Online Marketing and The Importance of PlanningJasmine Sandler Contributing Writer
February 3, 2010 — 1,615 views
I have seen too many people attempt an online business without a well-researched plan. The results have been disastrous--major investments lost and business failures.
As a veteran of online marketing, I have witnessed both failures and successes online. For any of you who are considering a business online, the following article has been developed to help you avoid major pitfalls and navigate the best online opportunities for your business.
Get the Domain Right the First Time
My first entrepreneurial experience in building an online community failed to the tune of nearly $200,000. In hindsight, the domain name and the brand identity were the cause of that failure. The business, an action sport online community, had the domain name www.xxtremconnections.com. After pushing audience growth for nearly a full year, we were told by our audience that anything words related to the word “extreme” in their world were a negative.
For an online business, do not rely on the opinions of your family and friends alone. You absolutely must ask a sample of your intended online audience whether or not they like, they understand, they agree with, and most importantly, if they see business potential behind your domain name. Your domain name and brand identity, and how your intended audience perceives it, is of eminent importance.
A domain name when developed properly becomes a brand. It has the power to yield a positive perception. Just look at some obvious examples such as Google.com, Youtube.com and Facebook.com. All of these illicit consumer perceptions that drive action. “Google It” is now synonymous with web search; “YouTube it” with web video search and Facebook with “friend search online”. You will want to ensure your branded domain is one that your audience can positively identify with and that creates a perception of what that brand can do for the target audience.
Do your Online Homework – Develop an Online Marketing Plan
As you start this online business, ask yourself this—is this just an idea, or is this a developed business plan? If it is just an idea, then go back to the drawing board and develop your business plan. You must ensure that there is a demand from your intended audience. A comprehensive business plan will outline your competitive threats, as well as high-light how your target market will perceive your product or service. To do this, you need to spend some time researching. Try a simple Google search by searching by the products or services you are intending to sell and then review the sites of similar online businesses. From reviewing their sites, you will start to get a sense of what is out there and who their target audience is, what they are promoting and how.
Have a person with Online marketing experience onboard
Analyzing my current clients, I would argue that the ones who are the most successful are the ones who have the right resources in place with the right programs working for each resource, all driven toward a common client goal. If you are involved setting up a business online, you want to be cautious but open-minded about whom you bring in and how many resources you employ in the beginning.
Any business these days must have an experienced online marketing person as a resource. This person will analyze your proposed online business or even help you set it up and then give you appropriate direction on what to do in terms of marketing online. This resource is essential whether you possess the funds to have an agency on retainer or if you can only afford to have one person working a few hours a month.
This person should be able to help you bring in effective resources including a web designer, web developer, copy writer, PR person and more. They will also make sure that you run effective online marketing programs for your specific business, create an efficient marketing timeframe and budget, and derive online audience development goals. In my agency, for example, I have a network of people with these specific talents in design, project management, web development, and copy writing to support our clients’ online business goals. When our clients want to promote something new, make a change to their online business or when they seek to assess how their customers feel about their online brand, they turn to us to help them.
Have a Budget for Marketing on the Web
In order to succeed with an online business, you must be willing to set aside a reasonable web development and marketing budget. Although the web itself is practically free to use, experts behind a brand’s success online have real value: they are not and should not be considered free. It is your job to run your web business such like any business with a real measure of profit and loss behind it.
The best way to ensure cost effectiveness is to utilize your expert help in creating a budgetary plan. This plan should include, but is not limited to, the following expense items:
- Web design and branding as necessary
- Web development, including e-commerce platforms and community development as necessary
- Online market planning
- Online marketing programs and management: e.g. Search Marketing work, Social Media work, Online PR Management, E-commerce Management, Online Promotions Management
- Web management and monitoring
- Ongoing research
- Technology investments
As with any marketing expense, you must understand that the investment will be an ongoing monthly expense for most items. Be prepared to self-fund this project for at least a year or more, because it is best to avoid bank loans and venture capital if possible so that you always retain ownership. It’s scary, but true. It’s like growing any business and if you treat it that way, you will ensure your success.
City Lights Cruises (www.citylightscruises.com), a party cruise service, and a client of ours, illustrates this point. In working with them for the last several years, we have witnessed their online and operational growth. They have expanded from service in three cites to now 6 and have increased overall sales. As quoted by my client in a recent online interview, “over 95% of our cruises are sold out,” said Goveia, “and growth over the past year was 25% in New York and more than 50% in Chicago.” More than that, by beefing up their online marketing, sales from online tickets have spiked, decreasing the company’s need to spend in offline sales personnel and offline advertising, saving the company money and aiding in expansion.
Have realistic expectations
Contrary to common belief, going into business online is the same as leasing a store or office space in the real world. It requires ongoing investments of working capital, key management committed to the success of the business, effective branding, smart marketing strategies, and of course, customers. Your online marketing expert can help you determine what your goals should be, based on your specific business, industry, competition, and resources. A fairly new and interesting online business I had the pleasure of assisting to get up and running is www.celebrifantasy.com. This is an online fantasy league for celebrity enthusiasts that launched in 2008. In helping them to set realistic expectations about audience growth through steady, longer term Online PR, they have now been able to amass over 200 fans on Facebook and over 3,000 members in their online community. Further, in waiting to grow their audience, they now are able to sell ad space to such advertisers as Clinique, Bliss and more.
Use Caution When Implementing New Technologies
Many online businesses make the mistake of launching a new technology, or marketing program online just to mirror the actions of their competitors. This desire to keep up with competitors solely for the sake of keeping up is misplaced and can be fatal to your business. Never add anything that is not tied into the specific marketing goal pre-set by your expert. In 2010, everyone is setting up or has set up Facebook, Linked In and Twitter accounts for the sake of being there. But these technologies, like any other need to be managed. So what happens when someone posts bad press on your Facebook Wall or Linked In friends send disparaging messages to your best customers? What if someone Tweets about a development problem with your web site? Every online business must have someone with expertise managing any of this Social Media. Also, just because a competitor is using Facebook, maybe that tool is not right for your online business. www.STDateline.com , a project client of ours and online community providing information and confidential support to people with Sexually Transmitted Diseases had to go a different route. In marketing their online business, public technologies such as those just mentioned would only harm their confidential intentions. And so, instead, we provided such strategy to assist them in partnering online with other such confidential support groups to yield secure audience growth.
As with any other online marketing program, your best weapon is knowledge. Opportunities, technologies, and marketing programs online are always changing. It is important to have people working for you who are constantly educating themselves on the best ways to navigate these online opportunities. It would be wise for one involved in an online business to take any available courses in online marketing and web business. Further, there are many workshops and seminars available. I have been involved as an educator at such conferences as The Online Marketing Summit, Ad-Tech, DMA Conferences, OMMA and Search Engine Strategies, where you can attend. These generally happen from spring through the fall each year. Online, of course, there are many resources for online education including a colleague of mine’s blog http://www.onlinemarketingconnect.com/ which hosts many articles on online marketing from experts, Google Ad Words education, Constant Contact education and more. Now, many universities are also offering courses on online marketing, including www.USanFranOnline.com/SEM, www.FullSail.edu, Phoenix.edu and more.
The steps for starting an online business include: having an expert on board to help create an online marketing plan and manage programs, choosing the right branded domain and setting aside a budget based on the needs detailed in your plan. Make every person on your team accountable for at least one item in your plan to help grow your online business. Always ask for feedback from your target audience through online surveys at your web site and directly to your customers. Simple tools including www.SurveyMonkey.com and survey tools included in e-mail programs such as www.ConstantContact.com are helpful. The web is a great place to find, build, grow, and sustain a loyal audience. If you follow these initial steps, you will be on your way to making a successful online business.
About Jasmine Sandler
Jasmine Sandler, Founder and President of Agent-cy, an Online Marketing agency has been a major player in the industry for the past fourteen years. Her expertise is in helping brands find, build, and grow substantial and loyal online audiences. She has also been involved in the development of several online communities and social networks, including artistdirect.com, loewshotels.com, celebrifantasy.com and more. She has an MBA in Marketing with an emphasis on consumer behavior and has worked on online audience development projects for such organizations as The Entertainment Software Rating Board, Diamonds International, Best Movies By Farr, Citigroup Mortgages, Intellicorp Corporation, Loews Hotels, Diageo Brands, Artist Direct, and Sony Music. Miss Sandler is a regular educator in online marketing. She has delivered speeches on online strategy, online PR, social media and search marketing on the tours of NYXPO at Javvitts, Online Marketing Summit, Samsung’s Taste of Technology and Manhattan Chamber of Commerce marketing series. Her company, Agent-cy, a niche online PR and marketing strategies agency, is based in New York City and has a website: www.agent-cy.com. Miss Sandler can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or at 212-209-3975. She is also available to answer any online marketing questions on her blog www.agentcy.wordpress.com.