5 Steps to an Effective Online Marketing Plan
By Neal Lappe - August 27, 2011
Little more needs to be said these days about how important the internet has become to marketers worldwide, big and small, national and local. Our eyeballs are going online and that's where the marketing money is going. One Google executive told me a couple months ago that consumers under the age of 25 are consuming more TV online than through the traditional broadcast and cable channels... and we all know how important those DVR's are to improving our TV viewing experience - no commercials!
The chart to the left shows time spent per day on various media types. It indicates we still watch a lot of TV, and spending time online isn't far behind. Since 2008, time spent watching TV has remained flat. Average daily time spent online has increased from about 5.25 hours to nearly 6 hours. Additionally, mobile has made a significant increase, although total time spent remains relatively low. What on earth was this world like before the internet?
With all this said, any company that hasn't/doesn't invest in a well thought out online marketing plan is at a competitive disadvantage and puts their growth and success at risk.
The 5 steps you should take to develop your Online Marketing Plan
- Determine who your customers are and how they research, shop, purchase and use your products and services.
It all starts with who you want to sell to and how they behave during the sales process. How do your customers obtain information about your products and services? Do they go online, ask friends, attend seminars, read the newspaper, etc.? What do they look for that enables them to evaluate the competitive offerings? What do they value? Is it speed, image, convenience, etc.? Put yourself in the shoes of a customer seeking out and evaluating your products and services, and ask yourself these questions. If you don't personally fit the demographics of your target customer, then find a few that do and ask them. We often conduct focus groups of people who fit the demographic profile of the customer and take them through a series of questions to help us understand what is important to them, how they think, how they evaluate products and services, what they value and how they make decisions. This approach is extremely helpful, but make sure your focus group participants are very representative of your target market. Otherwise the information you obtain might be invalid.
- Be very visible where your customers are looking and make sure you can be found easily.
If your customers are searching for your type of business online, then search engine and social media marketing are critical ingredients to your success. On the other hand, if your customers are obtaining information about you offline and then going online to check you out, search engine and social media may not be worthwhile investments, but make sure your website can be easily found and your online reputation is immaculate. Do a search for your company - what do you find? Do a search for your name - what do you see? Whatever the results, do what's necessary to ensure those checking you out online see things that enhance your credibility and reputation.
- Make sure your customers get a great first impression about who you are and what you do.
Whether your customers are finding you online through a search engine or they heard about you and are checking you out, your website is the "online front door" to your business. If you are found through the search engines, does your website immediately communicate what you do? Most consumers these days don't have much of an attention span online, so if you don't engage them immediately or you make it difficult to understand what you do, you will lose that customer opportunity. If customers are simply going to your website to check you out, do they get a great first impression? Does your website stand out from the competition in a good way? I'm not talking about things flying around the home page or anything like that. These days that kind of stuff is annoying. Do you present yourself as a credible, competent entity in your industry? If you are uncertain, do a little test group. Find a few people that match your target customer demographic profile and ask them to evaluate your website. Listen to them, evaluate their feedback and take action to improve your online presence.
- Give your customers what they value and what enables them to understand what you do and how well you do it.
You've got them at the "online front door" (your website) and now they are walking into your home online. Do they like what they see? Are you giving them the information they value? Are you presenting your information in a positive way? If you know what they value and how they prefer to consume what they value (Step #1 above), then present it to them in those ways. One of my favorite books is "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug. In his book, he encourages online marketers to present their content in a way consistent with the message - "don't make me think and don't make me read". In other words, use images to get attention and navigate visitors. Present content in an easy-to-read manner. Video is becoming a great way to present your content. In any case, make sure you know what your customer values and present it to him or her in a way that is effective, entertaining and fun if you can. But in all cases, make it direct and make it easy.
- Tell your customers what to do and give them an opportunity to interact with you.
Ok, so you know who your customers are, you know how and from where they obtain information about what you do. You also know what's important to them. Through your search engine marketing, social media and online reputation activities, your customers can easily find you and not be disappointed by some less than desirable information. You get them to your website, they walk through that important "online front door" and they see cool things. They like the information you are presenting and they can easily consume it. It's valuable to them and they are liking you. Now what? It is time to "close the deal". It is time to tell the customer what to do and/or give the customer the opportunity to interact with you. You do this by calls-to-action. Here are some common online calls-to-action
- Add to cart
- Buy today
- Call us today
- Chat online
- Sign up for newsletter and/or special promotions
- Download a whitepaper
You get the idea here. If you have effectively navigated and accomplished Steps 1 - 4, don't leave the customer hanging. After all, to this point they like you and appreciate the good information you have given them. So, give them an opportunity to interact with you. Tell them what to do.
Summary of the 5 Steps
- Know who your customers are, what they value, how they research/shop and how the typical sales process works for them.
- Make sure your website and information about your company can be easily found online and presents you in a good light.
- Communicate clearly through your website what you do and give a great first impression.
- Provide your customers the information they are seeking and the content they value, and make your information easy to consume.
- Give your customers the ability to interact with you online and tell them what to do.
Follow this line of thinking and work with an experienced online marketing professional to make it happen. If you do this well, you'll have a competitive advantage and be well positioned as the internet grows as a critical marketing platform.