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How to start marketing online

How to start marketing online

By Ben Butler, Web Editor, Internet Advertising Bureau

With such a choice of media at their finger-tips, marketers and brand managers have never had it better, but neither has it been more of a challenge to keep up with consumers.

In these heady days, it is not a question of reinventing your entire marketing plan, but rather recognising how your internet marketing strategy can help you ‘unthink your brand’ and liberate your communications.

The key things internet marketing can do for your brand.

Engage your consumers and build your brand

There is no doubt that the rapid growth of broadband has radically changed media consumption and consumer behaviour overall. It’s no longer enough to simply interrupt people's lives with 'washes whiter' advertising.

The internet has produced a network of empowered consumers. They can track down information with a click of a mouse; share opinions and seek answers with fellow users and access price-comparison sites.

Why should they take your word about your product and brand when they can find out for themselves? Your internet marketing strategy should reflect that it is now the consumer, not the product or the advertising, that is the focus.
Over 30 million people are now online. And we are not talking people dialing up and going online for the first time, no no. The UK is a nation of broadband-connecting, internet-loving enthusiasts, using the internet for a vast array of activities whether young or old.
With diverse audiences using the internet for multifarious activities, you can be assured there is an array of tools at your disposal enabling you to engage both mass and niche audiences.
Your customer's online journey to your brand is likely to start with a search engine or a piece of display advertising, both key opportunities to strike up a conversation with your consumer.

Progressive marketers have seized the opportunities that broadband allows to produce some really powerful, engaging Rich Media display advertising. 80 per cent of home internet users now have broadband (BMRB) and as super-fast internet connections become the norm, online creative is growing increasingly richer.

Rich Media advertising utilises interactive elements such as games or streamed audio- visual content to encourage users to interact with the ad and thus spend undivided attention engaging with a brand.

If your consumer decides to continue the conversation with your brand, it will be on their owns terms. If they do not click-through to a website from a piece of display advertising, they may well find you with a search engine. Does your website appear in the search listings when your consumer types in your brand name or related keywords?

Consumers expect to find information within a click and if there is a vacuum in the listings where your website should be, a blogger with a bee in their bonnet about your brand or a competitor could be taking this space and the attention of a potential customer.

Search engine marketing is essential for putting consumers on the path to your brand after having their awareness raised either through display advertising or from the TV ad.

Email marketing can follow up initial interest with a personalised, highly relevant message. By tracking your emails and capturing data, you can find out more about your consumer, target your messages more closely and thus develop a deeper relationship.

In short, internet marketing can tell the whole story and engage your consumer at every step of their online journey with your brand. Does your internet marketing strategy cover every online touchpoint?

It’s important to remember that brands live in people's minds. We all have our own perception of brands based on advertising, our own experience, word of mouth and so on. What internet technology provides us with is a whole set of new and exciting ways to influence this perception, establishing a dialogue with consumers in ways we could never before.

As consumers are increasingly empowered to take control of brands online through a variety of social media such as user-generated content and blogs, brand managers must 'unthink' much of the traditional approach to brand management and learn how to use these forms of social media to liberate their brand communications.

However you choose to open up a dialogue with your consumers, the internet is unique in its ability to allow a two-way conversation. The recent emergence of the phrase 'Web 2.0’ recognises that we have moved into the next generation of online use.

The web has evolved into a true two-way medium seen through the proliferation of user-generated content. Your consumer is looking to be entertained and informed, and the internet - beyond any other medium - enables you to engage directly with your audience’s interests and, essentially, allows them to feed back to you.

Marketing is no longer about simply manoeuvring your brand through relatively fixed relationships and channels; it’s now about setting it free.

Drive sales

The internet is the best shopping mall in the world and one that you can visit day or night and not have to worry about parking. For the consumer shopping has never been easier.

Great news for brands, bad news for bank balances. According to the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) online retail spend increased by 40 per cent year-on-year to £13.5 billion in the first half of 2006.

The combined impact of broadband and the secure shopping environment online means that consumers are internet shopping with confidence. The speed and efficiency of the medium is making the high street a much quieter place. And it is even changing consumer buying habits, particularly in sectors like motor insurance, which is increasingly sold online.

There is no longer a distinction to be made between your online and offline consumer. Using your online presence can also act as a terrific driver to offline sales. In fact the majority of consumers use online as an integral part of their purchase decision-making process.

When you consider that on average, consumers consider three brands before making a purchasing decision, it’s clear how invaluable the internet has become as an aid to help narrow down the options before the final online or offline purchase.

Maximize your return on investment

One of the main reasons marketers are embracing online is because they have quickly realised that the internet is the most accountable marketing medium. Internet tracking offers marketers a wealth of data and by selecting a few key metrics linked to the campaign objectives, return on investment (ROI) can be quickly and easily measured and monitored.
Agencies use reporting technology to measure who saw your advert (ad impressions), what they do and how long they spent interacting with your advert (click-though rate, dwell time), whether the interaction resulted in a sale or registered interest on your website (cost per acquisition)…etc.

What other medium can tell you this much about interaction with your ads? Your brand favourability and propensity to purchase can also be measured with the help of specialist research agencies using brief online questionnaires. This is all good news for FMCG marketers whose products are not normally purchased directly on the internet.

The internet is also unique in its ability for campaign optimisation. By apportioning your adspend budget to online you will be rewarded by the continued control you have over your campaigns once they have launched. Trackable to the last detail and in real-time, it is quick and clear to see which elements of your campaign are proving most effective and which areas are fairing less well.

Complement other media

John Naughton, author of ‘A brief history of the future’ (about the development of the internet) hypothesises that media is an ecology in itself. When a new medium is introduced into the ecology, existing media have to adapt based on their characteristics and strengths relative to the new medium.

The ability of the internet to serve an array of content on demand and engage an audience, whilst offering a marketplace for the buying and selling of products has placed it at the heart of the media landscape and is having a far reaching effect on other media.

Online is an excellent complementary medium because it allows you to tell consumers the full story about your brand or product. For example A 30 second car advertisement on TV, an outdoor six sheet or press ad can spark an initial interest.

But by including search and display ads you can drive the consumer to a website where they can view 360 degree images of the vehicle, arrange test drives and work out finance plans and even make a sale - thus building on your initial messaging in phenomenal fashion.

And it isn’t just TV, outdoor and press that are the perfect bed-fellows for online; the IAB has produced an entire study on how radio advertising and internet marketing provide a compelling combination for advertisers.

Indeed, this concept of ‘media meshing’ is likely to become ever more common as the number of media touchpoints increase.

Where perhaps consumers are only in contact with other media infrequently throughout the day, the internet has become the ‘always on’ medium. It is important for marketers to know that many of their consumers are online continuously throughout the day and then return home to complete tasks, shop, chat or play for several hours in the evening as well.

This fact, coupled with the targeting strengths of online to reach disparate audiences at specific times, means that it is has the ability to either support or be at the heart of your marketing campaign.

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