Developing an Online Strategy

An increasing number of marketing activities including advertising, direct marketing, relationship-building, customer service, and channel support are now Internet-based. It's essential to identify the activities that can move effectively to the Web and ensure that they're produced to the same rigorous standards as traditional marketing activities. An online strategy can reduce the costs of doing business by making it easier and quicker to provide information. In the longer term, it can provide a basis for better collaboration with customers, suppliers and business partners.

What You Need to KnowIs online strategy different to traditional business and marketing strategy?

As many of the pioneers found, the basics of business and marketing do not change. An online strategy will not succeed unless it offers the right products or services to the right target audience. An online strategy offers more options for reaching the market and delivering certain types of product or service. Traditional marketing methods, such as advertising, direct mail and public relations continue to be widely used, but online marketing techniques add a new dimension to the marketing mix.

What to DoSet Your Objectives

You can develop an online strategy that complements your existing business and marketing strategy, or you may wish to move all your resources into an online strategy. You can use an online presence to achieve a number of important objectives, including:

  • raise awareness among a wider audience
  • market your products across a wider geographical territory
  • reduce the cost of sales and marketing
  • increase the accuracy and efficiency of marketing
  • reduce the cost of customer service
  • improve convenience for customers
  • increase customer retention.
Plan Your Web Site Strategy

Your Web Site is at the heart of your online strategy. Depending on the nature of your business, your Web Site can have many different roles, but everything within your site should have one purpose—to get your visitors to take action. Ultimately, that means placing an order with you—online or offline—but the Web Site can support many of the processes before and after the sale:

  • request or download product and service information
  • read case studies
  • find out about your company
  • contact you to request a sales call
  • find out about support services
  • request delivery details
  • get answers to technical queries.

To support those processes, you need to plan the right content for your Web Site and build in facilities to deliver services and information in a convenient cost-effective way.

Develop Products for Online Delivery

While the Internet has made it possible for customers to select and order most types of business or consumer products online, there is also a range of digital products and services that can be delivered directly from a Web Site. These include:

  • software;
  • information services;
  • research reports;
  • consultants' reports;
  • news services.
Communicate Quickly and Precisely with E-mail

E-mail is the most widely-used form of online marketing and should therefore be an integral part of your online strategy. Regular contact is the key to success in e-mail marketing. When customers first visit a site, it is unlikely that they will make an immediate purchase. They will be gathering information to make better purchase decisions. E-mail allows you to continue delivering relevant information and moving the customer toward a purchase. You could use e-mail to alert customers to special offers, new product features, price reductions or other promotional activity.

Capture Data on Your Site

An important element in your online strategy is capturing and using visitor data. Capturing data in the right way can have an impact on your ability to acquire and retain customers. However, asking for too much information can put people off, so you should define your data capture strategy carefully:

  • Specify the data you actually need to achieve the objectives of your business
  • Keep compulsory data to a bare minimum, to maximize consumer registrations and transactions
  • Make data that is useful, but not essential voluntary
  • Only ask customers for information that you intend to use to benefit them, for example to provide a personalized service or speed up response time
  • Define how you plan to identify and track users, either by logins or the use of "cookies"
  • Add a "Comments" textbox asking for visitor's input. This can provide even more valuable qualifying information
  • Include a check box asking the visitor if he or she wishes to receive further information from your company.
Use Microsites to Encourage Action

A microsite or landing page is a Web Site page that is designed to persuade the site visitor to convert into a customer by completing a form and becoming a qualified lead, signing up for a newsletter or other online service, or making a purchase. Microsites provide a simple, responsive fulfillment mechanism for customers responding to your advertising or direct marketing campaigns. The microsite takes the customer straight to the relevant location on the Web Site, reducing the risk of their dropping out of the purchasing process, as well as giving a more satisfying customer experience.

Offer Personalized Service

You can use online marketing to build a one-to-one relationship with your customers. Database technology supports a level of personalization that can deliver highly tailored products and services to specific individuals. Each time a customer logs onto a Web Site, the database can pull together purchase history and personal preferences as a basis for a highly personalized response. By giving customers a single point of entry, you can increase customer loyalty and learn more about their purchasing patterns. That provides an excellent basis for adding value and developing new products and services.

Measure Marketing Results

Online marketing by e-mail or banner advertising makes it easier to measure response to your campaign. When customers visit your Web Site, you can monitor their activity by analyzing the pages they take, or the download requests they make. Unlike traditional media which require customers and prospects to make a phone call, mail a letter, or go to a store, online marketing is seamless.

Provide Useful Information on Your Web Site

Your Web Site should provide a source of useful information for customers and prospects. You should therefore include:

  • copies of white papers and case studies for downloading;
  • bulletins on research you are carrying out;
  • electronic copies of your customer magazines;
  • copies of seminar or conference papers delivered by your own speakers;
  • copies of published articles or news items that demonstrate thought leadership
  • details of events in which your company is participating;
  • Weblogs commenting on industry issues;
  • archive copies of Webcasts or podcasts for downloading.

Make it easy for visitors to find product information on your Web Site by:

  • converting your publications to PDFs so that visitors can download them;
  • creating a library listing all the publications available with a brief description of each;
  • placing links to publications on pages where you describe relevant products or industry solutions.
Build Community

You can encourage visitors to return more frequently by setting up a virtual community on your Web Site. Facilities to support the community could include, newsletters, discussion groups, and information. Online discussion facilities allow users to post messages offering helpful information or requesting help or further information from other members of the community. This can help you build closer relationships with customers and gain insight into business and technical issues that affect them.

Offer Customers Self-Service

You can use your Web Site to offer customers self-service facilities. That means you can deliver service around the clock, without tying up key staff. It also enables you to reduce your telephone-based support facilities by transferring support resources to the Web Site. Self-service is important to a number of sales and customer service processes:

  • delivery of information
  • direct sales
  • sales administration
  • customer support
  • technical support

With self-service, customers can obtain information on products, prices, features, and order status from a Web Site; they can place orders directly and obtain delivery information. They can also make support requests or get online answers to technical queries. Customers recognize the value of these services—many having reported significant savings in productivity through improved support and sales administration management.

Encourage Online Collaboration

As part of your longer-term online strategy, you can encourage customers, suppliers, and business partners to work collaboratively, strengthening relationships and improving the product development process. There are a variety of tools and technologies to support communication and collaboration between parties, including:

  • e-mail to exchange drawings, models, and project information;
  • meetings held by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or Webconferencing;
  • project Web Sites to create a single source of project documentation, with e-mail alerts for updates.

These tools help to create a "virtual project room" where users can share digital product information for interactive design reviews, collaborative design sessions, or information sharing, regardless of their location.

What to AvoidYou Ignore Marketing Basics

Internet marketing has introduced a variety of new techniques. However, it is easy to be seduced by the technology of Internet marketing and ignore marketing basics. Your online strategy, like your traditional marketing strategy, must target the right people with products and services that meet their needs, use promotion and pricing to increase sales, and build strong relationships to maintain customer loyalty. At the same time, make sure your site is easy to navigate; simplify ordering and payment; and ensure that fulfillment is effective. If customers find it difficult to buy from you, your investment in online marketing is wasted.

Where to Learn MoreBook:

Chaffey, Dave, Internet Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice, 3rd ed. Prentice Hall, 2006.

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