Post-Bubble Internet Marketing

So, now what? The bubble burst, and a lot of people blew up with it. Wall Street has just about abandoned the Internet. As marketers, do we, too, declare the Internet a disaster and walk away?

I vote no.

The Internet is still the most powerful marketing tool ever invented. It just needs to be used for real marketing. Now that the hype has died down, this is the perfect time to review the Internet marketing techniques that make sense.

Direct response. The Internet is a direct response medium and should be used primarily to generate an action versus building awareness or recall.

A whole gaggle of brand advertisers have struggled valiantly for years to turn the Web into television — with disastrous results. It is not television. It cannot create that emotional bond. It cannot tell a story as powerfully as television. It is essentially a cool medium, in the sense of Marshall McLuhan, a communications theorist.

But it is an outstanding medium for response. Click here. Go anywhere. It begs for offers, for reasons to click, for relevant messaging. Put the Internet to its best use – with a call to action.

Viral marketing. Somehow, the excellent notion of asking your friends and customers to introduce you to their friends and colleagues has, in the world of the Web, been given the rather loathsome title of viral marketing. I much prefer the term referral marketing. In any case, this powerful technique is perfectly suited to the Internet.

There are scores of low-cost ways to get referrals. No e-mail should go out without a request for pass-along. You can put a referral box on your home page, inviting visitors to introduce people who might be interested.

Any editorial content should carry a button inviting readers to e-mail the content to their friends. Referral marketing is not only cheap, it is also the beneficiary of a powerful implied endorsement. Take advantage of it.

Affiliate marketing. The Web’s value is in its connectedness. It is relatively easy to harness other Web sites as your marketing engine by trading links with related sites.

You can do this on your own, which can be laborious, but it also guarantees you control and allows you to maintain your focus. Or you can use a service provider such as Commission Junction or LinkShare. Affiliate marketing is cheap and productive, and it takes advantage of the Web’s gigantic ability to make connections.

E-mail, with care. Outside of business-to-business, e-mail for prospecting is still a mess. (Well, maybe it is a mess in BTB as well.) The mess will not be sorted out until the arrival in the market of response e-mail lists that are generated from transactions versus compiled from low-level sources like contests. Until then, concentrate your e-mail on current customer marketing.

Most service providers offer a terrific new capability known variously as event-driven, triggered or lights-out campaigning, and it is worth a test. It works by automating the e-mail-serving process for any given customer by decision rules made in advance, and in reaction to what is going on with either the customer, or the company, or both.

For example, you can set up an automated thank-you letter that follows up each sale and makes a cross-sell offer. Depending on the response to that offer, another follow-up can go out to reinforce the offer or make a new one.

The rules can be tested and refined regularly. And because the whole process is customized to the customer’s individual situation, it is likely to be appealing and relevant.

Custom collateral. The Internet allows infinitely customizable and timely collateral material, updated in real time and delivered on demand. No more piles of sales material gathering dust in a warehouse. Eliminate forever the annoying message “please allow four to six weeks.” Change prices at the drop of a hat. Get those PDF files posted and update them as needed. When you are ready, introduce selectability by customers, allowing them to download only the content pieces that interest them at the time.

Clarity of purpose. Web marketers need to pull back a moment and clarify what they are trying to do.

Is it building awareness?

Generating leads?

Closing sales?

Put real tactics against real objectives. Resist getting diverted by the latest whizzy technology. Get off the bandwagon of the “new new” thing. If you look around, you will notice that everyone else has dismounted from the bandwagon and the band has gone home.

Integration. The Web makes no sense if it is not part of your entire go-to-market strategy. The Internet is not a strategy. It is barely even a sales channel. It is a tool. It needs to be put to its best use within a larger marketing process. If it is treated separately, your customers will be confused and annoyed.

There is still plenty of life in the Internet. Its true value will probably not be apparent to us for years. Now is the time to apply its amazing power to our mission — acquiring and satisfying customers every day.

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