As publisher of a 40-year-old subscription newsletter reporting on the wholesale distribution industry, I’ve seen a rapid shift in how our audience of wholesale distribution executives increasingly accesses our online offerings – on the Web, mobile devices and email.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned as we’ve built out our online information service in the past five years.
Lesson 1: Web site = Marketing Hub
Web sites have tended to grow haphazardly to serve many masters within a company. Marketing has to drive its development and architecture, and integrate transactional functions under the primary objectives of lead generation and customer service.
Combine the current successful marketing mix with e-mail and search engine marketing (SEM) to funnel customers to the Web site. A user-friendly site is increasingly the most powerful marketing tool as the hub for lead-generation.
User-friendly Web sites have little to do with fancy graphics (unless you are a graphics design firm). They are carefully designed to motivate a desired action and move the relationship forward. It might be as simple as getting a first-time visitor to sign up for a company e-mail, convert a repeat visitor into a customer, or present customized offers based on past viewing or buying behavior.
Lesson 2: Be Respectful
Everyone hates spam. We are also overwhelmed when Google returns thousands of sites for a simple keyword search. While search engines can scan the globe, they can’t speak directly to customer problems and needs as effectively as focused e-mail and Web marketing.
The most effective way to penetrate online customer segments is by carefully nurturing these relationships. Use incentives through the Web site, direct mail, and inside and outside sales to build e-mail lists.
Be very clear about permission, privacy, and your respect for the reader’s time. Build trust by avoiding strong-arm sales pitches. It takes only one unsolicited or deceptive offer to end the relationship.
Lesson 3: Quality Drip Marketing Works
Once you’ve established a relationship, repetitive messages work well in business-to-business marketing. Respectfully executed, e-mail marketing is most effective when delivering a valuable and predictable message.
A monthly e-mail newsletter can update customers and prospects on innovative solutions to their business problems and new capabilities that address their needs, as well as reinforce the positive and trusted brand your company represents in the marketplace. A weekly brief product application or solution tip of the week" positions you as the expert.
Lesson 4: CRM, Meet Branding
CRM runs the gamut from struggling to get outside sales to use Microsoft Outlook to sophisticated Enterprise Resource Planning system integration with Internet-based ordering to generate marketing materials. Every company sends a message with every e-mail, whether promotional or day-to-day correspondence sent by every employee. Every Web site visit is a customer experience with your company’s brand.
Online marketing tools also offer more interactive ways to engage customers and learn more about buying behaviors. Marketers can refine efforts based on the data gathered from every resource – Web site traffic, customer order history, and e-mail campaign response. As companies develop more knowledge about customer segments, they can customize offerings to meet identified segment needs.
Ultimately, a company can create customized branding messages into each of its core segments that yield much better results than a traditional single-branded strategy that most companies have used.