1. The Basics of Internet Marketing Introduction
In a world where every business has to fight for a share of the customers’ attention, marketing plays a huge role in boosting the number and interest of a company’s clientele. With the gradual increase in the number of small and large businesses that have sprung up in the last two decades, domestic and international markets have become saturated with suppliers, manufacturers and intermediaries, all striving to be the first ones to make it to the end of the chain. Until only a few years ago, marketing itself was a highly criticized concept. For many, it was nothing more than a waste of resources that could be spent better if they were invested in manufacturing and building of sales force. This sales-oriented approach makes businesses push products and services into the market, rather than creating a pull that customers would not be able to resist. Marketing manages to do just that. With creatively designed strategies and concepts, the promotional campaigns of goods and services slowly began to play an important role in the overall mission of a business, achieving sales targets as well as creating much needed awareness. Thus, the role of physical marketing became clearer and more defined. Today, a successful business cannot even think about producing goods and services without having an authentic marketing strategy in place. Therefore, marketing is a business’s ammunition in front of a market that is full of choosy, precise and curious customers. It helps the business to answer questions, solve problems, present solutions and build long-term associations with the customers. A similar concept that has surfaced in the 21st century is that of online marketing. The move to a virtual world has been the result of the saturation of the market that has been mentioned here. With more and more businesses looking to attract customers, the internet became an efficient way to reach a large audience and to market one product or service on different vehicles and through different perspectives. Online marketing soon turned out to be a massive industry that today deals in billions of dollars’ worth of advertisements. 11 However, just like many struggled to understand the importance and need for physical marketing strategies, adopting online marketing as a norm has not been easy for many oldschool businesses. Since they have been functioning just fine with a brick and mortar presence, for them, online marketing might seem quite unnecessary. How can this perception be changed? What is it that marketers can do to create and increase awareness about online marketing? The answer is quite simple. Ask an average individual about online marketing; they may stop for a second or two to collect their thoughts before giving an answer. The concept of online marketing is not quite clear to people yet. While millions of businesses worldwide have jumped on the bandwagon of online marketing, not to mention the early adopters of this practice, a million others are still contemplating whether it is worth adopting. This e-book will prove how useful understanding what online marketing actually is, and it will look at how this modern technique can help to spring a business up from being average to extraordinary. What is internet marketing? Internet marketing, or online marketing, refers to the promotion of goods and services on the internet. The online world acts as a medium to communicate messages that a business drafts for its audience. Online marketing is also synonymous with online advertising. It is essential to understand that online marketing is not second to traditional marketing. Nor is it a complimentary service that you can use to boost your marketing efforts on other mediums. Instead, online marketing is a hardcore way to promote a business and make it known to an audience that is bombarded with tons of similar stimuli every minute of the day. Perhaps the very foundation of online marketing lies in finding newer ways to reach customers and markets that would be interested in what a business has to offer. Since traditional mediums like newspaper, prints and TVs have been tried over and over again, a new and creative internet marketing idea seems to be the fresh start that modern businesses so desperately need. 12 Another reason why internet marketing has gained so much momentum in the last few years is that, by using this method, many companies and business owners aim to break the clutter that has piled up because of nonstop marketing efforts. Every company and every business, in an attempt to attract customers, indulge in various marketing tactics, like an ad in the local newspaper or a TVs campaign that can be viewed on various channels. When combined, all these campaigns lead to an overload and customers usually become resistant to such attempts. Internet marketing provides a different way to do the same activities, and cash in on high consumer interest as well. Coupled with this, increased internet usage is another factor that has made this marketing alternative quite a hit. According to statistics, 80% of the people in the United States use the internet regularly. Out of these, 97% use it to search for products that they eventually end up buying. Google research reveals that 10.3 billion searches are conducted online result in nine out of 10 product/business follow-ups. With such high rates of internet usage and the possibility of customers getting back to you, wouldn’t you want your small business to have a face in the realm of the World Wide Web? However, the dilemma comes in when owners of small business, who rightly play the part of marketer, administrator and finance office as well, voice that they do not have time to keep their online presence updated. With such a bleak outlook of even trying to take advantage of the internet, these companies often ignore one of the biggest consumer touch points of the 21st century. Not only does such a business let go of an opportunity to grow and mature with the market, it also sets itself up to lose to the competition. Businesses that compete with you, directly or indirectly, can make tremendous profits and convert potential sales leads into loyal customers by taking advantage of being present on the internet. Therefore, it is essential for a small business working in the global economy to make use of internet marketing. Even if you do not have the resources to spend on an e-commerce website, at least make sure you are listed in the online yellow pages directory. When customers conduct a quick search for the product they want, your company name will be displayed. Approximately 48% of all customers using the internet to search for businesses use the Yellow Pages Directory, which is available online. As it will be discussed in later sections, there are 13 many ways to market your business on the internet, using either free or paid solutions depending on the budget you have to assign to internet marketing. Using these methods is an excellent way to make sure you are heard and seen on the internet. Types of online marketing Online marketing has become a mandatory part of a business’s promotional strategy. No campaign is complete without a representation on the internet. Leaving out this medium means giving up your customers to the competitor! Being a primary source of information for millions of people, the internet opens up avenues to look for products and businesses by breaking geographic boundaries. No longer does a user have to be physically present in a locality to make use of the products sold by a local business. Tapping into newer markets is one of the biggest advantages of internet marketing. Therefore, making sure that an online promotional campaign is thorough and appealing is essential. Sending across the same message via various techniques and channels on the internet is a must. There are many types of online marketing that have evolved and developed over the years, keeping in mind the way this medium is used by consumers. For instance, when the internet was a basic tool that was used by only a handful of people with access to it, online marketing was one-dimensional, meaning, one long advertisement about a product would be put up on a single website or search engine for visitors to see. As usage increased, so did the complexity associated with the internet marketing. Today, a single advert hardly suffices for the many sub-mediums that have sprung up on the internet. Social media, websites, search engines, yellow pages, and website directories are some of the many channels on which a business needs to advertise in a creative manner, keeping in mind the kind of audience that visits them. Hence, online marketing consists out of the following subtypes of online marketing: ∑ Email marketing 14 This refers to marketing that is done by sending advertisements and promotional content through emails. Businesses usually maintain email directories for email marketing. ∑ Search Engine Optimization (SEO) This refers to increasing the visibility of a website, its content or the words within the content so that they appear in search results. This is done using on-page and off-page optimization. ∑ Search Engine Marketing (SEM) 15 This refers to the increasing website’s visibility in the search engines using paid reach (paid advertising) and organic reach (SEO). ∑ Social Media Marketing This refers to promoting a business on social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. 16 ∑ Affiliate Marketing It refers to the hiring of third parties, also called affiliates, who market a business’s content online. 17 The details of these types of marketing will be discussed thoroughly in separate chapters of this book. Online marketing trends One of the biggest advantages of online marketing is the flexibility it offers to businesses. Unlike the high cost and complex process typical for traditional marketing efforts, internet marketing can be cheaper and easily accessible to most web owners, who are skilled enough to take advantage of different techniques of online marketing. While TVs and outdoor campaigns are somewhat standardized, online promotion strategies can be adjusted according to customers' reactions and responses. Depending on what generates the best results, online advertising follows certain patterns. While these patterns may remain the same for an indefinite period of time, usually they change and fluctuate based on how the market for particular goods and services is performing and on the way consumers behave in general. For instance, if customers buying online diet packages are satisfied with their purchases that they made after watching videos, the trend for visuals and presentations will be at an all-time high. 18 Therefore, just like any other business, online marketing also experiences shifts in what is needed and what should be antiquated. Some of the most popular online marketing trends at this point, that have been highlighted by experts, based on the current developments in the online world, are the following: ∑ Mobile-friendly content will become a basic requirement One of the most prominent shifts in online marketing has been from desktops and laptops to mobile devices. No longer do people sit in front of computers all day long to search for products or read reviews about a business. In fact, the year 2016 brought a new milestone - the number of mobile users has finally surpassed the number of desktop users. Successful online businesses have foreseen this trend and have launched websites that are compatible for mobile phones. Similarly, customizing content for smartphones and tablets is also a new trend that has been initiated by the popularity and preference for integrated device purchases in the last few years. Whatever content it may be, if it is available for your customers to view and enjoy on the go, it will be enough to sustain their interest. If, on the other hand, your small business is not onboard for this change, it is likely to lose key customers and markets. Additionally, Google now takes “mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal on mobile searches”, which is yet another reason why mobile friendly website is a must in online market nowadays. ∑ Less is more Gone are the days when the quantity of advertisements and promotions signified strength and a solid market standing. The same applies to in-depth and comprehensive advertisement campaigns that would just go on and on! Simplicity is the key to make online marketing work for your brand. Customers are now looking for quick and short ads that are attractive and alluring at the same time. Look at some of the most famous everyday brands that advertise online. Do they have neverending campaigns that bore you so much that you feel like skipping the promotional message altogether? Brands like Apple and Google create simple, straightforward ads. However, they are designed creatively, with an allure that catches customer attention. The “more is less” slogan also works so well because customers are already overwhelmed with a lot of promotional information day in and day out. If your message stands out with simplicity and creativity, it will get the most attention. 19 ∑ Integrated imaging and content publication A combination of content and images is an important shift from content-only online advertising. Placing emphasis on certain points within the content is intelligently done by breaking it up with images. Image marketing has always been a useful way to attract attention from customers who do not like to read too much content. Using this strategy in a creative manner will definitely optimize the promotional campaigns for success. In general, websites that have a blog and publish content regularly receive more links, traffic and leads, which all together adds up to better performance. ∑ Evolution of video format During the past couple of years, video as a format of content reached its peak, shifting the focus of online marketers again. Development of technology and the need for visualization, together with the evolution of social media platforms, and their live video feature enabled this trend to become dominant trend in online marketing. Summary Online marketing is a necessity. In a world where e-commerce has become the single biggest reason for businesses to build an online presence, the need to market products and services online is paramount. However, it should be remembered at all times that the internet is a product of modernization and change. For this reason, it does not take long for new trends and shifts to materialize. Being a business that markets online, you have to make sure that you innovate constantly, without letting your online presence become outdated. Since millions of businesses have made the move to the virtual world, internet marketing has started to become cluttered, just like traditional marketing. Therefore, if you want your business to stand out amongst a million others, you will have to be at the top of your game. What businesses need to master to make sure their online marketing efforts reap results include: ∑ Creativity ∑ Out of the box ideas 20 ∑ Constant planning ∑ High degree of flexibility ∑ Keeping up with the current trends ∑ Constant research and analysis In the same breath, also keep in mind that using the many channels of online marketing is not an option. In fact, cashing in on the different dynamics, workings, and characteristics of each is essential to make sure you build an impressive reputation for the business and loyalty amongst the customers. Lastly, being educated about the latest trends of online marketing keeps a business up-to-date with how its market thinks, reacts and responds to various campaigns. Online marketing departs from traditional marketing in that the former is geared towards not only creating hype, but also being available whenever and wherever customers need you.