Innovation in a World of E-Commerce Woe

It’s been nearly a decade since the Internet bubble burst in 2001, and the intervening years have seen the rise of powerhouse companies such as Google, MySpace and Facebook, which have helped broaden the scope of what was once referred to as the “Information Superhighway.”

The Internet was once limited primarily to email communication, file transfers and other rather mundane purposes. It’s now evolved into a global social gathering place with as many diversions as the local mall, multiplex and fairgrounds combined. Users turn to the Web to read and post news and opinions on a smorgasbord of topics from politics to food.

However, as the impact of an ongoing global economic crises continues, is the outlook for online businesses and services as rosy as it has been for the past eight years? The world — both online and off — is still coming to grips with the economic downturn that hit full force in September 2008.

Disappointing fourth-quarter figures that saw ad sales increase less than one-half of a percent have lowered expectations for online ads over the rest of 2009.
“When we ran the numbers for Q4, we were pretty shocked, because it was much worse than we thought it would be,” Karsten Weide, an IDC analyst, said. “Overall growth in Q4 year-on-year was just 0.4 percent. It was essentially flat, and the only reason why it was still at least a little bit of growth was because search grew by 10 percent. But display [advertising] declined by 7 percent, and classifieds dropped by 18 percent.”

The first quarter of 2009 will not see much improvement for online advertisers, according to Weide. “We think that the search growth rate will still go down to 8 percent, display will be worse than last quarter, and classifieds will be as bad — maybe a little better — with a big loss but not quite as much. If you count these all together, we think the bottom line is that online advertising may decline this quarter by as much as 4.8 percent,” he explained.

That would make this the first time since the bubble in which the segment will see losses for the second quarter in a row, Weide observed. Sales will likely hit the bottom around the middle of 2009, he said.

The economy is unlikely to recover with the same speed that it tanked, in Weide’s view. “We think it’s not going to be a U-curve, recovering as quickly as it went down. We expect a long, protracted recovery phase with growth starting again in 2010.”

Companies whose advertising formats or venues are still considered experimental will take the biggest hit, according to Weide. “That includes social networks, even though they made US$50 million dollars last year.”

Google is in a good position. Because the company focuses primarily on search, it is insulated somewhat from the turmoil. Microsoft and Yahoo have seen ad sales decline, but their display businesses have not been as deeply impacted as those of other, smaller companies.

Given that advertising is the bread and butter of a wide array of online businesses and services, the loss of revenue could have a significant impact on what companies will be able to do in terms of developing new technologies and business models.

Despite the loss of advertising revenue, smart companies will invest even more in research and development, according to Weide. “It should prompt them to spend even more money on research. You need to explore the market segments that are just coming online, like online video — and mobile, to some extent. Plus, you need to put money into technologies that make your advertising offer more attractive to advertisers,” he said. “We’re talking performance advertising here: behavioral targeting, semantic targeting, social advertising and things of that nature and things that have a service quality to them — media planning, integrated dashboards, in-gaming and possibly creative services as well.”

Despite concerns about user privacy, behavioral targeting, semantic targeting, and advertising on social networks are very promising fields. “There’s a lot of pressure on marketers to deliver online for the same money or less money for advertisers,” Weide said. “Yahoo is the big guy, and [there are] a number of small players like Q Interactive.

The biggest risk there is privacy concerns, and most of them are not evil,” Weide said. In a few years, it is possible that advertisers will have come up with multiple new methods of reaching consumers, all designed to offer up ads that are the most relevant for them based on location and other demographics.

When it comes to search engines, there are a number of technologies from larger and smaller companies that could still shine despite the tough economic conditions, Susan Feldman, an IDC analyst, said. “When I looked at Kumo from Microsoft Live, I thought ‘Oh, yeah.’ We’re beginning to see inklings of what they’re going to do — some of the stuff that Yahoo is doing and Google is starting to copy with drop-down, type-ahead suggestions to related queries,” she noted.

Older search utilities could also benefit. For example, Clusty, a clustering search engine from software maker Vivisimo that’s been around for years, is one alternative to a traditional search engine.

“You have to have a way of describing very succinctly what you are looking for, and sometimes you just don’t know how to do that. You know it when you see it. StumbleUpon is getting there, but is still not exactly what you need,” she explained.

MrTaggy, an experimental site developed by the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) uses metadata to help users find what they’re searching for. “MrTaggy has all kinds of information. The keyword search is a tool, but not one I want to use all the time,” Feldman pointed out.

For example, when Feldman was preparing to give a speech on innovation, a keyword search for serendipity, innovation, industry, etc., did not yield the results she sought. However, when she put the term into MrTaggy, the application returned the phrase “Ah ha moment.”

“That is what I should have been searching for, and there has been a lot written on it,” Feldman said. “I wouldn’t have found it. That’s the kind of thing we need so we can explore things that are tangential. All of those are coming to market. Just today, Endeca released a new platform called “McKinley,” which is different way of introducing people to what is going on in the world.”

Netbase has created a technology that moves beyond traditional keyword search and instead uses advanced linguistics to read every sentence of documents and extract rich information and relationships. It then organizes that data into meaningful categories for researchers.

“Suppose you’re a medical researcher and you want to find causes of a particular type of tumor. Netbase has indexed Medline and returned relevant results that would take days to find in 10 seconds, including drugs that have an effect [and] genes that are related to a particular condition,” she said.

This next generation of search goes beyond simple words and looks at the relationships between various words and the ideas they represent. It will pull out information in a way that can help users shorten the time they spend looking for what they want to know.

“The semantic Web is nothing compared to what these guys are doing,” Feldman said. “This is using text analytics. This is what the semantic Web ought to be and should be. It will be amazing.”

The mobile Internet continues to be a major source of innovation, as existing and emerging companies seek new ways to bring an ever-expanding mass of content onto smartphones and other handheld devices. On the other end of the spectrum are the huge in-home systems like home entertainment centers, which are also being built with Web-facing features. The drive for building Web access into multiple devices will feed the ongoing demand for video content online.

“Individual access to the Web
is probably the biggest change we’ve seen in the last 10 years. It will continue to push innovation because you need more content available for more devices, which means more opportunity for services in the cloud and greater importance placed on things like storage on a device,” Joshua Martin, a Yankee Group analyst, said.

As video content moves online and broadband moves into the living room, look for a migration away from traditional cable and satellite subscriptions. “This is going to be earth-shattering, because the Internet is no longer restricted to the computer for the mass market. Now that the average Joe Consumer will be able to do that, it will really change the game,” Martin noted.

However, an old hiccup remains for online video companies: how to monetize the business model. Even though owners have worked in advertising models to a certain degree, the rise of user-generated content on sites such as YouTube More about YouTube has generally not resulted in great amounts of revenue. Fans of these sites may soon find themselves paying a subscription fee to check out the latest antics of Joe Schmoe.

“It is probably harder now more than ever for companies to develop ways to monetize their content, particularly with the advent of user-generated content that is becoming increasingly compelling. With so many options for people, it will be interesting to see what happens,” Martin said.

Sports is one entertainment genre that enjoys a great deal of attention. For example, online viewers may soon be able to view each hole of a major golf tournament, Martin said. Recently, college basketball buffs were able to watch NCAA playoff games online, and advertisers bought sponsorships.

However, tangles still remain. Professional football will likely be one of the last sports to come online, given the exclusive contract the National Football League signed with DirecTV for its NFL Sunday Ticket offering. Once that contract expires, the organization may head online.

In terms of movies and TV shows, Netflix continues to be a leader in online video content and is an example of the kind of innovation other companies should pursue, Martin said. The company has launched numerous partnerships with hardware makers that allow Netflix subscribers who own devices like Xboxes and TiVos to stream content directly to their TVs.

“This is more of an evolutionary phase,” Martin noted, “where the convergence we’ve talked about that makes services and the consumer experience more valuable is coming to fruition.”

Go Guardian eCommerce!

Continue reading

Google, Microsoft and Twitter's Golden Egg

Google and Microsoft are reportedly in separate talks with Twitter with the goal of licensing the microblogging site’s rich store of data. The potential deal structures could be anything from up-front payments to revenue-sharing schemes. Whatever form it might take, a deal would represent Twitter’s first significant source of revenue since its inception.
Continue reading

How to Improve E-commerce Sales in Your Online Store – Rob Snell

E-commerce expert Rob Snell offers three tips to help boost sales in an online store. (1) Make clear recommendations on products, take an editorial position to help customers make choices. (2) Put as much information as possible into product information, knowedge bases, etc. to increase SEO ‘long tail’ traffic and establish yourself as an expert. (3) Ask for a link to your site from anyone you send money to, since it’s hard otherwise to get links to commercial online stores. If possible, get those links to product pages or sectional pages. Rob Snell is the author of Starting a Yahoo! Business for Dummies.

Duration : 0:8:18

Continue reading

Increase Retail Revenue Online with Personalization

Demonstration of how Monetate works as a post-click marketing platform to increase conversion rates and revenue for online retailers. You can see how the Monetate dashboard is used to quickly and easily build a campaign (although many Monetate clients opt to have Personalization Managers create campaigns for them).

For a higher resolution version of this video, visit www.monetate.com.

Duration : 0:4:1

Continue reading

Is Social Marketing Your Online Store's Top Friend?

Today’s savvy consumers want products from a business they can trust, learn from, relate to and “be friends” with. The two most popular social networking sites on the Internet — MySpace and Facebook — are potential springboards for friendly lead generation. These sites give online business owners the ability to place their products and services in front of thousands of potential customers in a more personal, and easily accessible environment. With the ability to reach large and targeted audiences, the customizable, interactive and user-friendly interface of sites like MySpace and Facebook introduce social networks as an ideal platform to expand online businesses.

The rapid growth online shopping had in the past years has drawn many new small businesses to the online arena. As online stores grow and the amount of revenue these stores acquire continues to tick higher, the amount of revenue potential that social networking sites provide continues to increase as well. Think back to about five years ago, when half of the brick-and-mortar businesses in the market didn’t have a Web site. Now it’s unlikely to see a television commercial without also seeing a Web site address or online special attached to it.

This applies to all products in today’s market. No longer are cereal boxes and bottle caps offering immediate savings and benefits; instead they are used as tools to drive consumers to their Web sites. For online businesses, the opportunity to gain additional exposure online is especially important, and it’s beneficial to utilize all tools available to increase brand awareness.

Signing up for a profile with MySpace or Facebook is relatively easy — and it’s free. There are several resources available to utilize when creating and designing a page for your business. Remember to keep your page current and informative, with a personality that matches your online store. Give a concise overview of your company and how it may benefit your target audience. Use common sense and creativity to spark your visitor’s interest. Not only can these profiles compliment your online site, but they can also be used to find targeted consumers.

An ultimate social networking profile would be one in which you were sought out to become a friend. If you’re a small business with limited exposure, however, a more realistic approach would be to seek out others instead. Once these friends are found, posting MySpace bulletins and Facebook notes are great tools to use when spreading the message about new products and special deals.

Several niche markets have been able to expand the visibility of their product line due to social networking sites. Music bands offer up an interesting case study for the opportunities within this new channel. It is estimated that more than 5 million bands are now using MySpace.

If these bands decide to take the next step and start selling their music and merchandise to their online fan base, they can realize significant gains. Another example can be found with fashion designers such as Ed Hardy. With more than 35,000 MySpace friends, all it takes is a simple bulletin post to inform each of these thousands of customers of a new product line or monthly special.

A successful e-commerce solution company should help consumers to further promote their online store by allowing merchants to easily add products from that store directly into their social profiles. Then customers would have the ability to check out securely from that merchant’s online storefront. This type of integration allows businesses to take full advantage of the potential that social networking sites have to offer.

Once these savvy businesses drive traffic from MySpace and Facebook to their online stores, it’s important that they take advantage of the other aspects involved in social selling to close the deal. Web site design, site usability and quality of the site user’s overall experience are key factors in gaining customer loyalty when online shopping.

Other features such as e-mail a friend, wish list, customer reviews and affiliate marketing tools can also help to socially spread the word about a store’s products and services. Again, it’s important for online store owners to take advantage of all of the tools available to market their items via the World Wide Web.

We’ve found that there isn’t a single magic bullet for being successful online, and it’s important for merchants to be creative and open to new opportunities when introducing their products to customers.

When entering the social networking world, a business is among thousands of potential leads all with the same vehicle for giving and acquiring information. Be honest, be personal, be a friend and in return, your new friends may become your lifelong customers.

Guardian eCommerce Helps Increase Online Sales!

Continue reading

Top 10 Reasons Why Websites Fail To Perform

You’ve taken the time to finally build a website, and now it is online. Months go by. Maybe you get a few visitors now and again. Maybe you land on the search engines. Mostly though, it just sits there. Is the website you paid for pulling its weight? A website is a tool and can be of significant help to your business. It can cut a lot of time you put into giving information to customers. It can answer questions and perform tasks for you. Find out where websites fail to perform and how you can figure out where to make it better.

1. Undefined Website Objectives — Some sites try to do way too much at once, or worse, they have no definable purpose. Many provide no clear objective. A site can do more than look good and flashy and have your contact information. Websites can be informational, storing content and articles based on a topic. Sites can run eCommerce solutions that help you with your sales process. It can also generate leads, asking customers to fill out forms with their information and interests. It can also be a hybrid site, with mixed purposes, like offering a free ebook or free access to information (informational) in return for contact information (lead generation).

Defining the purpose of your website gives a clear direction to your customers. Where should customers arrive when they find your website? Where do you want them to end up? Using a clear path and clear objectives, you can lead them through your site, your products, and your information, depending on how you need to sell your products. Not all products or services can be sold directly in an eCommerce situation. Maybe you prefer just getting to know your customer a bit more, and being able to forward marketing materials, so a lead generation type of site might be more suitable.

Assign a secondary objective. Maybe after visitors sign up for free access, or an ebook, they are encourage to ask more by contacting your sales reps, or perhaps they can make a direct purchase online. Use a clearly definable call to action. “Email for more information.” “Clíck here to sign up.” Tell visitors where to go.

2. Unidentified Target Audience — Demographics have been used in marketing for generations. Marketers use the information because it works. Knowing who your audience is defines the purpose to your website and calls out those who qualify and would be interested in your products. Marketing is the one area where discrimination is actually a good thing! You don’t want to waste the marketing dollars that draw people to your site who won’t need your products in the first place.

Get to know who your clients are. Are they male or female? How old? Where are they located? What do they do for a living? Habits, income levels, preferences, they can all be discovered with a quick email, phone call or have your current customers take surveys and help you figure out what your clients want.

3. Building for the Wrong Audience — Your site can have a purpose and a select audience, but if it doesn’t appeal to audiences, they tend to go elsewhere. Finding preferences is only the first step. Once you figure out what your demographic is, it is time to find out what appeals to them, and use that to your advantage. It could be something as simple as site colors and images, to where and how they prefer to use navigation systems and the type of content presented.

Maybe you need simple content, easy to read and understand for younger audiences. Perhaps you need something a bit more technical for professionals. You can even see if you need to add features for those who are visually impaired. Paying attention to your demographic and their preferences can mean building your website around their likes and getting more responses.

4. Oblivious to Web Traffic Sources — A link on a Harry Potter fan club forum to your website can bring in traffic, but does it really bring in the right customers? If you’re not directing traffic from sites relevant to yours or where a matching market exists, you might end up with empty hits to your website. It looks pretty on stat pages but it doesn’t really do anything.

Refocus your efforts on search engine optimization and focus on keywords that do fit, not just what might be popular. You can plan the sort of traffic you want and focus your outreach efforts on that. Planning your search engine campaigns can make them more effective, bringing the right customers to you. You don’t need 1,000 random visitors a day, when 100 qualified visitors will do.

5. Underestimating the Competition — Who says you can’t grab ideas from your competition? Find out what they are lacking and draw customers to your site by adding more features and information. Your target audience is searching the web for your product. Don’t let your competition become more appealing.

Understand your competition by observing their sites. Where are your competitors linking? Where aren’t they? What designs do they use on their site? Does your target audience like that type of design or do they want something better? Figure out how to improve your site and make it better than your competition.

6. Poor Site Communication and Inconsistency — If you’re building a website, is one page orange and another blue? Does one page have your logo and another doesn’t? People love consistency. Does your content and images display the right message? Your website might have pretty pictures of your children, or a fun story about what happened to you last Christmas, but is it really what your customers want to know?

Skip the personal info, unless it’s relevant and your audience wants to hear about it. You also need to make sure you present your brand in its best light, and consistently give visitors the same presentation every time and on every page. Let your brand stand out.

7. Outdated and Antiquated Site Features — Out with the old. Check your site for old content and images and delete them. Remove old links that go nowhere too. Forget pop ups and old methods of keeping visitors around. Content is great, but if it’s so old that it’s irrelevant, you’ll lose respectability and your expert status. Stick to new information. Don’t be afraid to get rid of old articles and delete old images. Do an update on your site features, like navigation systems and contact forms.

8. Poor Overall Site Performance — You’ve plastered all there is to know about you on a few pages. Is this the right way to do it? Maybe not. Yes, you’ve given them something to look at, but you have to remember, your time to impress people on the Internet is limited to just a few seconds. Long passages of text, lengthy forms, even poorly constructed or confusing navigation can slow people down, which leads to people leaving.

Making your website flow is all about making your site easy to read, easy to browse and easy to find what you’re looking for. Include a search function, highlight popular pages, and make it simple for people to give you their information. Start with short forms, only the essentials, and a few simple questions. You can get more info later.

9. Lack of Commitment — When was the last time you updated additional information to your website? Remember those “Website Under Construction” images from the early years of the Internet? Over time, people have learned those images are pointless. Your website is ever evolving, ever needing updating. Your website is isn’t ever finished.

You must make a commitment to update information and to improve interest in your site from visitors. It could be as simple as updating a blog once or twice a week, or updating about sales and special events. Give visitors something to come back to, and let them turn into regular guests.

10. Not using an Experienced Web Firm — You do a good job with what you do, and a good business and website owner knows when to call for help. Maybe you’re okay with writing content, but you need help with creating navigation and setting up forms. It’s oka
y to ask someone else for help, either with a few pages, or for the entire site design, and leave it to a professional.

It also saves money and time getting someone else to do the complicated things for you. Are you spending weeks on figuring out a web page design set up when it takes a professional a few hours to produce? When you’re in business, you consult with professionals who will help you build a better website, develop methods of search engine marketing strategies, and find out how to appeal to your target audience. You save tíme, money, and plenty of headaches.

Site Credibility Pays. Go Visit Guardian eCommerce And Get Site Certified!

Continue reading

8 Ways To Increase Web-Audience Response

It’s always a good idea to stick to the basics. When businesses stray too far from the fundamentals, problems arise, but sticking to the basics doesn’t mean boring people into a state of unconsciousness. If Web-visitors’ eyes glaze-over upon entering your site, you’ve lost them before you’ve begun. Web success is based on creative implementation of the basics, and that’s where your Web-marketing presentation should begin.

1. Web-Audience Response Demands Communication: The Web has a lot in common with television but there are fundamental differences; it is important for Web-entrepreneurs to understand these differences and similarities, and learn from them.
Television and the Web are both communication environments, but television, like magazines and newspapers, are primarily advertising platforms. Of course there are plenty of websites around that follow the advertising financial model, but for the average business website, depending on third party advertising not only dilutes their marketing message and brand, but it also makes for a confusing and cluttered visual presentation. Just because your website presents information, doesn’t mean it’s communicating it to your intended audience in any meaningful way. The manner in which you communicate your message is as important as the message itself. The medium is increasingly becoming the message, and even in situations where it isn’t, it definitely shapes the message.

2. Web-Audience Response Demands Content: You have repeatedly heard the comment, ‘content is king,’ but we think, ‘communication is king’ because without communication your content is meaningless. But here’s the dilemma, your information is basically advertising, after all you’re in business, and business is about selling something – a product, a service, an idea, or your know-how. So the real underlying purpose of your website is to make that advertising message worth listening to, and to do that, you need to turn it into content. To turn advertising into content you have to accept that sales take time. You have to be patient. You can’t hurry a sale, you first have to build confidence; stop rushing the close and start thinking of selling as a courtship. You would never ask someone to get married on a first date, so why would you expect to get an order from a potential Web-client on their first visit.

3. Web-Audience Response Demands Courtship: No one is going to make a substantial financial commitment without reaching some level of comfort with who you are and what you do, and that requires some repeated contact: a courtship, or negotiation if you prefer. Therein lies the similarity and difference between websites and television: the success of a television program is based on habituation. If you get people to tune-in every week on the same night, at the same time to see their favorite program, you will be able to keep delivering your marketing message through the commercials that pay for the content. In the same regard, if you can make your website interesting enough through the compelling presentation of content, you will get visitors to return again and again, each time gaining confidence and respect for what you do and what you sell.

The difference is people accept television commercials as the price they pay for free TV programming, but the same cannot be said for the Web. People want free information on the Web without the irritation and bother of ads; so the challenge for website owners is to turn their marketing message into compelling programming that creates habituation which is just another form of negotiation, or courtship of potential clients.

4. Web-Audience Response Demands Consistency: You hear the word strategy bandied about with little relevance to its precise meaning. In marketing terms, strategy is a big idea, a sustainable concept that you can build a business around. Successful companies rarely change their strategies, a concept that should not be confused with tactics, which are the various methods used to implement strategy in order to secure the ultimate objectives. Business has to be resilient and open-minded enough to adapt to an ever-changing business environment by constantly updating tactics, but strategy needs to be a constant, a touchstone or benchmark for implementing action. Staying on course requires confidence in the strategy with a vigilant eye on the big picture.

Websites that are nothing more than brochures or catalogs of product that anyone can purchase at the local mall or box store is a tactic that delivers little relevance to today’s Web-savvy consumer. And the same can be said for the blatantly obvious direct marketíng sites based on old magazine subscription techniques. The new multimedia communication-based Web requires new presentation tactics in order to successfully implement marketing strategy.

5. Web-Audience Response Demands Expectation: Successful marketing is not just about persuading people that what you have is what they need, it’s about creating a series of deliverable expectations. If you expect a product to be easy to use because that’s what the marketing communication states, then that product better be easy to use. Effective marketing presentations not only prompt action but just as importantly they create a set of realistic, deliverable expectations. Ask yourself, why do people mistrust politicians, car salesmen, and telemarketers? We all know the answer: many will say, and promise, just about anything to get your vote or order, and the result is a disgruntled, cynical voter or customer. Read my lips, no false expectations!

6. Web-Audience Response Demands TrustL: When customers’ expectations are met, you begin to create trust, and trust is one of the hardest things to achieve on a website that lacks any kind of human connection to the audience. I can’t tell you how many websites I’ve visited that make no effort to humanize their presentations, and consequently their businesses. When you go to a contact page and all that’s there is a form to fill-in, with no contact name or phone number, it says to people, ‘I really can’t be bothered talking to you.’ Hiding behind email tells people not to trust you, and if they don’t trust you, they are not going to do business with you.

Business is about connecting to people, whether they are consumers, purchasing agents, or suppliers. If your website doesn’t have some kind of human element like a video Web-host, audio message, or even a contact name and phone number, how can you expect to connect and build confidence, and trust in your intent to satisfy their needs?

7. Web-Audience Response Demands Personality: By building trust with your Web-audience you are also building your brand and defining your corporate personality. Here again we have a bit of a dichotomy since personality is a human-based characteristic, so how then can we create a personality and instill human characteristics into an inanimate entity like a business? Corporate personality does not derive from a logo, packaging, or your website’s aesthetic qualities. Corporate personality is the sum total of the collective experiences your audience has with your company. In the brick and mortar world, corporate personality is a result of dealing with people, sales people, receptionists, and telemarketers; in short personality is derived from interaction with real human beings.

Clever, well written website copy can help create personality as long as it is written in a distinctive human voice, but we know that 70% of all website text is never read; people skip to bulleted points and captions. But the same material delivered by a real person either through Web-audio or video, not only delivers the marketing message in the most memorable and compelling fashion, but it also defines the business personality and humanizes the website.

Two caveats: avatars are not people, and unless you can afford to hire the creators of the Simpsons to develop your animation, you best forget it; as well, usi
ng yourself or a non-professional as a spokesperson or Web-host is a dangerous practice, and speaks more to ego than it does to effective business development.

8. Web-Audience Response Demands Motivation: Lastly your website must communicate content that excites and motivates people to do business with you. The ability to motivate people isn’t about what you’re selling; it’s about how you present it.
Motivational speakers, whether in the business, entertainment, personal coaching, or sports arenas, all deliver a similar message; but the ones that truly stimulate people to act, are the ones that know how to present their ideas in the most exciting and compelling manner. If you want to motivate your Web-audience to respond, your presentation has to be delivered by a real human being: a professional with charm, charisma, and a distinctive character.

Brought To You By Guardian eCommerce SSL Privacy Seal Program

Continue reading

Seven Ways to Make E-Marketing Work in a Tough Economy

In a challenging economy, you must find new ways to make marketing work more effectively, get more out of marketing investments, and measure and account for marketing decisions. In short, you must make changes. Doing the same things in an uncertain economic environment and expecting the same results is, at worst, a definition of marketing insanity. At best, it is a flawed strategy.

How can your company be one of those success stories that market and grow their business during challenging economic times? The following strategies will help you allocate marketing investments to better performing programs that will carry your company through the economic downturn and beyond.

1. Get Targeted — A fundamental but sometimes overlooked marketing tenet is to “fish where the fish are.” In other words, invest in those specific, targeted media where you know your customers and prospects will be exposed to your message. Research shows that virtually all engineering, technical and industrial professionals now use the Internet throughout their work process.

The same holds true in most business-to-business markets. However, the Internet is vast, and the fish you are looking for may be using specific Web sites where the content is directly related to their information needs. Work with your media partners to identify and target those sites.

2. Measure Performance — While it’s always the right time to purge marketing programs that don’t perform, it may be time to scale back any marketing plans whose results you can’t measure or are unsure about. In other words, reallocate and “right-size” marketing budgets to measurable programs. Online programs — which are built around delivering visibility, impressions, clicks, leads and customers — are easy to measure.

3. Think Integration — Integrated marketing means your marketing strategy takes advantage of multiple media, resources and customer touch points to create a whole that’s greater and more effective than the sum of its parts. The more that marketing efforts are integrated and comprehensive, the greater impact you can achieve in gaining visibility in your market, qualified leads and sales.

4. Maintain Frequency and Consistency — The benefits of regular visibility in the market tend to compound over time as more prospects recognize your company. This improves your opportunity to get on a prospect’s short list of potential vendors and also shortens the sales cycle. A consistent online presence where your customers and prospects are looking for information — including Web sites, directories, search engines and e-newsletters — will help your company stay visible as well as provide measurable lead generation benefits via online contact.

5. Push and Pull Your Way to Success — Most marketing can be classified as either push or pull: companies push their message out through tactics such as direct mail, advertisements and e-newsletters; and they also establish a presence in online directories, Web sites and search engines to pull customers in real-time when prospects are searching for information, products and services like those your company offers.

Rather than struggling over whether to allocate resources to push or pull marketing, seek out a media partner that has your target audience captive and can offer both push and pull programs under an integrated program.

6. Focus on Quality Over Quantity — If marketing efforts focus solely on quantity over quality, fewer leads will convert, more sales resources will be wasted, and sales people will begin to distrust marketing’s lead generation programs.
Commit to programs where quality is a key attribute: programs that can deliver interested prospects, provide prospect contact information, and offer reports of program performance .

7. Seek Assistance From Media Partners — The economy is likely forcing you to make harder and smarter decisions about allocating budgets. While you may be facing challenges, you don’t have to face them alone. Ask media partners to demonstrate how their marketing solutions help your company achieve the strategies mentioned above.

Ask them:

-Do they have your target audience’s attention?
-Can they keep your company visible to prospects and customers at all times?
-Do they offer a variety of integrated marketing solutions aligned with your goals?
-Can they provide both visibility and lead generation?
-Do they deliver targeted, quality leads with full contact information?
-Do they provide reports you can use to measure the performance of your marketing
and justify your marketing investments?

During challenging times or when thing are going well, industrial marketers need to clarify goals and create a tailored, integrated marketing solution that complements your current media mix and extends your company’s ability to compete and win business in the market.

Utilize a wide range of e-media advertising and marketing solutions. Consider keyword ads, e-mail marketing, searchable product catalogs, banner ad networks and industry-leading e-newsletter advertisements. Figure out the right combination, and you will deliver the right message at the right time to the right audience and integrate with your traditional marketing efforts.

Increase Site Trust, Site Credibility Pays With Guardian eCommerce!

Continue reading

E-Commerce Web Services: Better, Faster, Cheaper

Typically, new technologies tend to promise more than they deliver. That has not been the case with Web services, which are being integrated into just about every new e-commerce application. “Support for Web services has come from application vendors, application development tool suppliers and middleware vendors,” said Jason Bloomberg, a managing partner with market research firm ZapThink.

The support has been widespread because Web services enable companies to simplify application design, deliver enhancements more quickly, and reuse software more easily. Those features stem from the design of Web services. In essence, Web services provide businesses with a standard way to communicate. They replace complex, proprietary programming interfaces with Extensible Markup Language (XML) documents and standard application protocols. XML is used to tag data, and SOAP is used to transfer it, WSDL (Web Services Description Language) describes the services needed, and UDDI (Universal Description Discovery and Integration) tells applications what services are available.

Because compliant software works with open protocols, it can be discovered by other programs, and two or more applications can interact with one another and perform tasks, such as exchanging information. With this flexibility, companies can integrate their own applications more tightly within the enterprise. An e-commerce corporation might connect its order entry program with its accounting applications so that changes made in one area automatically update data housed in another department. This step can be taken even if the applications are coded in different programming languages.

In addition, businesses can exchange data with their partners, customers and suppliers more effectively. In a best case scenario, they can view and use partners’ information as if it was their own. A Web service could carry out payment validation by taking information from one system — perhaps a customer name and address — and initiating a request for other information relevant to the process, such as a credit card account number, expiration date or the card verification number on the back of a credit card.

Taking advantage of such features does not require much of an investment for an e-commerce supplier. “Many of the new applications as well as application development tools arrive with inherent support for Web services,” stated Randy Heffner, an analyst with Forrester Research. In some cases, e-commerce companies initiate Web services simply by deploying applications, such as Oracle’s E-Business Suite.

In addition, Web services have become a feature that many e-commerce suppliers now offer to their customers. “The Web services suppliers win because other companies use their services, and that helps drive up their visibility and eventually their revenue,” ZapThink’s Bloomberg explained. The customers are content because they have more sophisticated functions than they could develop by themselves.

Because of the benefits, a number of e-commerce suppliers are moving into this space. “Amazon and Google are a few of the companies that have developed Web services that they let other companies take advantage of,” Heffner said. Amazon has been in the Web services business since its launch of Amazon Web Services in 2002. The service provides software developers, Web site owners and merchants with access to back-end features found on Amazon’s Web site, such as its payment system. As the services have evolved, the face of the companies using them has changed.

“When we started this business, we imagined that smaller companies, particularly startups, would be the first ones to take advantage of our services, given their low-cost nature and the fact that they get to leverage our massive scaling capabilities with no up-front investment,” noted Kay Kinton, an Amazon spokesperson. “Now that our services have become more mature, we are seeing larger companies take advantage as well.”

While Web services offer many advantages, they face a few deployment challenges. “Web services technology is readily available and works well. The obstacles stem from management issues,” said ZapThink’s Bloomberg. Many programmers do not want to fully understand how to build applications that take advantage of Web services features. Inertia is also a problem: Some programmers resist designing applications in a new way. Companies often need to invest in training courses in order to overcome those barriers.

Another challenge is most existing enterprise software infrastructures conform to other architectures, such as client/server, thin client, or mainframe computing. Consequently, it can take companies a substantial amount of time, money and manpower to revamp their systems and realize Web services’ potential benefits.

To help address these issues, Web services are being rolled up into a more expansive application development initiative: service-oriented architecture (SOA). The goal with this movement is to design all applications so they operate in a plug-and-play manner. Here, support for Web services would be one of the features bundled in with SOA compliant systems.

Because of its potential, major vendors, such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP have been promoting SOA. “SOA has the potential to help companies streamline the application development process further, but putting the pieces in place to take advantage of it has proven to be a difficult challenge,” concluded Bloomberg. This problem is expected to be a short-term issue. As SOA acceptance rises, the Web services footprint will grow even bigger in e-commerce companies.

Get Your Website Certified, With A Guardian eCommerce Trust Seal

Continue reading