It’s all about marketing – back to basics

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

The year is 1992, and the hype surrounding the web is booming beyond reason. Literally. Those with foresight and expertise are loudly announcing that the web is the answer to everything, that online is the only way to go, that it’s the dawning of the new era. Hype drowns reason, and queues of investors are frantically scrabbling over each other to give their money to pretty much anything that starts with www.

It didn’t take long for the bubble to burst, and as always, the biggest bubbles burst the loudest, and make the most mess in doing so. Investors were left scratching their heads and empty wallets, and numerous individuals and businesses to this day are still wondering what happened, and how it all went wrong so quickly.

Those with foresight and expertise are once again putting forward their opinions, but this time are singing a different, but no less inaccurate view, that the web was little more than a passing phase, and that there are no online opportunities, just traps and money pits.

Businesses with genuinely good, solid ideas are meeting raised eyebrows instead of open wallets as soon as they mention the W word; web, online, internet, it’s a serious case of having been burnt badly enough the first time thank you very much.

The key, as is so often the case, is to find a balance between the two viewpoints. The web isn’t “the answer”, nor should it merely be viewed as a new outlet. Do a search on the web for online marketing, and you’ll find (between the software plugs) hundreds if not thousands of articles with more theories than reason. Let’s start by decluttering the list with a few facts over myths.

MYTH 1 suggests that the web is just another medium. It isn’t, and you’re heading for extinction if you follow the same rules. It’s not print, it’s not radio, it’s not TV, and it certainly isn’t a dynamic version of the traditional billboard. Different rules are required – and adaptation is critical.

MYTH 2 assumes that interactive means button-pressing, animation-spinning, live chatting galore! It doesn’t. Interactive just means that your site visitor can choose which aspects of your information they’d like to see. More choices obviously means that they’re more likely to click and stay.

MYTH 3 builds on the newly-educated person who understands that the web is not just another medium, and that none of the old marketing rules apply. Not so.

Anyone who’s ever dabbled in marketing to any level at all is familiar with the Four Ps – product, price, place and promotion. These not only should be applied to the web, but indeed must be applied to the web. The trick is to approach it all from a slightly different angle.

The PRODUCT, in marketing terms, is simply something that has value, satisfies a need or want, and can be offered in exchange for something else. The same applies to the online model, but the key is to understand that not all products are suited to the web. Software, however, is ideal.

The PRICE, in marketing terms, is the amount of value that has been placed on a product. Market forces are the main determinant of this, with the old supply and demand factors pulling and pushing from their respective corners, but the web adds a little twist.

The price can fall into three categories – direct (the most common), indirect (where the cost is shifted from the consumer to a third party (eg advertiser), or a combination of the two.

The web offers the consumer a massive amount of power, in the form of its most common resource – information. The consumer can very easily check around for pricing and features of similar or competing products, so somehow, you have to compete. You may go for a lower price, higher price (for perceived value), better features or any other options, but even if you choose not to actively compete with your competition, you can still end up losing sales to them.

The PLACE, in marketing terms, is traditionally seen as the place where the selling actually occurs. The web can of course be a superb tool to simplify distribution and leap over all sorts of practical issues that the non-online world faces. But again, it all depends on the product, and how it is distributed.

Assuming that your product and distribution method are suited, then you’re essentially trying to reach the correct market with a product they need or want. Unless you’re managing to capture your entire market single-handed, then doesn’t the concept of affiliation spring to mind? It certainly works for Amazon, but assuming you actually are managing to capture every single potential sale, then this option doesn’t need looking into.

The fourth P is of course PROMOTION. In marketing terms this is simply anything and everything you do to makes the exchanges easier – in short, reach the consumer. The most common mistake is to assume that promotion will compensate for any of the other Ps that may be lacking. This is a dangerous mistake to make. Take away any of the other factors and you’re left with a very weak link, that sooner or later is certain to be broken. Balance is critical.

The four main components of promotion are direct marketing, advertising, sales and PR. The web is of course the most fertile ground for direct marketing, and cheaper computers and better software have made seizing the opportunities easier than ever before. No matter how your online business may be setup and running, you’re sitting on a massive amount of information, through registered users, website visitors, site statistics, sales patterns and so on. Information equals knowledge about the consumer, and knowledge is everything.

Advertising is often viewed as the most prominent aspect of the internet, but the reality is that its effectiveness is becoming near impossible to gauge. Break down the basic idea behind advertising, and you’re left with the desire to place your name and/or product where potential consumers can be influenced.

Banners are of course the most common form of online advertising, but are often measured in exposures. Totally meaningless. The number of times a banner is displayed doesn’t mean a thing – a banner can be displayed 20 times on a single page, or appear at the bottom of a long page, but this is near useless. The only thing that counts is the number of times that the banner is clicked-on, and as we all know, the so called click-through rates have dropped to laughable levels.

The good news is that the rules are changing. The conventional 468 x 60 banner is slowly being replaced by larger and different shaped items, that may for example run down the right-hand side of a screen, and have far more room for content. Good news for all concerned I think.

PR is simply a way of generating communication about a business, in an attempt to encourage purchase. When it works, it can be fantastic, but can very easily backfire into a nightmare of the most serious proportions. More on this subject in a future article.

If your business is based online, then the measuring ground for the success of your work will be your website, the success of which cannot be measured simply by sales or number of hits, but by a combination of both. Statistics are your best source of information, and as explained, information is critical.

With them you can see who’s coming to your site, which pages they go to, and how long they spend on each. If you’re lucky you should also be able to see where they’re coming from.

The web is still developing – in human terms it’s not really far beyond it’s early teens, and has a long way to go until it settles down into a steady behavioural pattern. The so called new marketing rules don’t really exist – they’re just repackaged versions of the old classics. Strip away the newfangled buzz-words, and you’re left with the same ideas that have been thrown around for the past fifteen or twenty years.

Those who tout new rules really have no sense of history, which is fine if you want to start with a blank page, and hope you eventually find your way, but marketing doesn’t need to be reinvented for the web – it already exists and it already works.

Tying your marketing strategies down to a set of specific instances will head you straight into serious trouble as soon as the context changes, and the web will most definitely change. Base your strategy on solid ideas and your chances of success can only improve. Be seen, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.