Change Calls for Reinforcing Basics

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Market tribulation over the past several months has left in its wake a state of paralysis. No one is willing to accept the turn. Nor is anyone willing to declare where the economy is going next.


Instead of lamenting the past, it is necessary to acknowledge what has happened and get over it. This downtime will force companies to take a closer, fresher look at their businesses and push ahead with change.


As far as marketing initiatives are concerned, it must be recognized that in order to increase revenue and drive sales, companies will have to spend to persuade customers to patronize their businesses. E-tailing's marketing focus is no longer about building brand to boost customer acquisitions; it is about driving sales through customer retention and by fostering loyalty.


So what are the implications for public relations and the strategies needed to help e-tailers achieve these new goals? What are today's public relations tactics, and how are they bending with the times?


Back to basics. For so long, companies have wrapped themselves up in guerrilla marketing tactics, pushing the fundamentals of marketing aside in favor of making a splash and stamping brand names wherever possible. In these times, it is absolutely crucial to find the most direct way to the customer and to get the most value from the marketing dollars that remain. This means realizing the value of honed messages and getting them heard by their target audiences.


Shoot with a rifle, not with a cannon. Companies must understand that the best dollars spent are those on "Marketing 101" initiatives.


Those old-line tactics may seem bland, especially compared with the guerrilla marketing to which we have grown accustomed. However, most firms today would be hard-pressed to justify the return on investment of sponsoring high-profile sports events and flying bannere-pulling airplanes over Manhattan. Remember those ostentatious martini parties?


For most, it is crucial to get the greatest penetration in the areas that are needed most and to use every resource to the fullest extent, pushing each marketing dollar to its maximum value. For instance, pass on the mammoth trade show where a company can easily drown in the noise. Instead, take the 10-foot-by-10-foot booth at a targeted show with perhaps only 5,000 attendees, but 5,000 attendees whose attention can be held.


Media strategy: art vs. architecture. Keeping that in mind, public relations must have a media strategy. However, there seem to be two methods in public relations - this is referred to as "art vs. architecture." The "artists" tend to resemble a Rauschenberg piece and stick to a chaotic, disorderly approach, releasing announcements without any strategy behind timing or positioning and lacking true understanding of the media and how it functions.


The "architecture" method has structure, meaning and thought. There is reasoning behind addressing certain audiences, knowledge of how to reach customers, thought behind media strategies and recognition of when to shift strategies. There must be a foundation for solid messages, positioning and a strategy for development. Without these key elements, effectiveness and ROI are lost.


Where are you on the Web? Even with every conceivable tactic in place, marketing to potential customers is useless if the company is invisible. It is essential to ensure that a business can be found with little or no effort. Again, get back to the basics:


• Can your business be found through a search engine?


• What combinations of keywords are necessary for someone to find you?


• Are you one of the first three sites listed in the search?


• How difficult is it to remember your URL?


• How difficult is it to associate your URL with your business?


• Are you listed in online directories?


• Does it take too long for your home page to download?


Many do not take this fundamental step to ensure that potential customers can find and open the front door. Do not waste hard marketing work by overlooking this step.


The "front porch." On a similar note, know how to marry the integrity of delivering a product with quality sales and marketing. This parallels the idea of sticking with fundamental marketing tactics. People are still grappling with whether to present heavy, Flash-animated sites (which serve more as eye candy), or a more informative, thought-provoking "front porch" that addresses the essential foundation of their business.


Many business-to-business companies, for instance, do not fully use their sites to market themselves. Existing clients know the way to the front door and how to tap into the site to find what they need, but are potential clients also considered from a marketing standpoint?


Make the front porch attractive to those passing on the sidewalk or to those who are curious enough to approach the porch and take a closer peek. The site needs to offer something magnetic and enticing to educate and draw those potentials through the door. Let the site show movement and progress. Use existing resources to the fullest extent.


Rolling with change. Finally, change is inevitable. Embrace it. Unlike past economic slowdowns, the Internet's rapid pace has driven things to change moment to moment rather than month by month. Today, when public relations is more highly valued than ever, implementing the fundamentals is not costly. However, choosing not to make decisions can be expensive.
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