Use Web marketing to boost sales

December 27, 2009 

Grace W. Ueng is CEO of Savvy Marketing Group inCary, which works with local companies. A consultant, speaker and writer, Ueng has served on the adjunct faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School and in the international MBA program at Fudan in Shanghai, a joint venture with MIT Sloan School, teaching "Entrepreneurial Marketing and Innovation." For several weeks in Work & Money, Ueng is offering her 12-step guide to marketing new and existing businesses. Last week, she discussed how to generate sales leads. Today, she continues the discussion with the second part of Step 10. (To catch up, go to www.newsobserver.com/business).

Step 10: Get leads that generate sales via Web marketing

Because the majority of Web site traffic comes from search engines, many companies want to focus on better positioning. First, you need to determine whether your target audience will search online to find you. If so, invest energy in search engine optimization. This means ensuring that your Web pages are accessible to search engines and structured in ways that improve the chances they will be found and listed as far to the top of the list as possible.

Companies can also take advantage of many paid search vehicles which are usually measured by "pay per click."

E-mail marketing firms have found their business to thrive in the down economy, perhaps because this form of marketing is cost effective and when well-executed, can bear fruit. Winston Bowden, vice president of sales and marketing for Durham-based Contactology, offered this advice:

Segmentation: Segmentation means sending multiple versions of your message with the needs of different groups in mind. Sending relevant communication through segmentation is a sure-fire way to increase response rates. Our customers segment based on a variety of data points: who has opened an e-mail, who has clicked, who hasn't responded, etc. For example, a marketer might send a follow-up campaign to all the recipients who clicked on a link in an e-mail. Segmenting by demographic data is also critical, especially for retailers. It's likely that your male customers have different needs than your female customers. An 18-year-old customer has different needs than a 50-year-old customer.

Testing: Testing your campaigns is a great way to ensure response rates. Many e-mail marketing products offer testing, allowing marketers to send several different versions of an e-mail campaign to a small portion of their list. For example, you could send three different campaigns and try three different subject lines. You would then send the campaign with the highest open rate to the remainder of the list. You can test any portion of an e-mail campaign: subject line, imagery, copy variations and design elements.

Deliverability: Regardless of your industry and what goals you associate with your e-mail marketing campaign, Bowden said there are some core "must dos." Deliverability should be the No.1 concern ofevery e-mail marketer. If your message doesn't make it to the inbox, your campaign has zero chance of success. Work with an e-mail marketing provider that maintains strong relationships with the Internet service providers.

List quality: Just as important is for the sender to obtain permission before sending to an e-mail address. Individuals on the list should have asked to receive it. E-mailing to a purchased or rented list is not an acceptable practice in thee-mail marketing industry. Most reputable providers won't work with any list that isn't 100 percent opt-in.

What this means for the marketer is a robust marketing plan to get opt-in subscribers. Place a sign-up button on your Web site. You can also run paid search campaigns that direct Web traffic to your opt-in form. If you're a business with a physical presence, include a sign-up form at your front desk.

How often you contact your target customers depends on the expectations the marketer has established with its recipients. A news organization might send an e-mail every day. A retailer, however, may send only a few e-mails a month.

The key is sending valuable content. Don't waste your recipients' time. If you send too frequently, you risk alienating your list. That means fewer individuals will open and click on your messages. Even worse, it's likely many of your subscribers will request to be removed from your e-mail offers.

Email marketing is "the ketchup on the burger" for companies and organizations using the Web to drive sales.

Place links on your Web site so visitors can easily opt-in to your communications. Without e-mail marketing, a visitor to your Web site could browse and leave. No sale.With e-mail marketing, a visitor to your site can choose to opt-in to your e-mail content. You've taken what could have been a lost prospect and turned them into an e-mail subscriber.

Responsiveness: Once you have signed up subscribers, reward them with coupons and special offers. An opt-in is a clear sign of interest. Send them e-mail immediately and include lots of links back to your site.

Highlight any special sales, new products or industry news that they might find interesting.

Most importantly, segment your e-mail marketing based on whatever data you've collected about the subscriber: location, age, gender, etc.

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