Don't forget the basics amid all the buzz

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In the 1990s, everyone was talking about guerrilla marketing. Creating viral and buzz campaigns was the order of the day and the best way to leverage customer satisfaction. But to succeed in online marketing today, you need to go further in building customer relationships. You need to harness the wave of consumer-generated content that's sweeping the Internet.

Innovative brands are learning how their target customers acquire knowledge and build a purchase decision. Companies such as Procter & Gamble and BMW are engaging a generation of Internet users with nontraditional messages that bring the consumer into the brand in nontraditional ways. Burger King is known for new marketing campaigns that leverage diverse channels such as YouTube, MySpace, video games and iPods. Marketers of all sizes and stripes are looking at blogs, podcasts, RSS and video as ways to give consumers a voice in creating a brand. These new ideas are driven by timely research:

• 53 percent of business and IT professionals state that the content they read in blogs affects their work-related purchasing decisions (KnowledgeStorm and Universal McCann, September 2006).

• 77 percent of online shoppers use consumer-generated product reviews/ratings (JupiterResearch, August 2006).

The danger, of course, is getting so caught up in the buzz that you forget the basics of marketing. Here are four steps marketers can take, using proven marketing principles, to cut through the new marketing buzz and engage consumers on an individual and personal level.

Refine strategy. Adjust your marketing strategy to the specificity of your online space. In a world of consumer-generated content, the ways people interact with a brand and make decisions are different than in the offline world. These decisions are more complex, rely upon different information and trusted informants and often involve many more touch points.

In the travel sector, for example, people once typically would look to a travel agent for advice while today they rely increasingly on reviews written by others who have just been to a destination. When building your strategy to leverage consumer-generated content, learn how your target market is shifting in its purchase-decision process and consider how each key source of traffic and information varies.

Mine site traffic. Your Web site traffic provides important clues to understanding how people interact with your brand. Technologies are available to make it easier to understand where your site visitors came from and what they may need.

Using our travel analogy, find out which travel-related blogs are the most popular among your audience. Learn whether there are consumer review sites that rate travel destinations, airlines and hotel chains. Look for video sites that let consumers create and post vacation videos. Of these traffic sources, you can infer the needs of visitors, ranging from early stage needs for researching destinations to late-stage needs like shopping for appropriate flights.

Segment and target. Once you understand where visitors are seeking and collecting information that is pertinent to your company, develop campaigns that cater to these sites. Say you're a software company and you find a blog where users offer advice and reviews of your company's products. Treat these bloggers as a specific segment - a sophisticated and engaged one.

You could devise a campaign to run on the blog that lets the first 100 people who respond to your ad receive, test and rate a beta version of your product. Also, engage the bloggers in a conversation that would be similar to the one you would have with an important influencer. In addition, you could personalize your corporate blog to provide a different blog experience for different visitor segments based on their specific needs and goals.

Track and test your innovation. So you've added blogs, user reviews, podcasts and videos to your marketing strategy. But are they working for you? Find a way to assess the efficiency of these new channels, using, for example, view-through metrics on ads you would post on such sites/tools. That way, you can identify the best-performing ones and constantly tweak your efforts.

Consumer-generated media is the most recent expression by Internet users that they desire specific, personalized content. They are even willing to write that content themselves or rely on trusted people with very specific niche domain experience. This new world of consumer-generated media is driven by word-of-mouth and person-to-person trust. That takes a long time to build, but if your brand can gain even a small foothold in that world, you're way ahead in the game.

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