You have a great product, a great website and a great staff. The only thing that isn't "great" is the size of your marketing budget. Roughly $27 billion dollars will be spent in online advertising in 2008, according to eMarketer. With so many marketers occupying the same space, how can a company stay competitive while staying within its budget?
Don't resort to taking up offers from the snake-oil salesmen such as bogus SEO optimization services or overpriced and over-glorified affiliate marketing programs. Instead, use proven ways to compete toe-to-toe in today's online market without breaking your budget.
We have all seen companies get caught up in the losing game of keyword bidding wars over terms that are way too general, or against competitors with deep pockets that are willing and able to spend on loss leaders. A strong presence in today's online market is critical -- but contrary to popular belief, size isn't everything. What does it take for a marketer to compete effectively when money is tight? Here is a list of six key strategies marketers can use to get ahead while staying within their advertising budgets.
When you see commercials, billboards, print ads, online ads, etc. for the same company over and over again, you probably think, "They're huge!" Right? Customers' perception of your company has a lot to do with their decision to buy from you. The more you stay top-of-mind to a consumer, the more likely it is that they will purchase from you. So the trick is getting your message in front of your customers at a good rate without having to throw major bucks at a search engine, email marketing campaign, ad network or other advertising vehicle.
The common types of behavioral targeting are effective, but they don't necessarily give the returns that would justify the large ad spend to get the "they're huge" effect. It's costly to contextually or behaviorally target customers via display advertisements. These are great marketing vehicles to use when you have the budget, but when your advertising dollars are limited, these forms of behavioral targeting should be left for the big boys with the budgets that can support them.
Newer behavioral targeting methods, like retargeting, are cost effective and deliver incredible results. Retargeting is categorized as behavioral targeting because the customer's behavior -- visiting your website -- causes that person to be shown targeted displays ads during his or her everyday web surfing activities (visiting sites like Yahoo, Facebook, etc.). You aren't spending money to get placement in front of certain demographics; you are directly targeting customers who have visiting your website.
Here's an example: Jane visits a website that sells cosmetics. She leaves the site for whatever reason -- she wants to comparison shop, she is at work and her boss walks over to her desk, or maybe she gets interrupted by a phone call. When she gets back online, she goes to her Yahoo email account. When she logs in, she sees an ad for the cosmetic website she visited earlier. Later, she goes to CNN.com to read the news and, again, there is an ad for the cosmetics website. She sees ads for the cosmetic website as she visits her favorite celebrity blog website, and also as she goes to a local directory website when she's researching wine bars. Jane is not aware that she is the only person seeing these ads as she visits these web pages, but she is left with the impression that the cosmetic website must be huge since its display ads are everywhere online.
A few months back, one of the investors of FetchBack saw our ads everywhere online and made the comment, "How much are you spending on marketing?" We explained to him that we aren't spending much on advertising; the reason he saw our ads everywhere was due to retargeting, and apparently it had worked in created the "they're huge!" effect we were going for.
Those who know me know that I strongly encourage marketers to focus primarily on their interested prospects and existing customers, and not to spend most of their time attracting new customers. Traditional advertising programs -- including paid search, affiliate programs and other traffic drivers -- get prospects to your site and are important; however, they are not the most important things for marketers to focus on. At times, they can even be cost prohibitive. Once you spend the money to get a customer to your website, the majority leave without purchasing. Rather than simply focusing on getting another new customer to come to your website, you should work to get the customers who have already visited your site to come back.
Once customers visit your site, they are put into one of two categories:
- Interested prospects: customers who visited your website and didn't purchase
- Existing customers: customers who visited your website and purchased
So why should you focus on these customers and not work primarily to get new leads in the door? The answer is simple: These customers are responsible for one of the most important metrics that most marketers don't pay attention to: your site's return conversion rate. Our data show that, on average, return conversion rates are four times higher than new customer conversion rates. For every new customer you convert, four customers who have either visited your website in the past or made a purchase from you are converting.
That is a huge number that you should work to increase. Don't simply think that customers will come back to your site again to purchase, regardless of what your competitor is doing. It is important for you to stay top of mind and find ways to entice customers to come back to your site and re-purchase again and again. Methods for doing this include email campaigns, retargeting, superior customer service, reward programs and sending discount coupons in the mail to say "thanks."
On your website, prominently display ways for consumers to opt-in to your email marketing program. They have shown an interest in your product by visiting your website, and they should also be interested in your special offers. You can also create a loyalty program and promote it on-site to encourage customers to visit your website again and purchase. Add your loyalty program information to your display advertisements and paid search text ads, and don't forget to give it exposure on your website. If you promote the value customers get from purchasing from you, more customers will come back and do so.
It's more expensive to get a new customer to your website than it is to convert an interested prospect or existing customer. Don't leave money on the table from your acquisition efforts by not continuing the conversation with them. This is not an easy task to take on, but once you start increasing your return conversion rate, you will see an overall lift in sales and will spend less money acquiring new customers.
3. Highlight your benefits
Highlighting the benefits you have over your competitor is an effective method of driving conversions and interest in your company. The best way to do this is to create content that compares the benefits of buying your product or service to that of your competitors. Tell the consumer why you are the best choice, and be as specific as you can, so that customers can be assured of your value. Examples of points that could be included in comparative content could be the fact that your laptop performs better than your competitor's, that your candle has a more pleasant aroma or that you have the best customer service in your industry.
Once you've developed such content, you need a strategy to get it in front of your customers. This strategy should include free press-release tools and microsites that customers can visit. Getting your content printed in a publication pertinent to what you are selling is also tremendously useful.
If you create a microsite, buy keywords that drive traffic directly to it. Those keywords might include searches around negative issues in the market where you shine above your competitors For example, your keywords could include "short battery life" if you are promoting a laptop with a long battery life. Your microsite can tell customers how your laptop is superior to your competitors' laptops.
Later in this article, I discuss do-it-yourself PR in detail; this is another important way to help customers understand why you are better than your competitors. Create case studies or write an article comparing your product to your competitors' offerings. Once the content is created, send it out to the editors of product review sites to see if they will publish it. Be your biggest fan, and use facts to show why you are better than your competitors. The point is to give your customers every reason to purchase from you by highlighting why you are superior. Use this method to push the real substance of what sets your company apart, in a positive way.
4. Use testimonials
Let your existing customers speak volumes for you by leveraging testimonials in your marketing efforts. The most important thing that most companies forget to do is to simply ask customers to provide testimonials. People love to talk about a product or service they enjoy, and on-site ratings are gaining in popularity.
Include testimonials on your website, incorporate them into your advertisements and add them to your email signatures at work so that everyone you interact with sees the good things people are saying about your company. Potential customers that see positive reviews about your product or service are much more likely to purchase, especially online. We are living in an era where customer reviews are prevalent and influential to customer purchase decisions. If your customers are not familiar with your company or brand, let your satisfied customers help you in the sales process by giving their thumbs-up for others to read.
Guy Kawasaki posted an article on his blog written by Glenn Kelman of Redfin about why companies should move to a do-it-yourself PR strategy. In essence, the PR game is not what it was five years ago. Forget hiring an agency and spending the standard $5,000-$20,000 fee per month to have your account handed off to an associate who knows little more than you do about how to pitch ideas and stories. The most important part of a good PR pitch has always been the value in the idea that is being pitched.
In the past, PR reps would scroll through their Rolodexes, call press contacts and pitch them ideas for stories. The value in this was that information about companies and press contacts used to be much harder to come by. From the companies' perspective, the press contact was hidden, and the press contact had no idea who to contact at a company about new innovations. Now, mainly due to the internet, both companies and members of the press have the same ability to search each other out and discuss story ideas.
Take some time to think about how you can help those who are in a position to write about your company to do so. Kelman's article provides some excellent insights. It's not just about pitching story ideas; you can also create the content you would like to see distributed. Write an article and contact an editor of an online publication and pitch them on the idea of running the story. Who knows your company, your product and your service better than you?
Think about what you can offer to a reader that is informative, interesting and adds value. Creating this valuable content is going to get you noticed and get free publicity for your company. Who can argue with anything free nowadays? The more people hear about your company, the more apt they are to want to learn more about you, thus creating a huge opportunity to convert them.
One of the most overlooked -- and yet most critical -- ways to improve sales is through a company's customer service. Your customer service team has incredible influence on your customers and whether or not they purchase. One bad experience can cause you to lose a customer for good. No amount of incentives or cool product offerings can correct that customer's perception of you if it's a bad one.
The marketplace is competitive, and there is more than one company out there that will happily scoop up your disappointed customer and make them feel valued. The more an organization looks at the entire experience of the customer as part of the goal to retain and acquire customers, the more likely customer service will be considered an investment. It's an investment that will drive down the total costs of acquiring a sale, as well as give you more exposure in the marketplace.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How does your organization view customer service?
- What does customer service bring to the table to help increase sales?
- Do your customer service representatives up-sell customers with complementary products or enhancements?
- Do they get your customers' email addresses so you can market to them later?
There are countless ways to optimize your customer service. Take time to consider how customers are treated at every touch point and how you can improve those interactions. It takes time to examine this process, but companies like Zappos are finding continued success by focusing on customer service and retention.
Marketers are facing tough times, both online and offline. During such times, you have to be creative and innovative with your advertising efforts in order to differentiate yourself. It can be tough to compete against a company that has 100 times your marketing budget. Don't get discouraged; in some instances, you actually have the clear advantage. Most large companies couldn't care less about competing harder for a single customer. They often don't provide the same level of service or value that you can.
Once you have an interested customer, do everything possible to stay in front of that person and convert them. Once they convert, provide service that is second to none and remember to treat them with the value they deserve. It might be difficult in the beginning to gain the general awareness necessary to compete, but once you are dealing with interested prospects, you can not only compete, but you can dominate.