Times are changing fast. Have they ever changed faster?
Business models are shifting as investments and marketing dollars seek out sure bets. Returns on investment are carefully scrutinized. Marketing budgets must be justified by tracking results.
Here’s where the marketing money is going and why…
To understand the value of the Internet, let’s begin by taking a look at how marketing has changed over the last few decades.
This will give us a reference point on the place of the Internet in advertising, which will in turn reveal the place of your website in your own marketing plan.
By understanding the trends that have led us to this point, we’ll be able to look forward – to understand where we’re going by glancing back.
In the beginning, marketers reached potential customers through traditional media channels: TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and also billboards and direct mail.
So that advertisers could reach the masses, these mediums were geared toward large groups. Even TV and radio shows were designed to appeal to very general audiences. The science of targeting specific people was just getting started.
Eventually, cable TV appeared, and the diversity of channels and shows exploded (Home Improvement and Friends shared the small screen with shows like Twin Peaks and In Living Color). Magazine publishers created new titles, finding ways of targeting more specific demographics (e.g., Alpacas Magazine).
These changes helped media companies slice up markets into smaller groups, thereby allowing advertisers to target narrower, more niche markets.
But the options for media were still the same: TV or radio in 30-second spots; quarter-page, rectangular ads in print media; mass mailings; and outdoor signs.
Then, the web came along, and with it an additional, supplementary channel for generating awareness of business or brand.
In the beginning, most websites were built by individuals who knew enough about both design and programming to handle entire projects on their own. Everyone in web design was multi-talented and self-taught.
Those who understood the medium were just beginning to teach others in schools and universities, setting up the first programs in interactive design. Those who were studying website design hadn’t graduated yet.
The technology was young, and as visionaries began to see the possibilities, the first web-based businesses were born. Investment in these companies soared; fortunes were made – and lost.
As realism set in, the markets corrected themselves. Web-based businesses were still businesses, after all, and the fundamental laws still applied.
But the promise of the web as a marketing tool continued to mature, and the skills of good web marketers continued to develop. Search optimization, pay-per-click advertising, and email marketing matured as valuable specialties.
With all its advantages, the web gradually became more important in the minds of business owners, moving to the center of all thinking around marketing.
Consider the difference between web and traditional marketing: With TV and radio advertising, you buy time. With print-media advertising, you buy space. But the web transcends these limitations.
A website visit is an experience. It is not bound by a linear progression of time, like a radio ad. It is not limited to a certain area, like a print ad on a page.
Its a non-linear, self-directed experience where almost anything is possible. People can dig deep and spend long periods of time researching your business and interacting with your brand.
If you liked advertising to narrower market segments on cable TV, you’re bound to love the Internet.
Through this channel, you can target incredibly specific groups of people; in fact, the more obscure and specific your target market is, the easier it is to find them with search-engine marketing.
Targeting vegetarian Jewish moms? No problem. Your site will be one of the few on that topic, you’ll rank at the top, and they’ll find you because they’re out there and they’re probably looking for you already.
Now that high-speed connections are so common, the web has emerged as the place for video content. Suddenly, regular television is becoming known as “appointment-based TV” because you have to watch at a certain time.
Online video production is challenging traditional TV – and doing very well. In fact, we crossed a milestone in February 2008 when the web surpassed television and newspapers as the primary source of news for most Americans1.
The web is 2-way communication. Websites can listen to visitors when they submit forms, fill out surveys, become members, and give feedback.
People can actually complete a transaction online, becoming customers through ecommerce. And for immediate gratification, the web allows visitors to access online services and downloadable products.
Another huge benefit of the web over other media is the tracking that’s possible. You can measure results in a myriad of intriguing, detailed ways.
With a newspaper ad, you’ll never know the time of day when people viewed it. With a TV ad, you’ll never know when people looked away. With a direct-mail campaign, you’ll never know what percentage of recipients opened the envelope. But with online marketing, you have access to all this information.
Because of all of this, the web has moved from just another place to market your company to the center of all marketing.
Today, traditional marketing is just as much about promoting a company’s website as promoting the actual company. Ads everywhere include web addresses, and websites these days are far more than ads.
Understanding that your website is the focus of your marketing (and, in some cases, your only marketing) will help you understand the importance of planning it carefully, understanding your goals, and setting your strategy accordingly.
Your website is the center of your marketing efforts. Give it the time, resources, and attention it deserves.
1Harper, Jennifer. “Web surpasses TV, papers as top news source; Half of audience goes online.” The Washington Times. (February 28, 2008): A06.