These days we hear a lot about internet marketing, but not everyone has a very clear idea of what it is. Most people are familiar with one or two techniques but don’t know how to build up a coherent campaign, which too often means that all their efforts are wasted. How does a structured internet campaign work? What do you need to take into account and what tools are available to help you make it a success? It’s actually easier and more affordable to do it successfully than you might think, but it takes knowledge and planning.
Every successful marketing campaign, regardless of context, begins with research. The great thing about the internet is that there’s a lot of free data already out there to help you build up a picture of who your customers are likely to be and what approach is likely to appeal to them. It’s also much easier to collect your own data online than through traditional means. You can run a short opt-in survey for existing customers on your website, for instance, and even if only a small percentage of them respond, it will help you to target campaign work. Another useful trick is to search for products like yours on Google, Amazon or eBay (using a new browser so they won’t take into account your personal online habits) and see what other sorts of product suggestions they bring up, so you can take advantage of their huge databases to find out what sort of things your prospective customers like.
Market research enables you to home in on the sort of people who are most likely to buy your products, minimizing wasted time and money. This means you can make good decisions about how to design adverts and other promotional campaigns and where to place them. It also means that you can use tools designed to do the targeting for you. Facebook, for instance, lets you select the people who see your adverts according to layered criteria. This means that if you are selling plushies for infants through an online store, you can target women in their thirties who have been talking about babies, or if you are selling chocolates from a local boutique, you can target people who have just bought flowers in the same area. Naturally, refining your targeted audience this much costs money. They key thing you need to keep track of is the balance between what you spend and the response you get (and not just in terms of direct sales, as this kind of advertising can also generate positive word of mouth). Over time, you’ll be able to refine your campaigns.
Competing with Big Businesses
Small businesses face a challenge in the online marketplace because they lack the name recognition factor that big business enjoys. This means that every campaign is, at least to an extent, about building the brand as well as selling the product itself. The product pitch needs to be strong enough to convince customers it’s worth buying from strangers.
Working through an established online marketplace can be helpful in this situation, because some of the trust associated with the marketplace’s brand rubs off on the seller. Sponsorship initiatives where a small business supports a charity while pushing its products can also make it possible to borrow an established good reputation, and they can be a positive element in longer-term brand building.
Big businesses also have the advantage of having a lot more money to pour into their campaigns, which means they can afford to integrate online and ‘real world’ campaigns, creating the sense of a larger presence by being visible on television, radio, social media and even in the street. Small businesses have to find scaled back, affordable ways of taking on this kind of competitor.
Even big companies have to be smart in how they approach marketing. Domino’s pulled off a clever campaign back in 2012 when it promised to lower the cost of its lunchtime pizzas by an amount that would depend on how many people tweeted about it. Not only did the campaign get their name out there on a huge scale, but it also meant that lots of people went there for lunch, and despite the eager reception, they only had to cut the cost of the pizzas by half, barely eating into their profit margins. Accounting for other purchases, they did very well out of it.
Sometimes all you really need is a simple, strong idea that you can promote consistently across multiple channels. That’s what American Express found with their Small Business Saturday campaign. Because they were promoting an idea that most Americans were already sympathetic to, they were able to produce simple materials that got shared across social media, with their own services promoted almost incidentally, and it made them seem like heroes championing a better society.
Competing with this sort of thing as a small business is tricky, but multi-channel advertising shouldn’t be seen as something that’s only for the big boys. Sites like As Seen on TV make it easy to interlink online and television marketing campaigns even when your marketing budget is small.
Ultimately, the type of campaign you choose will depend on the type of product you have to sell. Highly visual items benefit from being seen on television, in online videos or on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. Products that need a bit of explanation benefit from platforms where you have room to talk and answer questions, like Facebook, but can also be well served by videos, whether on YouTube and Vimeo or on your own website. Where there’s an element that changes over time, such as a hair salon offering special midweek deals and seasonal promotions, a short messaging medium like Twitter is ideal. With these elements in mind, you can design messages to suit the mediums you’ll be using.
Marketing is a process in which you’ll be learning all the time, so you shouldn’t worry about not knowing everything. Just stay focused on what you can do well, keep your eyes open for new opportunities and stay inventive – in the end, it’s ideas that really matter.