There is a revolution is underway, a shift from traditional offline advertising, also referred to as “outbound advertising,” to online or “Internet” advertising. The transition has gained momentum as its popularity increases, becoming the medium of choice for business owners large and small, from the tiny “mom and pop” corner store to Fortune 100 companies. The reasons for this transition from traditional forms of advertising to new and innovative online strategies are complex and, at first glance, don’t appear to make much sense. However, once a company examines the logic, and even the psychology, behind this shift in focus and tests it, in almost every instance they are convinced of the power and profitability of the Internet, as not only a sales tool but as a client/customer relationship tool, as well. Unlike any strategy available prior to the Internet, the web provides easy and, in many cases, automatic access to customers and prospective customers alike, often at the push of a button.
Outbound Advertising: Prospective Customer and Customer Antipathy
Unlike many online methods of advertising and customer contact, traditional “outbound advertising” seeks out prospective clients by what can only be referred to as an invasive strategy, a strategy often resented by prospect and established customer alike. The company or advertising agency attempts to reach prospective clients through TV advertisements, radio ads, newspaper ads, direct mail, billboards, and so on. Significantly, many of the traditional types of advertising campaigns carry with them a negative connotation or stereotype, they are viewed with disdain and even contempt by the very people the ads are attempting to impress. Prospective clients and even established customers will use the time during television commercials to go to the rest room, get refreshments or do anything else but taken in the message advertisers have spent hundreds, even thousands and tens of thousands of dollars, for them to see. During radio commercials, listeners often change the station searching for music, getting annoyed when they can’t find a station playing music instead of ads. When a homeowner receives the mail delivery, they immediately throw away junk mail, referring to the trash receptacle as “file 13!” Readers of the morning paper will make a conscious effort to read or look “around” newspaper ads, focusing solely on the stories, the “Irish Sports Page,” the obituaries, and of course the funnies or comics.
The Emerging Trend and the Beginning of a Revolution
Enter the website! For years those savvy enough to realize early on that an Internet presence would pay dividends, unlike anything available through traditional, offline, “outbound” advertising, benefited from the greatest new tool available, the website! The website allowed for instant access to a business’s products and services unavailable through traditional advertising methods and vehicles without incredible expense and a cumbersome, if not unreadable, advertisement. The website revolutionized product and service presentation, making it one of the most popular and affordable advertising platforms a business can employ to generate interest in their business and increase traffic to the traditional brick and mortar companies using them as part of an overall advertising strategy. Interestingly, the website evolved into a vehicle in direct competition with traditional businesses as online business took off.
The Emergence of the Search Engine and “Googling”
The emergence of online business, and Internet marketing in general, changed forever the focus and the method of both advertising and the way business is conducted. With the emergence of the website, advertising changed from an “outbound” phenomenon to an “inbound,” client driven methodology. Prospective clients and customers began to look for, and actively search out, businesses and thus, with the emergence of the search engines, at first as simple as the first AOL and Webcrawlers and ultimately to The New King of the Hill, Google, marketing was revolutionized and changed forever. Google and “Googling” changed the way businesses are searched out and presented forever. Now, instead of an invasive form of advertising, “outbound advertising,” the client actively engages in the process of seeking out and finding businesses fitting their specific search criteria, their “keywords.” Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask, and many others began to use keywords and complex algorithms, mathematical formulas, to establish rankings for companies with websites on the net, and the race was on.
The Death of The King: Long Live The King!
With the emergence of Google and Googling, “The King of the Outbound Advertising Hill,” the “Yellow Pages,” will never again see the glory days of the past. In fact, many a “Yellow Pages” advertising directory may be found, if it can be found at all, on the back porch collecting mold and mildew, in the garage under a pile of debris or in some closet or cabinet taking up space and never to be heard from again, at least until someone from the local school comes around as part of a recycling campaign and takes it off your hands. Thousands of dollars, collecting mold, dust, and not much else, while businesses in the know, those who have already made the transition to the Internet, have reduced or eliminated their expenses in return for a more innovative, relevant advertising strategy, one optimizing the best of the traditional, offline and online tactics to increase traffic, improve the company’s bottom line, and all the time reducing costs.
SEO: What the Heck is SEO?
SEO, search engine optimization, a complex and all-encompassing strategy used to influence and improve a company’s web presence through a number of strategies, soon became the darling of the “new Internet.” SEO also became the most sought after, least understood, and most expensive of all web services. To achieve optimal search engine rankings, companies paid thousands of dollars in an attempt to understand, manipulate, and ultimately conquer their respective “niche,” competitive environment, and target market and audience. Traditional SEO continues to play a role in many business’ overall Internet marketing strategies. However, the time and cost of a fully optimized search engine optimization campaign, complete with website and/or blog enhancements, has made it somewhat less attractive, particularly in light of current economic trends.
A Transition within a Transition
Interestingly, there is a shift underway in Internet marketing, as well. We will touch on this transition within a transition here and in subsequent articles. For many years now, online advertising has been all about the website. In fact, when an Internet consultant interviews a prospective client for the first time, a “website” is the first thing most business owners, advertising vice presidents, company presidents, and even CEOs ask for. However, the once requisite website has been usurped, no longer the King of the Internet Mountain, by the blog. Blogs and blogging represent the fastest segment of the Internet, with Twitter’s mini-blog format and Facebook’s family friendly, community atmosphere and approach running alongside; and, both taking the net by storm. The blog is a marketing sensation for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it allows for an intimate and ongoing exchange between the advertiser and the client and prospective client alike. The relationship building feature of the blog, organic in nature, results in a connection building process unlike anything available in any other single form of expression today.
The One-Two Punch: Blogging and Social Media
The relationship building capabilities of the blog, coupled with an intelligent overall strategy fully engaging the emerging power of social media, also referred to as Web 2.0, and a thoughtfully designed and properly incentivized email campaign, make it far and away the most promising new advertising vehicle available to businesses today, big and small. Interestingly, even companies like Skittles and Diet Coke are entering the social media milieu in a big way. Diet Coke now has a significant following on Twitter, yet nothing compared to the followings of President Barack Obama, CNN, Time Magazine, and The New York Times. Significantly, The New York Times, CNN, and Time Magazine have a multitude of blogs, all focused on various topics of interest to their readers, their target audience. The visual and print media companies have demonstrated the power, and indeed the necessity, of communicating directly with various segments of their audience through blogging, targeting them based on interest, and developing a loyal following as a result.
The Skittles Revolution
Skittles leads the revolution! Skittles has a small but active following on Twitter but it is their move to YouTube that is really opening eyes. Linked to their Twitter account, Skittles has moved to establish a profound and significant social media presence. The staggering fan base on Facebook is actually the most interesting aspect of this story. With nearly 3,000,000 fans on Facebook alone, there can be little doubt of social media’s power to create and maintain customer loyalty. Skittles has gone so far as to integrate a “squeeze” or “capture” page leading to their various Internet marketing platforms. While there are other companies fully engaged in an Internet marketing combination strategy, such as that engaged in by Skittles, the candy merchandiser has demonstrated an online marketing sophistication leaving many of the company’s competitors in the online dust. The use of mini-blogging, both on Facebook and Twitter, along with video marketing, and the use of a “capture page” to collect data they are interested in, indicates and overall Internet marketing strategy capable of moving Skittles ahead of its competition. Interestingly, Ford Motor has engaged a social media manager, Scott Monty, who maintains, among other Web 2.0 platforms, a growing Twitter following just shy of 6500 and a loyal fan base on Facebook, as well.
Old or New? Struggle or Prosperity?
There can be little doubt as to the magnitude of the transition underway in advertising and marketing today. Significantly, there is a transition within a transition taking place; and, blogging and social media are emerging as a powerful one-two punch designed to build customer loyalty and shape buying behavior as never before. The powerful relationship building tools available to companies engaged in online marketing offer a promise never before possible through traditional marketing strategies and “outbound” advertising media. Those businesses unable or unwilling to keep pace and go with the current trend will be left outside looking in as marketing strategies continue to evolve and improve. The “blogosphere,” particularly as it relates to a business’s target market or audience, social media or Web 2.0, the use of sophisticated relationship building strategies, such as email autoresponder campaigns, and various search engine optimization techniques (SEO), will provide businesses engaged in the Internet marketing revolution an opportunity to grow and prosper, in spite of the current economic down turn. For the rest? It will be a long, hot summer!