Use the Net to Broaden Your Reach

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One-to-one marketing continues to be the preferred method of communication among direct marketers. As marketers search for better ways to reach their audiences, the Internet continues to evolve and provides a direct communication vehicle that is easier to use and more affordable than traditional methods.


As its interactivity continues to expand, so do the opportunities to use it to create new direct marketing events. For example, hi-tech marketers have used seminars extensively to promote their products and services to end users and channel partners. The Internet affords the opportunity to take this marketing forum a major step forward by hosting an online interactive seminar, also known as a Webinar. A presenter can broadcast dynamic content, supported with real-time voice narration to create a fully interactive event.


This approach can be applied to almost any situation in which a traditional road show or videoconference may be used. Sales training, lead prospecting, internal communications, one-to-one sales meetings and even investor relations presentations are ideal situations where you can take advantage of the Internet to promote your company and its products -- or share your ideas.


Cost benefits: One of the biggest reasons to use a Webinar is the savings realized for time, travel and on-site logistics because these program aspects continue to make traditional events time-consuming and costly endeavors. The time and cost savings of a Webinar also can increase its appeal and value to the target customer as they can take advantage of the forum without the time and cost commitment required by an on-site event.


Another benefit is the reduced cost for marketing materials and product information provided at an event. This information can be distributed electronically over the Internet. Don't forget to include the hidden costs of shipping the materials to and from an event when computing your current costs. Finally, consider what it takes to host the event, specifically meeting space rental and refreshments. Additional benefits include:


* Desktop delivery -- Because your message can be delivered directly to the desktops of your audience, Webinars are well suited for audiences that can ill-afford to spend several hours away from their normal duties at the office. Desktop delivery also will increase the number of event "attendees" because the message is conveniently available.


* Marketing intelligence -- The Internet-based Webinar provides an ideal means of capturing a variety of marketing information regarding attendees for future direct marketing communications.


* Upgraded speakers -- You may be more likely to retain the services of a "big name" presenter who typically couldn't commit a full day to speak at your event.


* Company perception -- Last but not least, don't underestimate the power of customer perception. By using the Internet to effectively market to your customers and prospects, you will position your company as an innovative organization that embraces progressive approaches to serve your clients.


Interactive communication. There are several options to support the audio session of a Webinar. Voice-over IP is an evolving technology that has yet to produce reliable results, however, it could become the best and lowest cost solution for supporting audio requirements once sound quality becomes more consistent.


Streaming audio also is a viable consideration for Webinar audio support. While it is a bit more stable than voice-over IP, both options require some technical aptitude from your audience to successfully download appropriate plug-ins. A more conventional method to support an event would be to set up a teleconferencing bridge with one of the major telecommunication companies. This would require your attendees to have access to the Internet and to a live telephone.


Other communication methods to consider:


* Text conferencing (chat) -- One common method for allowing in-session communication is by providing real-time chat sessions. This lets the audience interact with the presenter during the event. In turn, the presenter can respond to each question or comment privately or share the response to the audience.


* Video -- One last feature that can enhance the interactive experience of a Webinar is either streaming video or pre-recorded video clips. This lets the presenter provide a mix of media during the presentation.


Technical needs. Two items to consider include bandwidth and software. To host a Webinar, you'll need to be able to host a high bandwidth connection to the Internet or have a capable Internet service provider. Your bandwidth needs will be a direct function of the number of users you host. As for software, there are several software packages available on the market that enable "push" technology from the hosting server.


Don't be afraid to capitalize on rapid technological evolution. For those of you who are faint of heart, an option worth considering would be to outsource with an marketing services partner that can supply the technology, expertise and infrastructure necessary to produce and host an event on your behalf.


The Internet will continue to be the great equalizer. A small company with limited technical capabilities can complete with much larger resource rich competitors by exploiting the Internet as a one-to-one marketing tool. Effective use of the Internet to present your marketing message positions your company on the next mass market and readies your company to capitalize on the benefits of online direct marketing.


Rusty Langford is director of Internet Services at Harte-Hanks Response Management, Austin, TX. His e-mail address is rlang@harte-hanks.com.
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