Building Relationships With Your Visitors

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Traditionally, even in this nontraditional market, online businesses have focused primarily on driving visitors to a site and have spent less time on initiating relevant, contextual interactions with them.


Part of the challenge is that traditional offline media may send prospects to a site, but once there, it is difficult to sustain visitors' interest. Visitors may leave before you realize they were ever there.


And if they were there, what do you know about them? Who were the visitors, what made them come, and what made them leave?


Despite the recent downturn in some forms of digital marketing, the pundits continue to predict that online advertising will continue to grow at a greater rate than traditional advertising vehicles such as newspapers, magazines, broadcast and direct mail. E-mail marketing in particular, as Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, notes, is growing in popularity, partly due to banner underperformance. However, Forrester also recognizes that to be successful, e-mail marketing requires thoughtful execution, extensive database skills and careful list management.


Advertising is attracting public attention to your business through paid print, broadcast or online media, while marketing is promoting, selling and distributing your businesses' services or products. Both advertising and marketing are essential to establishing brand awareness, creating brand preference, and, perhaps most importantly, selling the product or service. To unlock the power of advertising and marketing in the online medium, you need to build online initiatives based on discerning who your visitors are, what they want, and establishing a "best customer" profile.


Traditional marketing and advertising only permit a one-way communication stream, with a business doling out the information it speculates that its audience wants. But through e-mail marketing, a marketer has a channel to develop a clear understanding of its audience and how to provide that audience with what it wants. This understanding is at the heart of creating successful customer relationships.


When embarking on an e-mail marketing program, it is crucial to understand a few key facts about your online visitors. First, your visitors are also your competitors' visitors. It is important to survey your competitors' operations to get a sense of how their efforts compare to yours, what the similarities and differences between your approaches are, and what is working for them in engaging visitors.


Second, it is important to understand what inspires visitors to become customers. Key motivators include providing a unique product or service; an enjoyable customer experience; valuable and relevant information; superior value, products or services targeted to each visitor; and ongoing incentives.


Learn who your visitors are. In any relationship, the best way to get to know someone is by asking questions. Pose questions to your customers. Initiate a "conversation" with them. Capturing visitors' information is critical to continually improving your relationships with your customers.


Monitor traffic patterns. One benefit of e-mail marketing is the digital trail you can follow to learn what steps lead to a transaction. By using this click-stream of information, you can discover which initiatives worked and use them to refine future efforts.


Combine online and offline tools. It is important to begin to piece together the puzzle of who your visitors are. Obtaining e-mail addresses at various touch-points, exchanging contextual and relevant information, and aggregating purchase transaction data provide online information to initiate an ongoing, mutual relationship with a visitor. Don't have any online information? You can use offline devices, including dedicated toll-free-number line tracking, ZIP code tracking, and unique product codes and numbers to create an individual understanding of your visitors.


By putting together all of this information to create a profile of your best customer, you have an excellent opportunity to initiate the visitor-to-customer transformation. Once a best customer profile is established, the flexibility, targeting and tracking capabilities of e-mail marketing can provide you with the means to build ongoing, profitable bonds with your top prospects.


There are a few words of prudence, however, that are important to remember when crafting an e-mail marketing initiative. Don't merely serve up content without using a device to capture ongoing interest in a particular category. A visitor that only finds content to consume will never have the opportunity to become an enduring customer.


Many sites make the mistake of allowing visitors to browse and even buy without the site gaining any information about customers. They become one-time customers, and you have little information at your disposal to create a meaningful, future relationship with them. By opening the lines of two-way communication, you can build relationships with visitors and entice them to become loyal, returning customers.


Interact with your visitors and customers with an eye to creating an ongoing dialogue with them, and you will be well on your way to getting the most out of your marketing dollars.


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