Follow the Leaders: Build Site Traffic"Out of sight, out of mind." It's an old adage that applies in today's e-commerce environment. People may visit an e-commerce site; they may be thrilled with the experience and even make a first purchase. But with so many other sites competing for their attention, they forget very quickly. Left to themselves, they never come back.
As the number of e-commerce sites continues to increase rapidly, this situation only will get worse.
What's the solution? You need to continually build traffic for your Web site. This can be achieved with innovative communications using a mix of online and offline media. Here are some key strategies you can use to bring in the traffic needed for robust sales.
Actively communicate with your customers and prospects. The idea, "If we build it, they will come," no longer applies in today's crowded online environment. To gain adequate share of mind, you need to be everywhere your target audiences' eyes are, including both online and offline media.
Do people who buy office products online also read The Wall Street Journal in print? Yes, they do! Choose media you know your audience is looking at to create what permission marketing guru Seth Godin calls a "media footprint." Then, use targeted communications such as e-mail and direct mail to stimulate a response from your customers, hot leads and qualified prospects.
Leverage strategic partnerships that place links to your Web site on other sites with high traffic. The latest trend here is movement away from nebulous and costly portal deals to more accountable affiliate marketing programs, in which an e-marketer pays a modest commission to another Web company for delivering a paying customer to its site.
Create value with a compelling promotional offer. There are two main objectives in designing promotions. The first is customer acquisition, where the aim is to convert a visitor to a buyer in one transaction. Amazon.com's ongoing promotion offering The New York Times' bestseller-list books at half price falls in this category. The second is name acquisition. Even if a visitor doesn't buy, she's expressed a high level of interest. So capture her name and address - and try to convert her with what she perceives as a high-value promotion.
An example of this is PC Flowers' Web's Biggest Sweepstakes, which debuted earlier this year. Registrants who provided their names and e-mail addresses (and those of a recipient) were able to send a free virtual Valentine's Day bouquet and greeting card. They also received an electronic coupon for 10 percent off any floral product.
Develop high-impact communication vehicles with staying power. TV and radio ads have their place, but the message doesn't last. Print ads are better, especially if you choose a publication your customers read and re-read. But there are other communications with even higher impact and more staying power. Consider the consumer magazines developed by Yahoo and eBay. By presenting articles about the Internet, these savvy e-marketers stimulate readers' curiosity about the online experience through a familiar offline communication format.
A clever variation of this approach is the netalog launched this fall by specialty foods e-marketer Greatfood.com. Mailed to customers and prospects, the 32-page, full-color netalog is described as "the catalog companion to our Internet site" and features a sampling of the 4,000 products available online. This is something recipients will keep as a reference and will return to over and over again.
Develop a memorable message across all media. Land's End has been running a great multimedia campaign that passes the memorability test. Appearing in major consumer magazines, the message is "Shopping online beats standing in line." This message is so concise it even worked on bus ads seen on the streets of Manhattan this summer.
Achieve the right level of communication frequency. Your traffic-building campaign must stay consistent over time. Each day, millions of people decide which Web sites they will visit. If you're not in their faces right then, and top of mind because of that, they will go elsewhere. Marketers who test find a one-to-one correspondence between Web-traffic volume and frequency of communications.
Add stickiness to your Web site. The whizzes at Amazon.com are masters at this. If you search for a book, they give you the information you asked for, plus recommendations about related titles, customer reviews of the book and so on. This creates a stickiness factor, which keeps visitors at their Web site longer. It provides such a memorable experience that they return the next time they have a similar need.
Create an event. Earlier this year, Victoria's Secret announced it would present a live fashion show online at its Web site featuring its most popular catalog models. The event generated 100,000 new names, plus lots of free publicity.
The most comprehensive overall traffic- building campaign I've seen so far this year has to be the one by E*Trade. It ran TV spots on CNBC and full-page ads in USA Today. It did radio. It inserted sign-up applications complete with post-paid reply envelopes in glossy business publications such as Business 2.0. It sponsored the stock ticker on CNBC. It did a great job of smothering the target audience - in this case investors - with its message.
These strategies can keep traffic to your Web site high. While there are costs of doing traffic-building campaigns, they typically more than pay for themselves by generating higher sales, lots of new customers and, most importantly, more repeat business from current customers.
Tom Minthorn is founder of Minthorn Direct, Bellevue, WA. His e-mail address is.