Marketing to Your Broadband Customers

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There are only 9 million broadband users in the United States, about 10 percent of all Internet users. Over the past few years there has been much talk about the broadband revolution. Analysts initially envisioned massive penetration by 2001. And though recent predictions reflect a more conservative reality, broadband exists today, and it is growing at a robust rate.


With this in mind, some questions need addressing. Do you know how many of your customers have broadband? Do you know how many plan to convert to broadband? Do you have a strategy for meeting or exceeding their expectations?


First of all, your average dial-up customer and broadband customer are very different. Report after report says that broadband users have higher disposable incomes, are more educated, spend more time online and purchase more products and services online than their dial-up counterparts. It is essential to consider these differences when evaluating your current strategy. You must question today's marketing initiatives that, more often than not, treat broadband users the same as narrowband users.


What is broadband? The term derives from the telephone or telecom world. In common parlance, broadband means a fast, supercharged or accelerated Internet connection. Today, broadband technologies include fiber, cable, DSL, copper (T1), satellite and wireless.


Though the T1 line makes up most business connections, cable and DSL dominate the home user market and show the fastest adoption rates. Cable modems deliver broadband using a standard cable connection, whereas DSL uses a regular phone line. Both cable and DSL offer Internet access at rates of up to 100 times faster than today's traditional 56K dial-up modem and the added benefit of not tying up a phone line.


While cable and DSL services are not available in all areas, the cable and telecommunications industries have been rapidly rolling out broadband infrastructures nationwide. Goldman Sachs, New York, estimates that by 2003, 73 percent of all cable-equipped homes will be cable modem-ready, compared with 85 percent of households with standard phone lines being DSL-ready. An internal study by EMC Corp., Hopkinton, MA, an industry leader in storage hardware, found that broadband infrastructure investments increased an estimated 7,000 percent more than originally projected for 2000. This increase illustrates a serious commitment to meeting the anticipated exponential growth in user demand.


This is why Internet marketers and developers must begin to examine the broadband demographic. Research firm eMarketer, New York, estimates that there will be more than 32 million broadband users in the United States by 2003, many of whom will be your customers. So why delay the inevitable pursuit? Here is how you can begin acquiring broadband knowledge and building your relationships.


First, you need to identify your broadband customers. It is important that you start tracking and following these users closely. It might not be as easy as you think. Many dial-up customers think they have broadband just because they upgraded from a 28K modem to a 56K modem. So make sure you are clear and concise when asking your questions. Remember, the last thing you want to do is market a broadband-based campaign to a dial-up or narrowband user. Here is how you do it:


• Use auto-sniff technology. Auto-sniff or sniff technologies simply check the connection speed used to access your site. Today, very few Web sites are designed with the technology to determine the bandwidth level.


As broadband penetration grows, it will be a necessity to have this vital information in order to increase your marketing and merchandising opportunities. Simply ask them: It is not the most sophisticated approach, but it works. By being honest and asking, you obtain the important information you need to build a winning strategy. Here are some simple ways to ask for information:


• Registration. The best opportunity is when users register on your site; this is as easy as adding a few new fields to hold the appropriate data.


• Promotions. Through special promotions such as surveys and giveaways, you are better able to entice customers to provide information.


• E-marketing. Companies continue to leverage this important and cost-effective marketing channel for increasing sales and building more accurate databases. Take advantage of this easy-to-execute medium.


• Direct marketing. DM is one of the most powerful ways to stay in contact with current and potential customers. It is important to integrate your most significant questions into all direct mail campaigns.


Hint: Once your customers have indicated they have broadband, attempt to find out whether their connections are made at home, work or both. Remember to assure your customers that the information being requested is for the purpose of making their broadband shopping experiences more rewarding.


What do broadband users want? Now that you know who they are, you need to find out what broadband users want. Did they get their services because they wanted a high-speed connection so they could browse the Internet faster and download and upload large amounts of data quickly? Or were they simply interested in using both the Internet and their existing phone lines in an inexpensive and convenient way? By collecting this information, you will be able to provide your broadband users with the most satisfying experiences and will be well on your way to making them loyal customers.


How to give them what they want. During the next few years, the development of new technology will dictate broadband behavior. At present, few Internet software applications are tailored specifically for the broadband user. High-speed customers are still limited by today's traditional Web architecture. Arguably, today's Web browsers (Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator) were not created with the broadband user in mind. So how can you provide new ways to market and merchandise your products and services to these users?


• Interactive marketing. Electronic marketing, opt-in e-mail and e-marketing have become synonymous with big return on investment. Every day more players enter this field, ranging from electronics companies to Web companies. However, few have targeted the broadband user. Take advantage of this opportunity, and send your current or prospective broadband customer dynamic e-mail. Embed rich media such as audio and video, Flash or links into executable files. This demographic is waiting to take advantage of their high-speed connections. When they do, your ROI will prove it.


• Personalize your broadband user experience. This can be done a couple of ways. The first is by simply providing your customers with a Web link from your narrowband site to a broadband-centric environment. Remember, start small; this is a learning process. Once you have an idea what your broadband customer wants, develop a small area of your site with customized broadband content that goes beyond static text. Use rich media types such as audio and video, animation, gaming and dynamic advertising to differentiate yourself. Companies are starting to take advantage of this simple practice. NBCi.com and CBSMarketwatch.com, which now provide a personalized broadband experience for their followers, just added a broadband link on their home pages to a more dynamic and media-intensive area of their Web sites. It is also important to develop the right partnerships with broadband service and content providers. These companies will help complement and enhance your broadband sites as your strategy develops.


A second way to personalize your broadband user experience is to start transitioning content and services to more robust applications suited for broadband. "Fat clients," applications that require substantial processing on customers' workstations rather than on your server, offer much greater responsiveness and interactivity and will lead the revolution of new broadband tools. Examples of fat client applications include Windows Media Player, Napster, Microsoft Outlook and AOL Instant Messenger.


In most cases the traditional Web browser will not even come into play. For example, a retail company such as Lands' End could simply have a Lands' End icon on the computer desktop, and when that broadband user wanted to shop, he would simply click the icon. From a marketing position, the Lands' End logo would occupy prime desktop real estate on consumers' computers, a powerful way to leverage a company brand. Unfortunately, there are not many broadband-centric applications to choose from right now, but it is only a matter of time.


Leverage traditional sales channels. There is always room to market any strategy through your traditional sales channels. Whether you are a brick-and-mortar store, a catalog, a pure play or a multichannel company, the following are suggestions for marketing to the broadband demographic:


• Use broadband media. Execute promotions to broadband users with compact discs, DVDs, video and other rich media. CDs and DVDs are familiar to even inexperienced computer users, and they pack an audio/visual punch seldom found online. Rather than waiting for your broadband customers to find you, prepare a focused marketing strategy to offer them the highest-quality experience. A CD-ROM can link a customer to your site, install necessary software and put icons on the desktop. Your strategy could be as simple as distributing CD-ROMs from your store, including CD-ROMs as bounce backs with customers' orders or attaching CD-ROMs to your catalogs.


• Kiosks. Every day brings new articles about the expansion of kiosks. Kiosks represent a powerful way to provide and market broadband content. Unfortunately, most current kiosks simply represent the same Web experience in a store environment. Take Bluelight.com's new Web console that was placed in 3,500 Kmart stores. Great idea, but it missed the opportunity to market a more broadband-based experience for its customers. Currently many shopping portals such as Bluelight are offering high-speed products and services on their sites. What better way to get customers to sign up than by telling them to visit their local Kmart and try Bluelight.com in broadband?


• In-store passive media. Video monitors in your stores can demonstrate rich media possibilities without direct action by your customers. For example, Eddie Bauer recently teamed up with Viewpoint to display dynamic content in select Eddie Bauer storefronts. Large in-store monitors exhibit dynamic 3-D product representations that Viewpoint has created for Eddie Bauer. This marketing campaign is tailored for the broadband user. It brands Eddie Bauer as dynamic and fun, and when you get right down to it, that is what broadband is all about.


Do not underestimate the growing broadband market. Take some time to think about and plan a broadband strategy. Many of these suggestions require a team effort by your organization.


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