provides a convenient, increasingly trusted conduit for direct-to-consumer and business-to-business companies.
Why — and how — it works
It’s hard to imagine an American business today that doesn’t use some type of online marketing to bolster the bottom line. But tools are only as good as the crafter using them, and with a plethora of new social media options available, just understanding each technology’s potential to reach target markets can overwhelm a business owner. The experts say just keeping up with new marketing vehicles is almost a full-time job.
Bernard Sandoval, president of Colorado Springs-based Sandia, Inc. and, a relative Web veteran who got his start during 1995, advises that even the most advanced marketers need to stay tuned.
“Today’s blogs, tweets or microsites are great, he said, but they’re going to give way to something new — “the next big thing” in digital (technology). The Web is always evolving, and if you’re not updating constantly, your competitor probably is,” he said.
Graham Advertising CEO Kirk Oleson agrees.
“For some of our automotive clients, we’re already looking at digital technology that allows companies to track [Web] visitor and customer behavioral patterns. Someday you’ll be able to attach technology that follows consumers as they ask for information, download specs or make a purchase. It will generate and send customer-specific banner ads or pop-ups, all individualized to their unique Web profile,” he said.
Perhaps some of the most exciting new marketing opportunities will emerge from using social media vehicles and their spin-off, online “communities.” Through groups of Twitter followers, LinkedIn, MySpace or Facebook participants and current or prospective customers, companies can extend their reach — and their revenue, said Tonya Hall, CEO of local 2006 start-up, Barzhini.
“We’re using top of line software to help large organizations that may have a six-figure Web site, not only create communities, but offer backend data interpretation based on what those communities tell us,” she said, adding that her growing company will soon open a downtown office and add six to 12 new employees. “Online marketing is changing every minute. Our clients are mostly large national firms that want to create go-to Web sites that cover all aspects of their industry — and once they decide to move ahead, they’re quick to write a check.”
A number of local companies have jumped into Web-based marketing and community building to varying degrees.
The Broadmoor Hotel
While most hotels rely heavily on online room bookings through sites like Trip Advisor, Travelocity and Expedia, upscale hotel-resorts have to supplement e-marketing with more traditional advertising vehicles such as print, outdoor or television said Broadmoor executive vice president of sales and marketing John Washko.
During last year’s 72-hour sale blitz: “everything was 50 percent off,” for example, the five-star resort generated 12,000 room night bookings, using its in-house e-mail database and travel industry Web sites, but sent out a direct mail piece to go along with its e-communications.
“Our Internet program wasn’t the only leg on the stool,” he said, adding that online “is our primary marketing vehicle” thanks to its lower cost-per-thousand reach. “Lines between print and online don’t exist anymore — you have to have a presence in both.”
The company also drives traffic to its Web site through links to travel-industry sites or through banner ads.
“You’ll see us on the Texas Monthly site — that’s a big feeder market for us — as well as to Trip Advisor, Experience Colorado Springs, the 5280 and Visit Denver and the Colorado Tourism Office, just to name a few. They all drive traffic to our Web site.”
“We sit in a scenic area and have so many resort amenities so we don’t translate on sites like Expedia or Travelocity as easily as a downtown business hotel where views and a spa or golf course just aren’t that important. We need to have more interaction in reservation process — and a chance to show leisure guests our resort amenities,” he said.
“There is some downside to internet-based promotion. E-mail campaigns, for example, don’t allow much control. People will open them or they won’t,” he said, adding that most of the hotel’s e-communications are accompanied by direct mail.
Washko admits the Internet will be a continuing — and growing — tool.
“It’s very efficient. We have more than a million unique visitors to our Web site annually, and they’re able to opt in to get more information if they want. Our Web site is our workhorse.”
Ent Federal Credit Union
While not entirely dependent on Internet marketing, Ent Federal Credit Union has begun to shift dollars away from more traditional channels, particularly print advertising, said Director of Marketing Victoria Selfridge.
Ent uses online components including search engine optimization and marketing, online banner advertising, a social media presence and e-mail marketing. But once in place, the company’s e-initiatives can’t remain static — and there are occasional surprises.
While ready to implement the launch of a Facebook fan page during 2008 to coincide with Ent’s new relationship as an on-campus financial services provider with the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, the company discovered that change is inevitable.
“We used our Facebook presence primarily as a way to engage with … [the] students. What we found …, however, is that Facebook has become a common social media site used by a broad cross-section of our membership — so we’re adjusting our communications and even pay-per-click ads … to better reflect the variety of consumers now using the site.”
The company doesn’t plan to create a presence on every social networking site unless it makes economic sense. Selfridge also said the company’s discovered that, in general, its members and prospects didn’t use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to ask questions about their accounts.
“Instead, they typically e-mail us or use secure messaging within our online banking system, which better protects any personal financial information they may need to share to explain their issue,” she said.
Luke Travins, president of Concept Restaurants, said The Ritz and Jose Muldoon’s both have Facebook pages — and The Ritz has a Twitter feed, but so far tweets have not been promoted.
As to whether or not the restaurant sites are attracting business, during the 10 years or so Concept has had a Web site, sales tracking has been difficult. The company has been able to build a 10,000 e-mail address database, populated by customers who visit its Web sites and register to print a free appetizer coupon.
“It seems like many of our existing regulars and employees become followers and use the site to communicate. Of course we use it to market and promote, especially when we have an event that’s happening in the near future,” he said.
As a result of e-mail and Web-based marketing, certain print vehicles such as the Yellow Pages have become “a dinosaur in restaurant marketing,” he said, adding that the company also relies on “Open Table” reservation software to enable Web visitors to book a table at MacKenzie’s or Jose Muldoon’s. “It’s also another Web platform to get our message out to potential customers,” he said.
10 Steps to a better Web site presence
1) A Web site is a vital part of an overall marketing mix.
2) Potential customers use a Web site to qualify a company before they call or visit a business.
3) Give prospective customers the information they want — not just what you want them to know.
4) If you don’t provide the information your clients want, they’ll disqualify you and move on.
5) Hire a reputable and experienced marketing firm or ad agency to create your Web site. They understand the motivations of buyers.
6) Web programmers are not marketers. Think of marketers as architects and Web programmers as builders. You need both.
7) Take advantage of social media and other powerful Web technologies.
8) Monitor and maintain your Web site.
9) Promote your Web site offline and online.
10) Analyze and adjust your Web site as needed.
Source: Bernard Sandoval, President, Sandia, Inc.