Build your Brand on Broadband
Many organizations are either not leveraging or under leveraging the Internet and therefore need to quickly establish an online brand to remain competitive. We believe that this applies to nearly all organizations, but especially those firms engaged in professional services (e.g. law, medicine, accounting, consulting, etc.) and others whose viability depends on reaching a particular audience. We use the word "customer" below but for our purposes this term represents any potential "audience" you may be trying to reach (e.g. client, patient, constituent, member, etc.).
There are many reasons that support this core belief, however, two of the most important and obvious are: 1) increasingly the Internet is the medium of choice your customers use to discover you and/or access your products and services; and 2) your customers and prospective customers expect it. While these factors are certainly important for professional services organizations they are quickly becoming paramount for organizations in disparate sectors as well (e.g. political campaigns, non-profits, non-governmental organizations, and a host of others).
We believe that in order for any organization to build a brand online it must continuously iterate (i.e. take action) across three distinct categories of activity. We refer to these categories as 1) Publish; 2) Promote; and 3) Prevail.
You don't need a website, what you need is a publishing platform. Why? Because your online presence will evolve quickly over time and your organization needs a self-help mechanism for keeping content updated. The old adage that “content is king” still applies. It is not enough, and probably does more harm than good, to have a presence that consists of nothing more than a canned sales pitch. You need content that tells a story that informs; which demonstrates the value that your organization brings to the marketplace in general, and more specifically, to a particular customer’s (member's, constituent's, etc.) needs. You need content that educates and builds trust.
To accomplish all of the above, you need content that engages the prospective customer’s interest and/or reinforces the customer’s decision for having selected your organization in the first place. It is difficult to delegate this responsibility to a third party, and if you do, you’re unlikely to be happy with the results. The lack of attention paid to an organization’s online presence is the primary reason that there is very little differentiation among most websites—and where there is, it is likely that the organization’s executive team was directly (and heavily) involved; witness the strategic use of the Internet by the Obama campaign.
The development of quality content is time consuming. You must first develop the message and then consider the bewildering number of options for delivering it, including: text, video, blogs, podcasts and others. Clearly, the keyboard pounding can be delegated, but the thinking behind the content requires input from staff directly involved in developing and "selling" the organization's services. As discussed below, the better the content, the more traffic that is driven to the site. Therein lies the opportunity to convert a curious surfer into a paying customer.
One thing is clear, unless you drive traffic to your site it is essentially invisible on the Internet. The days when you could game the search engines into driving traffic to your site are mostly over. Sure there are still some “black hat” operators out there but Google (increasingly the only relevant search engine in town) has become very sophisticated in its ability to detect and punish them. There are only two basic (and fundamental) alternatives for driving traffic. The interaction and mix between the two is where the innovation is taking place in Internet marketing.
The first and most straightforward alternative is to leverage Google via its AdWords program (i.e. paid advertising based on keywords). It is straightforward only in the sense that it is easy to get started. Google’s dominance of the search space eliminates the need to (initially) consider either: (1) other search engines; or (2) the myriad of directories that want to take your money in return for questionable value. This is not to suggest that there are no other alternatives for economically getting the word out online, but rather a practical recognition of the 80/20 rule.
Blogging addresses relevance and timeliness but how do you increase your organization's digital footprint (i.e. increase the number of inbound links to your site)? One of the most effective ways to do this to become engaged in the wider conversation regarding your business/industry that transpires daily on the Internet. When you comment on other relevant sites you leave a URL footprint. When you join a professional networking site and write a profile you leave a URL footprint. In short, there are a number of creative and professional ways to increase your digital footprint. Mostly what it takes is time, energy, and a willingness to engage—coupled with a solid understanding of Google search.
In a brutally competitive Internet marketplace often "the last organization standing" wins. Although any number of factors will determine who is left standing, one critical factor for most organizations is optimizing the effectiveness of their marketing spend. An accurate measure of the marketing ROI is critical. Clearly, you can’t manage what you don’t measure—at least not in a competent and professional manner.
Whether you are driving traffic to your site via PPC or organic search, you need a way to track your investment. You also need to understand your organization's marketing goals and objectives. These will likely change over time, based on what you learn from your campaigns, but you need to focus on these objectives upfront, otherwise you are back to “spend and hope.” You not only need to understand what a potential customer does after clicking on your ad; you also need to track user behavior no matter what mechanism they used to arrive at your site. This is the brave new world of web analytics—the tools and processes you use to determine your ROI.
Despite a bewildering array of software now available to help your track results, there are a few proven and inexpensive packages that get the job done. Moreover, Google now offers free equivalents as well. Tracking results is not a question of spending significant capital on high-end software, but rather (like most things on the Internet) a question of literacy and effort. The best way to learn is to get started. There is no one size fits all solution. Your marketing campaigns are likely to be unique to your organization’s value proposition. The way you track will be unique as well—based on your campaigns and your goals.
We are all learning a new "communications grammar" for effectively reaching out to audiences. Like learning a foreign language it requires persistence and hard work. There are no magic formulas and no silver bullets. You cannot simply "throw money at the problem." It doesn't work that way. This new medium levels the playing field. It has irrevocably changed the rules of the game. What are the new rules? No one knows exactly because we are still inside the tornado. Furthermore, the rules will vary across industries and between sectors in a given industry.
Prevail. To the victors go the spoils and the victors are likely (now more than ever) to be those organizations that can learn faster than the competition. Get in the game, there is no learning taking place on the sidelines. Make some mistakes and then take corrective action. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.