Marketers have never had more options, means, or methods of communicating with customers and prospects than they do now. They are empowered to create all types of content in every format imaginable, and they can do it on their own, without the help of advertisers and traditional advertising. If advertising is out, what is the most effective way to reach customers and create more sales opportunities?
To find the answer, marketers must identify their target audience, glean its information needs, and discover how it likes to consume information. Often times, the answers can be found via existing research, surveys of current customers, or even anecdotal evidence. Understanding a target audience's unmet information needs will determine what type of content marketers should create and which platforms are best for delivery.
Nielsen's just-released study, "What Americans Do Online," is an excellent guide to how consumers get information and content. Not surprisingly, social media now has the largest share -- 23 percent -- of overall time spent online, up 43 percent from a year ago. Online games have a 10 percent share of time, up 10 percent from last year. Which platforms lost share? Email is down 28 percent to an 8 percent share. Also losing share are portals, down 19 percent, and instant messaging, down 15 percent. These decreases highlight the fact that Facebook's built-in email and IM functions have taken market share away from traditional email and messaging platforms.
That said, the above trends don't mean it's time to declare email dead and put all our eggs into a social media basket. Rather, it's all about knowing the strengths of each platform. So, back to our original question: What is the most effective way to reach customers and create more sales opportunities? By building a comprehensive media channel using multiple platforms and matching the content to the strengths and unique benefits of each platform.
In this article, we'll look at the strengths and weaknesses of five popular marketing media.
Your website is your content hub and home to all of the content you produce for your customers. In addition to the standard contact information and "about" section, your site should contain original branded and/or expert content that is relevant to your customers and prospects. This content can take on many forms -- from white papers and ebooks to articles, blog posts, and videos -- and will establish your company as an authoritative source and destination for consumers who want to learn more about your industry. This rule of content applies whether your company is selling sneakers, technology products, or a professional service. And while a content-rich site is great for organic search engine optimization, you still need to reach out in other ways.
Despite current trends in social media, traditional inbox marketing isn't on its way out. In fact, for online retailers, there is no tool that is more cost effective for selling products to your current customers. Targeting by past purchase behavior is a powerful tactic that will only get better as business intelligence and data-mining software improve. The days of sending promotional email for the sake of sending an email are ending. Promotional emails only contribute to a customer's email overload and are likely deleted before they are even opened. Messages of this nature are really no different than a TV ad or an ad placed in a magazine. They become more of an interruption and nuisance than a piece of valued content.
The key to a successful email campaign is an actionable offer to an opt-in recipient. Steer clear from "informational" emails that don't have a call-to-action. These self-serving missives do not provide any real value to the customer and give them no reason to click through.
Although email marketing is still the most efficient and cost-effective way for online retailers to generate sales from current customers, but it is not effective for generating new prospects or reactivating lapsed customers. Open rates for an unknown sender are inherently low, and there is typically not enough (convincing) information in a single email to attract a new customer to complete the transaction. Reactivating a customer is similarly difficult with email communication since a lapsed customer is likely one who is already ignoring your emails. To re-engage a past customer, you need to change not only the conversation, but the platform.
Custom magazines and well-designed catalogs
These types of publications are ideal platforms for storytelling and in-depth content, but many companies claim that the cost of production and postage is prohibitively high. With careful and targeted use of mailing lists and offers, however, custom magazines and catalogs can generate new customers and re-engage with past ones. While the number of emails an individual receives has increased greatly over time, the number of printed marketing messages they receive has likely decreased. The electronic mailbox might be bursting at the seams, but the actual mailbox is probably looking a little light. Go against the grain and give the consumer something they can hold in their hands and provide quality content with which they can connect.
Social media is the ideal strategy for any company looking to form a connection with or make a lasting impression on its audience. A company can and should use social media to build an interactive, engaged, and permission-based relationship with legions of "fans" or "followers." A recent study by marketer researcher Invoke Solutions showed that social media users are avid followers of companies and brands. Sixty-five percent of social media users follow a company or brand on Facebook, and 47 percent had posted a comment on a company Facebook page. Additionally, more than 31 percent of social networkers follow a brand or company's tweets.
Because these consumers have chosen to follow your company online, they have self-selected to be your target audience. You must find your company's correct level of social media presence according to the audience's demographics, expectations, and frequency of social media use. Once that level is established, use the medium (or media) to post relevant company news, special deals, new product releases, employee profiles, contests, new content, or to ask for customer feedback. Customers tend to be more interested in a company when a company shows genuine interest in them.
The shift in communication preferences from one-way emails to permission-based social media relationships means that a change in marketing budget allocations is on the horizon, particularly for those who are not online retailers or in a transactional business. Ben & Jerry's has delved into this developing trend by announcing that it will be cutting back on email marketing in the U.K. and depending on social media instead. The company has found that its interaction with its nearly 1.5 million engaged Facebook fans is a much more effective marketing tactic than sending customers a purely promotional email. The company has used Facebook to create an active dialog with loyal customers, to limit the amount of "spam" email it sends out, and to recruit future brand loyalists (and customers).
Mobile is the newest content platform to take hold, and it has endless possibilities. Many, if not most, savvy consumers have come to develop an intimate attachment to their smartphones, which makes your space on their phones all the more meaningful. Social media, games, texting, and calendars have become standard "accessories" in the mobile world, and soon content-driven customer apps will be a requirement for any B2C marketer, retailer, or content provider.
An app allows for regular updates, new content, and fresh features. Applications work best for short article length content that has been designed for the interface. Do not feed hard-to-read web pages or PDFs into your app.
Geolocation technologies for mobile have allowed marketers to tap into place-based marketing. With information on the user's whereabouts, a company can offer discounts, deals, or other actionable information (like the location of a movie or restaurant) to entice users to buy. According to security software company Webroot, 39 percent of social media users who own a mobile internet device use geolocation services. While there are some privacy concerns with the technology, usage is up, especially among younger users.
The takeaway? Matching the content to the correct media platform is critical to delivering the measureable results that marketers are seeking.