Lost on the World Wide Web

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Marketers today are lost on the world wild web. We all know that consumers are spending extraordinary amounts of time online, but the ways they access online content have changed. Browsing, searching, and even e-mail have become passé, replaced by consumption models like social networking sites and phone apps that allow users to get everything they need right where they are, right when they want it.

With Facebook now topping Google for weekly traffic in the US, and 78% of consumers using two or more channels to research an item before purchasing, marketers can't ignore these channels. Social media might have revolutionized the Internet, but the changes are far from over. Consumption models will continue to evolve. To thrive, your brand must evolve with them.

Here are four things you can do to make your brand stand out in this new environment, today and tomorrow.

1. Micro-target. More than half of the world's population is under 30. These young, savvy consumers have come up on user-generated content, create-your-own radio stations, homepage gadgets and avatars. They expect online experiences to be personal. They might enjoy both Facebook and The New York Times, but they expect different experiences from each—and will reject messaging and offers that feel out of place.

For your brand to resonate with these users, you must customize your content and offerings to not only the audience, but the site they are on. It's time to think of demographics as a starting point, to examine how your targets are responding to your strategy on a site-by-site basis, and then optimize your offerings accordingly.

2. Embrace the channel. Today's consumer may be accessing online content through a news site on a computer at the office, a social networking site on a netbook at a coffee shop, or via an app on a phone in the back seat of a car. To reach these users, you need to be everywhere they are. Yet simply throwing up a blog or banging out an app can do more harm than good to your brand.

The future of your brand depends on your ability to not only personalize messaging for specific audiences, but to customize your content to take advantage of the unique capabilities of each channel.

3. Update, update, update. Today's users spend more time than ever online. This can be an opportunity or a pitfall for your brand. While marketers can expect more exposure to their ads, it also means users are more susceptible than ever to fatigue. From games to ringtones, the new generation is accustomed to using and moving on.

In this environment, it's easy for your brand to get lost in the tangle. To thrive, marketers must evolve at the pace of your audience, continually refreshing and reforming content to ensure its appeal.

4. Think beyond the click. The savvy, ever-evolving, easily-fatigued user is hard to pin down, but one thing is certain: Online, their response to your brand is immediate. Impressions and first clicks are ineffective measures of success when so many users so quickly click away.

By observing what users do after the first click, you can discover what engages and motivates them to buy—and what doesn't. You can then use this knowledge to quickly optimize your strategy for a particular audience at a particular location, via a particular channel.

Uzair Dada is the CEO and managing partner of San Ramon, CA-based Iron Horse Interactive.

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