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The benefits to a cash-strapped business

So what is this dark art called E-Marketing? We have all heard of the global epidemic called Spam that infests our inboxes, catching out the gullible and installing viruses and spyware onto our computers – all in the name of e-marketing. Needless to say, this fraudulent, technical wizardry is not e-marketing!

Marketing is about exploitation though – you learn everything you can about the customer, marketplace, competitors, technology, etc., and you exploit your knowledge of this to provide your customer with the product they want, they think they want, or you can persuade them they want. The marketing mix - Product, Price, Promotion and Place – is the traditional way to achieve this, and e-marketing is just an extension of Promotion and Place (Distribution). It includes websites, email campaigns, newsgroups, mobile messaging, and interactive TV, to name but a few.

So why should you divert some of your sales & marketing budget to e-marketing?

Reach a wider audience

In terms of marketing in the broad sense, e-media goes beyond the traditional boundaries and limitations of geography. You can market and sell your products and services locally, regionally, nationally or internationally, if you want. And it doesn't matter if your clients are always on the move – you can now even reach them on their mobiles, 24/7.

Do it at low cost

E-communications and promotions cost a fraction of traditional media, and you need far fewer responses to achieve high returns on your investment.

Track and target to improve your return even further

You can compound your returns by using online tracking methods to identify your best customers, and target your further sales efforts on them.

The ease of tracking means you can also use it for market research. You have direct access to your customers' activity and behaviour, so you can build comprehensive customer profiles. If you want, there are a wide range of CRM (Customer Relationship Marketing) systems to support this activity, but it's not essential, particularly for the small/medium size company.

Get your customers talking to you

E-media provides an instant interactive platform for you to learn what makes your customers tick. This can be passive (e.g. track customers as they view various pages on your website), or active (e.g. response to email campaigns).

Online shopping is here to stay

Getting customers to part with their hard-earned cash on your products and services is the ultimate objective. So don't just think of e-marketing as another means of promotion. Once you've got their attention, interest and desire, and you've convinced them you're the best value, don't let them off the action hook by not offering an online route to purchase.

Consumers are now far more confident in online shopping – did you know, for example, that 5.8 million people in the UK have bought airline tickets online by 2004. You can make your online transactions just as safe for your customers as it is on the high street or through telephone sales.

So how do you get started?

There are two options for developing your e-marketing activities: do-it-yourself or outsource to a specialist.

Don't be afraid of managing it yourself, especially if you feel confident in your technological understanding – building a website, for example, is not rocket science. My father-in-law taught himself all he knows, and he has a successful online newspaper and online business, including an online shop. There are numerous books available to guide you, as well as government sponsored and/or funded courses, as well as private courses run at colleges and community centres around the country.

If you want to do it alone, do some research first. Imitate what others have done, copy some of their designs or styles, and decide what will improve your own customer experience. (But don't take their images, or copy all their content and sell it on as your own – copyright exist online as well). Time invested in the beginning will pay dividends.

Alternatively, use an expert to develop and manage your e-marketing activity – it requires some upfront investment, but it might give you greater confidence in a professional outcome. And don't be afraid to break down the activities – outsource just the elements you can't or don't want to do yourself, and be clear on your brief.

Time for action

The benefits are clear: we are talking about a low cost medium for marketing and transactions; a means of interacting and understanding your customers; building trusting and lasting relationships. What a sound basis for a profitable business. So, as the Nike adverts tell you – Just Do It!

About the author

Thom Poole is a Chartered Marketer with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and a member of the Marketing Society. A marketer with over 15 years experience in online marketing and web strategy, Thom is strategic marketing consultant for Jack Marketing Solutions, working with SMEs. He previously held the position of Head of Portal Customer Interaction for O2 - working very closely with marketers, designers and IT experts on a website that attracts over 1 million customers each day. A regular speaker on the CRM and e-marketing event circuit, Thom has also recently written a book on ethical e-marketing, called 'Play It By Trust.' The book is available at the publishers as a hardback or download.

Article first published - Daily Telegraph Business Club (September 2005)


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