Computer + Idea + Time = Smart Marketing
The Internet levels the playing field for businesses
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The Internet levels the playing field for businesses
The promoters of the First Annual Clearwater Super Boat National Championship had a problem. The event was just six weeks away and it was uncertain that enough boating fans would bother to show up. In addition to the traditional newspaper and broadcast stories, the powerboat races needed a kick. Then they got it — through a coordinated social media campaign on the Internet. “We had six weeks to pull off that event, and we used social media in tandem with press and TV commercials to get the word out,” recalled Karla Jo Helms, the chief executive officer of JoTo PR in the Tampa Bay area.
Using Facebook and other websites, Helms found and connected with boat and sport enthusiasts and powerboat clubs. She encouraged local hotels, restaurants and other tourist organizations to offer roughly 1,000 links on their Web pages to the super boat championship website. There were 3,100 fans and followers on the social media sites and 12,000 hits on the event’s website within four weeks. “We connected with them and posted videos,” she said. “By the time the event rolled around, we had 60,000 people and $4 million injected into the economy. The next year, using the first year’s momentum, we did the same and had 100,000 people — and doubled the tourism money injected into the economy.”
The Clearwater Super Boat National Championship is just one example of how the Internet has changed opportunities for businesses.
A Level Playing Field
“Any small business can realize its potential before it ever opens its doors. The Internet allows small businesses to meet that potential without spending the millions of advertising dollars it used to take to reach a national, or even a global, audience. The Web levels the playing field,” explained Matthew Titus, an interactive marketing strategist for CYber SYtes, a Web service company in Panama City.
If a business isn’t using the Internet to reach out to potential customers, it is a good bet that their competitor is. No matter how established a business is, the low cost of Internet marketing allows an upstart to come into its backyard and steal clients. No matter where a business is located, in small or large communities, it could be losing money if its marketing plan does not have an Internet component. The reason: An entire generation — anyone who was born after 1960 — gets the bulk of its purchasing advice online.
“Consumers and businesses are relying on online platforms and social media to get data,” Helms said. “Heck, we don’t return phone calls anymore without Googling a phone number if they do not leave a message.” The good news is that Internet marketing is cheap. At a minimum, all it takes is a computer, an idea and time. “You can become your own publisher now. You do not have to wait for your big opportunity to get the word out. You can do it yourself,” Helms explained.
The place to start for anyone needing help is the local chamber of commerce, professional associations, service clubs, colleges or even adult classes at the public schools. In almost every corner of the state, groups and schools offer free introductory computer workshops for the novice. Many offer advanced free sessions for the more computer savvy. And these workshops are usually run by Internet specialists happy to design websites and help with bits and bytes of a marketing plan for those businessmen and women too busy to do it themselves.
Once you know a little about computers, you can quickly understand how they have turned the small business world into a jungle. Start Web surfing. See what your competitors are doing. Your customers once had to drive to compare prices and service. Now shopping comparisons are only a click away. Businesses, even those in the most remote parts of the state, cannot count automatically on customer loyalty because of their location anymore. If your customer has a computer and a mailbox, you’ve got a competitor. “While (the Internet) is wonderful for businesses of all sizes, it also means the market for even the most obscure products and brands has become much more competitive,” Titus said.
Before investing any further time and money on Internet marketing, your business needs a plan. The idea is to tell your customers what you sell and how it is better than any of your competitors. The plan should include a budget — how much you are willing to spend to reach customers. And you must decide what method will drive customers to your business. Although relatively new, the Internet already has many components that can be part of a marketing campaign.
A business can build pages on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. It can post videos of its products and services on YouTube. It can use a technique called search engine optimization, or SEO, to appear near the top of Google, Bing or Yahoo searches for key words. Pay per click, or PPC, ads can be purchased. E-newsletters can be distributed through an email list. Articles can be written and offered to other websites in the industry.
“A smart interactive strategy, or single media campaign, can use a number of tactics that work together to achieve your goals,” according to Titus. “Each of them plays a unique role in defining brand or achieving the goals of your business. Unfortunately, there is no out-of-the-box strategy for any business on the Web because no two brands have the same vision.”
Since consumers making a purchase are apt to use a search engine to find providers, search engine optimization is key. This is a strategy to design a business website page using key words. Those words will trigger the Web page to appear on the first page of Google, Yahoo or Bing searches for products.
There are SEO consultants available everywhere who can make a Web page search engine friendly. SEO techniques have been proven to work, as Andrew King illustrated in his “Website Optimization,” published in 2008. The book discussed a dentistry practice in Philadelphia that grew from one to nine new patients per week by adding words to the front page of its Web page. Designers incorporated language on the Web page that could catch the most common searches for lucrative services that the practice wanted to offer. They included “cosmetic dentistry,” “restorative dentistry,” “preventive care,” “pain free,” “Philadelphia dentistry” and “dental services.” The dentist also added some minimal advertising to Google that cost money only when somebody clicked on it. In nine months, the practice “hired another dentist. It added new staff and moved to a larger office to accommodate the influx of new patients,” according to King’s book.