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How to use the virtual world of the Internet to multiply the effectiveness of your real-world marketing activities.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel that managing a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ business is downright unsexy!

Particularly when stories abound of Web entrepreneurs who have reinvented business as we know it (and become billionaires in the process) – seemingly without being slowed by any of the trials and tribulations of ‘real-world’ business.

The good news is that you don’t need to start an online enterprise to benefit from the power of the Internet. With the right approach, you can use this exciting virtual world to multiply the effectiveness of your real-world marketing activities.

This article will show you how.

Know your model

In the last issue of AdVerb, we introduced you to our Relationship-centric Marketing Model.

We explained that this model is appropriate for those businesses that sell a product with an essential service component – in other words, a product that isn’t a pure commodity. (I’m guessing that’s you!)

You’ll remember we explained that our Relationship-centric Marketing Model consists of two components:

  • An automated communications program. A system of pre-programmed communications, designed to nurture relationships with customers, prospects and centres of influence. (Your ideal customers are likely to make a buying decision based on relationship first; price and features second.)

  • A relationship-acquisition program. Once you have a system that deftly converts prospects into customers, you need a program that provides you with a constant stream of new prospects.

If you’re comfortable with our Relationship-centric Marketing Model, you should be excited about the Internet. This is because the Internet provides you with both a low cost communication channel and a lucrative source of new relationships.

Furthermore, the Internet provides you with the ability to hand control of your sales process to your customers – conserving your resources and often improving your conversion ratios. (We’ve been encouraging our clients to relinquish control of their sales processes for years!)

A low-cost communications channel

E-mail is already like the fax machine. Yesterday it didn’t exist, but today we can hardly live without it!

E-mail is exciting for the Relationship-centric marketer for three reasons:

  1. It is an extremely low-cost communication channel. It costs no more to send ten thousand e-mails than it does to send one.
  2. It is immediate. Within minutes of pressing ‘send’ your recipients are clicking ‘yes’ and reading their messages.
  3. It is intimate. Think about it: are you most likely to communicate with a close friend by letter, fax or e-mail? E-mail wins because an e-mail is less formal than a fax, and much less formal than a letter.

The Relationship-centric marketer understands that the more frequently he communicates (in a meaningful, value-added way) with his customers, the more intimate a relationship he will build.

The problem is, until now, higher frequency has equalled higher cost. (Even with postal discounts, it’s difficult to mail anything to anyone for less than a dollar.)

E-mail makes frequency affordable. Because it costs virtually nothing to send an e-mail, the only limit to your frequency of communication is your ability to come up with interesting things to say!

How does e-mail fit into your automated communications program?

Once our clients grasp the implications of the low cost of e-mail, many ask if they should replace all of their existing points of contact with e-mail.

The answer’s no. The problem is, e-mail is nowhere near as potent as other (more costly) communication mediums. (In fact, when it comes to communication channels, there seems to be an inverse relationship between potency and cost.)

What you should do is design a communications mix relative to the lifetime value of each of your categories of relationships. (The table below illustrates a possible communications mix.)

You must genuinely add value

Planning to e-mail your customers is one thing. Coming up with something meaningful to say is another! (Remember, each point of contact must genuinely add value to the relationships under your management.)

As I’ve often stressed in the past, the best way to add value to these relationships is to give the gift of information. As well as inspiring the same tendency for reciprocity as any gift, the gift of information is special because it positions the giver as an expert – making future gifts appear all the more valuable!

You can deliver value to your customers via e-mail in two ways:

  • You can include the information of value within the e-mail itself (e.g. snippets of industry news).

  • Or you can use an e-mail message to point to information of value (usually with hypertext links to content on your Website).

We like to use our monthly ‘eBulletin’ primarily to advise our clients of additions to our Website (i.e. new books we’ve added to our reading list, new marketing tools in our download zone, or the addition of articles from the current edition of AdVerb).

You might be starting to realise that you can get enormous benefit from the Internet, without even building a Website. Such is the power of e-mail.

If you don’t already have your customers’ e-mail addresses, now is the time to start asking for them – and you should ask at every point of contact.

Acquiring new relationships

Most organisations ‘go online’ hoping that their Websites will somehow attract more customers. Sadly, most don’t!

Of course, most Websites don’t ‘work’ for exactly the same reasons that most advertisements don’t. They provide no incentive to visit in the first instance; they deliver little value once you’re there; and they contain no compelling reason to initiate further correspondence.

It should come as no surprise that we suggest that your Website (like your advertisements) should not suffer from these performance impediments.

It all starts with an offer

Before you start work on your Website, you need an offer. This offer will provide your visitors with both a reason to visit and a reason to initiate further correspondence.

Fortunately, because you are a Relationship-centric marketer, you already have such an offer. It’s called your ‘automated communications program’. Think about it. You designed your communications program specifically to add genuine value to your relationships with customers. Doesn’t it make sense that potential customers will jump at an opportunity to ‘subscribe’ to this program?

It does. And they will!

Typically, we recommend that our clients use the offer of either a free 12-month subscription to a newsletter, or a free ticket to a workshop. (Of course, you can also use these offers in your real-world promotional activities.)

Your offer should be featured prominently on your Website (to get your visitors to volunteer their e-mail addresses) and on other people’s Websites (to convince their visitors to click-through to yours).

Fishing for e-mail addresses

We suggest that, in most cases, the primary objective of your Website should be to convince visitors to surrender their e-mail addresses.

This means that your offer should be:

  • Prominent. It should be your home page’s most noticeable element.

  • Desirable. The benefits of subscribing need to be ‘dimensionalised’ for the visitor.

  • Accessible. Ideally, your visitor should be able to enter his e-mail address and click ‘submit’ right there on your home page. (Certainly, the form that captures his e-mail address should be no more than one click away.)

  • Affordable. The number of e-mail addresses you collect is inversely proportional to both the cost of your offer and the amount of information you request from your visitors.

This last point is an important one. Many marketers attempt to ‘qualify’ visitors by insisting that they part with either money or information in order to receive the offer. This is counter productive for two reasons:

  • If a visitor wasn’t already reasonably well qualified, he probably wouldn’t be on your Website in the first instance. For example, if a property developer ran a banner advertisement featuring the headline: How to use the equity in your home to build a million-dollar property portfolio, it is likely that the visitors to his site will be home owners with an interest in investment property.

  • If you are going to deliver your offer by e-mail or via your Website, the incremental cost of acquiring an unqualified name is absolutely nothing. You’re better off making it as easy as possible for your visitors to respond.

Once you have an e-mail address, it’s relatively easy to convince its owner to volunteer additional information. (We acquire the details of close to 90% of our e-mail subscribers by offering an invitation to a forthcoming workshop in return for a name, address and telephone number.)

Site promotion

Once you’ve built your Website, the next step is to convince someone to visit it.

In the early days of the Web (three years ago), it was possible to generate an instant traffic flow by registering your site with the various search engines and online directories. Today, as a result of the exponential growth of the Web, search engine registration has become a science in itself – with no guarantee of immediate results.

While you should obviously register your Website with search engines, there are more immediate ways of driving site traffic:

  • Real-world promotion. One low-cost way to generate site traffic is to feature your site address prominently on your corporate stationary and on all of your communications (including the signature on your e-mail messages).

  • Reciprocal links. Your next step is to encourage those non-competitive organisations that share your client profile to put links to your site on theirs – in exchange for your doing the same for them. This is a highly effective (and often overlooked) form of site promotion.

  • Banner ads. In spite of their regular poor publicity, we have found banner advertisements to be remarkably cost effective. As a rough rule of thumb, we typically find that we can generate a response from a banner advertisement for around 20% of the cost of a response to an advertisement in a metropolitan newspaper.

As mentioned previously, the trick with banner ads is to use them to promote your offer (rather than your Website). Because banner ads are so small, they should consist of little more than a headline. The essential selling copy should appear on the page that the viewer clicks-through to.

Our current banner advertisement provides us with a constant stream of new subscribers to this publication. It reads as follows: Turn your business into a finely-tuned marketing machine … subscribe to AdVerb free … Marketing tips! … Advertising tricks! … And strategies to fast-track the growth of your business! (Because our banner ad is animated, each ellipse denotes a new frame.)

Putting your customers in control

The great thing about a well-designed Website is that, if you let potential customers loose inside it, they tend to sell themselves!

This is nice because it conserves your valuable promotional resources. But it is also significant because your Website can provide an environment that’s less threatening to a potential client – meaning that they tend to stay longer (and explore more) than they would if they visited your real-world business.

An introduction to a well-designed Website

While Web design could easily be the subject of another AdVerb feature, here are three tips to get you started:

  • Make your site’s content readily accessible. Try and minimise the clicks required to travel from one area of your site to another. If your site attracts non-technical, as well as technical, visitors, be sure to provide a secondary jargon-free navigation bar.

  • Provide resources of value to your visitors. Such resources could include articles from past editions of your newsletter, transcripts of lectures, a self-analysis questionnaire, software-based tools and a reading list. Perhaps some of these resources can be provided by your suppliers and business partners.

  • Remember, this is a marketing, not a technical exercise. Your Website should be designed to communicate, to educate and to transact – not to show off!

If the media hype surrounding the ‘dot coms’ had you convinced that the Internet and traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ business were mutually exclusive, I hope I’ve changed your mind. The fact is, clicks and mortar can coexist quite happily!

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