Don't Put All Your Eggs Into the E-Marketing Basket

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You may have noticed there's a revolution going on, one enabled by digital technology, encouraged by competition and driven by society's insatiable appetite for instant gratification. It's the information age. It's revolutionizing how people live, how businesses try to get closer to them, and it seems to be inciting everyone to get online as soon as possible, lest they be left in the dust.


This revolution is just beginning. You still have time to join.


Most businesses are not using e-marketing - or they are not using it effectively. Many businesses lack the skills or think they lack the financial resources to build an effective e-marketing system. They know they should be leveraging its potential for building customer relationships - and doing it for low incremental expense. They know their customers will expect to do business with them online and that if they don't offer that access, customers will migrate to a competitor that does.


They realize they need to implement an e-marketing strategy, but they are unsure how to do it. Many businesses are seeking solution service providers to help ascend the learning curve. If an SSP is worth its salt, the first advice it should render is for clients not to put all their eggs into the e-marketing basket.


Clicks and bricks. Implementing an e-marketing strategy tops many companies' agendas because it has the potential to save tens of thousands of dollars. Many marketers also have the intuition that if they can glean these huge cost savings by building this capability, they will have a vehicle that gives them a superior relationship management capability.


But if we have learned anything thus far, it is that e-marketing is not a panacea. As many failed e-tailers can attest, it's unlikely to succeed as an enterprise's sole means of building customer relationships and brand loyalty. This is the clicks-and-bricks notion that helps define why a Wal-Mart succeeds and a CheapStuff.com never makes it out of the gate.


We have learned that e-marketing works best when combined with traditional means. Smart and successful businesses will be those that use online and offline marketing to grow and strengthen customer relationships.


Impressions are formed at every point of contact a company has with its customers. For example, if your company runs television advertising, it has the potential to reach many people, and though the effect and intimacy of that contact may be low, people still form an impression of your company. If you target a smaller group of customers or prospects with direct mail, you are more likely to generate greater intimacy and have a higher effect.


Taken a step further, an individual's interaction with your company's customer service representative may involve only that one-to-one contact, but chances are it is the most intimate means of creating an impression and establishing a relationship with that customer.


The more individualized your contact with customers and prospects, the greater the potential for creating a favorable - or unfavorable - impression. But this also should suggest the need to manage each point along that contact continuum and the need to integrate your messages. If at any point along the continuum you don't deliver what you promise, everything else is useless. This notion of integration becomes even more important when you add the e-channel, because compared with classic marketing media, the Web and e-mail soar off the chart with their ability to reach huge numbers of people and deliver highly individualized messages.


E-marketing requires an integrated strategy. Deploying the technology is not enough. The technology must be pointed at an analytic solution, and the solution must integrate with your overall marketing strategy. Like any significant project, it proceeds best when you take it one step at a time.


• Start by identifying high-impact, easy-to-implement prototype projects. If you work with an SSP, that provider will help you choose what may be the most appropriate first step, which might be as simple as a newsletter to your best customers.


• Promote achievements within your company as they occur in order to generate internal support and secure necessary resources.


• Leverage the cost savings of the e-marketing medium.


• Integrate all your marketing channels and align your messaging to ensure its consistency and continuity across the board.


• Once you have everything running smoothly, tip your marketing model on its side, analyze and quantify the effectiveness of all your media and decide how to proportion future investment for optimal results.


The revolution has begun, and it's compelling to want to take advantage of the cost savings of the e-channel. E-marketing should be part of your overall marketing strategy. How big a part depends on your business. But it should only be part of an integrated whole.


Brad Neuenhaus is president of BeNOW, Burlington, MA, a provider of integrated business-to-business e-marketing solutions.
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