My post a few months ago entitled Web Marketing 101 has generated a lot of positive feedback, as well as cries for me to fulfill my promise at the end of the post for a subsequent post on Web Marketing 102: Acquiring Customers Online. One warning: what this blog lacks in frequency (this is my 8th post this year) it makes up for in wordiness (er, "depth"), and I'll no doubt continue the trend here.
A quick overview
Please start by reviewing the post for Web Marketing 101 (that is, if you haven't committed it to memory). As a summary, the fundamental questions you must answer before you can really start marketing are:
- Who is your customer?
- What need(s) are you addressing?
- How much does it cost to acquire that customer (CPA)?
- How much is the "lifetime value" of that customer (LTV)?
Now, don't worry if you don't have final answers to those questions. It takes months just to get your head around them, and you'll spend years trying to perfect the answer. But, it's essential that you understand the methodology behind these questions. No matter how good you are at marketing, and how advanced your business is, the answers to these questions are works in progress.
Setting a few things straight
Every customer I talk to--without exception--secretly hopes that if they just put their business online the money will come pouring in. If you believe that, or are even hoping it in the back of your mind, STOP RIGHT NOW. Slap yourself silly. Pour come cold water on your head. Ask your friend to run over your foot with his car. Okay, are you feeling the sharp pain of reality yet? Does it hurt bad? Good. Now we can get down to business.
Marketing online is no different than marketing offline, except you are online. Repeat that a few times. Some things about being online are advantages: it's interactive, the customer can be in the comfort of their own home, the customer can be miles (even oceans) away, it can be the middle of the night, there's lots of room for pictures and words. However, these same advantages are also disadvantages: interaction can be overwhelming, the customer isn't face to face with you, the customer might be a little *too* comfortable at home, and all those words and pictures can get in the way of accomplishing what you actually want: sales.
Still, online marketing presents opportunities that no other medium can, and it all starts with one important concept...
That's the one word that sums of the advantage of online marketing in my book. Measurability. You can measure everything online. If you put up a billboard on Highway 101 (the big, ugly, famous highway that cuts through Silicon Valley and is near our office), you have no idea how many people see it, how many people really read it, and whether it drives any incremental sales. Same goes for the yellow pages, or radio, or tv, or newspaper ads.
You can try to guesstimate by asking customers how they heard about you, or using a separate phone number. But, the dirty secret that no "offline" advertising company wants you to know is this: you'll never really know whether these ads are making or losing you money. You simply can't calculate the CPA and LTV of customers you acquire this way.
This is why Google is worth more than CBS, NBC, FOX and Clear Channel (radio) combined. A lot more, actually. Because you can measure it, and only pay for the marketing programs that work. And if you can measure it, you can test and learn, using the scientific method we all learned in 8th grade science class. (Did you have an awesome old teacher like Mr. Carrol, who started class every day by blowing something up just to see what happened?)
You can measure almost everything about online advertising, but you have to be scientific about it. We won't go any further into this point now, but just remember that if you aren't measuring, then your online advertising is about as effective as a billboard on 101 (I should know, we used to have one).
Where to start
As with anything in your business, you need to start small with online advertising. I'd strongly encourage you to start with pay-per-click advertising, as opposed to "CPM" based advertising like banner ads. Google and Yahoo are the best at pay-per-click, and you should start with their basic search advertising product (don't start with Google AdSense!). Be prepared to spend some serious time trying to get up the learning curve (our research shows it takes about 30 hours of investment to get your first campaign working right on Google or Yahoo). Which means you should be ready to put a decent amount of money into your test. If you're looking to spend less than $500 per month, I'd actually encourage you to start with Homestead Searchlight, because we do all the work for you, and the prices start as low as $30 per month. Regardless of how you start, give it a shot, and know it is going to take some iterations to get it right.
I've got lots more to say on this topic, but this post is already long enough. I'll be back soon with more on Web Marketing (I guess I'll call that Marketing 103?). Let me know if you have specific marketing questions I can answer.