Add Your Web Site to the Marketing Mix

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Driving visitors to the corporate Web site is like filling a gospel tent: It's nice that you have an audience, but the point of all the effort is to gain converts.


In the secular world, marketing executives across the country realize that one of their key missions today is to bring visitors to the site and then facilitate commercial transactions.


This is not always easy. Some companies strapped by tradition balk at the expenditures necessary to create an effective online initiative. Others are slow to see the Web as a major marketing force. They are satisfied to let technical personnel direct the development of their Web activities.


Yet savvy executives are realizing that the Web must be included in all marketing efforts. Recent news reports, for instance, reveal that every announced presidential candidate is putting major emphasis on e-mail and the Web to enhance branding among the nation's electorate.


According to industry analysts, the most effective way of integrating Web activities into the overall marketing mix is to recognize that synchronized advertising is the best method of gaining exposure. That means that companies are using television, radio, newspapers and direct mail together with their e-marketing initiatives.


An April study by Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, found that 60 percent of the companies it interviewed use a combination of online, offline and e-mail to drive visitors to their Web sites. And the use of e-mail marketing has been especially effective.


The Forrester study unearthed a startling finding: Though 89 percent of marketing directors favor banner ads of Web sites as their top choice for building traffic, their comments revealed that such ads are the least effective. Of 13 channels of promotion that were examined, banner ads ranked 12th in effectiveness - just above newspapers. Conversely, e-mail to customers and willing recipients tied for first with affiliate programs as the most effective.


The Forrester study says this about e-mail: "Its attractive price, viral characteristics and targeting capabilities will push it to the top of the marketing mix."


Note that this is not a discussion about spam. It's common knowledge that consumers despise spam. But most upscale consumers are very interested in opt-in e-mail programs from sites of their choice.


As almost anyone who has dabbled in e-mail marketing knows, an opt-in program is usually one in which a consumer fills out a registration form on a corporate site. The consumer gives permission for the company to send e-mails and often designates what segment of the company's business is of interest.


As a result, a visitor to a department store's Web site who designates that she would like to be alerted to sales on women's apparel is likely to buy if the right offer comes along.


Industry statistics show that consumers who have opted in buy five to seven times more frequently than those who visit the site anonymously.


The following are action steps companies can take to move toward integrating e-mail and the Web site into the marketing mix:


• CEOs must "anoint" the interactive initiative. Top executives should recognize the value of Web marketing and appoint an internal executive to head an online marketing initiative. This leader should include managers from IT, marketing and financial services to ensure support throughout the company.


• Companies should consider outsourcing. Most companies don't have the Net management skills, server farms and skills at data analysis to support complex Web and e-mail campaigns. Decision-makers should contract with companies that can supply such resources.


Advertising and marketing teams should demand cross-media exposure. It's becoming clear that every promotional campaign must have an online component. Those responsible for sales and promotion should insist that funds be earmarked for e-mail campaigns, for they are proving to be winners in the return-on-investment category.


When you create one-to-one relationships with your Web visitors, you create a benign environment that leads to the transactions the company is seeking. By integrating the Web site into the marketing mix, companies get great returns with minimum financial outlay.


Ed Mullen is CEO of WiredEmpire, Burlington, MA. His e-mail address is emullen@wiredempire.com.
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