January 11, 2012

'Winging it' on the Web - The Two Keys to E-Marketing Success

There's an old marketing maxim that says, "I know that 40 percent of my marketing is working; I just don't know which 40 percent it is." The old-school advertising mentality used to be that you couldn’t make money unless you spent money. Big ad agencies had their formulas on how much a business needed to spend on print, broadcast and outdoor advertising. Business owners followed these recommendations like lambs being lead to slaughter, and there were many companies whose advertising account executive's bellies grew fat while the company went belly up.

Enter a new age… enter the Internet. Through websites and email, a company can get their message out to lots of people quickly and cost effectively. Traditional advertising still has it’s place in a company’s overall marketing presence, but the immediacy of the web and improvements in software and web-based computer applications has empowered business owners and their employees to communicate directly with their customers, employees, the press and the public.

I’d like to share a secret. People look to me as a web expert, but honestly I’m ‘on-the-job’ learning every day. There’s no right; there’s no wrong. Many times we’re just ‘winging it.’ But because the web is a cost effective and editable entity, we are able to ‘spot test’ multiple approaches to achieving a common goal. And because all electronic communications leave some form of digital trail, we are able to study results and learn from our choices.

If you are reading this, then there’s a good chance you have been tasked with the responsibility of choosing your company’s electronic media blend. Let’s assume that you have a website, and that you update it regularly with content that’s of value to your customers. Maybe you use email for customer surveys or sales follow-up. Perhaps you are even sending out birthday cards or regularly scheduled business reminders. Hopefully you have been asking people for their email addresses (and for permission to contact them), and you send out an e-newsletter. If any of this rings true with your company, then please read on…

There are two “keys to success” in web-based marketing that are extremely powerful, easy to deploy and inexpensive. Yet many seasoned professionals ignore these two hand-in-hand opportunities. The Internet is all about sharing, and I hope these humble words of wisdom can inspire a few of you to make more of your online efforts, and give you a ‘return’ on the time you are now investing by reading this.

Key to success, number one: Publish multiple versions.

Whether you are sending out reminder emails, a monthly newsletter or publishing a micro-website to support a special event, you will un-doubtfully have choices in how you voice your message. The choice can be small, like having to pick between two good candidates for an email subject line, or it can be more obvious, like what images and color schemes to use in a marketing campaign.

People too often try to “create the perfect piece” that speaks equally to every member of the audience. Documents created by committee may have perfectly good ideas or approaches thrown by the wayside because the end product can only be envisioned as being a single final publication. The next time you find yourself having to choose between two viable approaches, why not try both? The web doesn’t have a ‘price per piece’ cost like print does, and there is often little or no extra labor or costs involved with creating two variations of the same message. My advice: wing it! Put them both out there and see what happens. Double your pleasure, double your fun and double your chances of getting your message noticed, which leads us to…

Key to success, number two: Use your stats to improve.

You’ve just posted new pages on your website, and you have sent a beautifully written newsletter or email to people inviting them to check it out. Maybe you’ve even sent out two versions of the email to two different targeted groups! For many people, this is the end of the day. It's not!

All too often, people neglect to look at their site statistics and email marketing reporting. When your message goes live, the data starts coming in. If you are not using your site and e-marketing statistics, then you are missing the opportunity to ‘slingshot’ any momentum you gain in your initial campaign effort. Here are some examples of how a little stat knowledge can give you a big business boost.

  • With email and newsletter campaigns, your open and click-through rates are a measure of performance that will immediately start shaping your plans for future campaigns. Start keeping notes of what worked and what didn’t, and write down what elements you plan to keep or improve upon. Also, this might sound elementary, but record your notes in a place that you’ll be able to find it in the future. Time passes quickly, and what’s top of mind today will quickly be covered up by details of other tasks tomorrow.

  • Get a basic understanding of website statistics. Most web servers keep log files that can track an amazing range of detailed data, including what pages on your sites are getting traffic, where people are coming from, including search engine referrals and links in your e-marketing communications, and what they are doing on your site once they arrive. Armed with this information, you can publish different versions of email messages, newsletters and web pages, and see which approaches are more successful.

  • If your campaign involves web pages, don’t be afraid to make changes to the content after it's been published, to adapt to people’s behavior and campaign performance. A successful web presence requires content contributors to be able to post changes in a timely manner. These days there’s no excuse for not being able to quickly edit your website.

  • In addition to communicating better with your audience, and possibly improving the conversion rate or cost effectiveness of your campaign, adjustments and additions to existing web page content will give you better visibility in search engines.
In short, everyone can communicate more with their audience. If you wait for “the perfect message,” you might miss many opportunities in the time that goes by. If you’re in charge of communications, then you have the right to ask for the tools and the authority to send out e-business communications. And if you are the person responsible for putting content on your web site, then you need to be able to make those changes quickly and easily. It will probably take some learning time and the support of others to configure email and website statistics; but once these technical requirements are in place, you’ll be in total command of your company’s e-marketing efforts.

Finally, trust your instincts. No one knows your job better than you, and with technology on your side, your insight and hindsight is all part of the learning process. All great businesses success stories involve someone who took a chance in uncharted territory. Sometimes you just have to wing it!

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