Message in a New Medium

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For companies with experience in traditional direct marketing, online advertising offers a world of new opportunity but also potential pitfalls. The online marketplace, search engines and shopping sites in particular provide a great avenue to acquire qualified, demand-driven potential customers.


The basic principle is that to succeed online, you must stay "on message." Encompassed in this seemingly simple directive are several distinct but related concepts.


The first concept is the most obvious: Your online marketing message needs to reflect what your customer knows you for and what has made your traditional business successful. If you sell value, make your message one of price-consciousness. If you sell exclusivity, your online message should reflect that.


Second, ensure you are selling what your customer is looking for. Not just that you carry it, but that you effectively use your ad copy and Web site to sell it to them. This should be reflected in the ad copy and, perhaps even more importantly, in the landing page to which you direct the search. Don't send the shopper seeking a cardigan to a home page featuring swimsuits. More often than not you will sell neither.


The third point is one that is a special challenge in the world of search. You must play to your product and image strengths.


In the setting of a catalog, you have room to carry products that may stray at times outside of your core model. Just because a competitor has some advantage on a certain product or category, you are not precluded from entering it.


But in search, your competition is much more direct. Only a few advertisers will appear in meaningful positions for any given search term, and the bid-based nature of the medium means that you need to perform on their level to maintain your position.


So what do you do about those ancillary products? The answer for many crossover marketers is to feature them without advertising for them. That is, use the design and layout of your pages to your advantage by featuring related, but potentially "off message," products alongside the featured product descriptions on your landing pages. Top content-driven sites, such as CNN.com, manage space very effectively, maximizing ad delivery without obscuring the central message. Take a cue from them and effectively monetize your own space with internal advertising.


Armed with these basics, an offline marketer should be able to begin testing the waters of online advertising.


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