As 2011 has dawned, it is a perfect time for businesses to think about their online strategy for the New Year.Â Social media exploded in 2010 and the experts agree that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg.
What does this mean for you? Businesses that fail to stay on top of online marketing trends and don't actively participate in a variety of online marketingÂ platforms are doing themselves a great disservice.
What follows are just a few things every business should be aware of as it plans for 2011 and beyond:
Take Social Media Seriously
In 2010, businesses flocked to social media outlets. Some dove in, investing substantial time, effort, strategy and money into their social media efforts. Others just dipped their toes in the social media waters.
Those who have embraced social media have found that it can be a tremendous tool for customer acquisition, customer retention and customer service.
While sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube may seem like "kid's stuff," social media should be taken as seriously as any of your other marketing efforts. It should be strategized and executed by professionals who understand the unique properties of each platform and who know how to exploit those properties.
As in any other marketing strategy, the more experience you have (and the more data and analytics you can work with), the better your marketing will be. In other words, the longer you hold off on social media, the further behind you will fall to the competition.
Dive into Location-Based Platforms
While E-Commerce continues to grab a bigger share of the buying market, most purchases are still made the old- fashioned way: in stores. That doesn't mean you can't use the web to drive qualified traffic into your store.
Location-based platforms use GPS to identify the precise location of potential customers (through their smart phones or iPads) and then deliver targeted marketing messages to those individuals in close physical proximity to your business.
Take a long, hard look at Groupon, LivingSocial, FourSquare, Facebook Places and Gowalla as ways of driving local traffic to your business. These sites work with retailers and service providers to craft highly targeted marketing messages to individuals who check into your business.
If your business isn't using video as a tool for promotion, sales, and/or customer service in 2011, you are making a mistake. More and more, video is becoming the No. 1 choice for disseminating information online. It is also becoming more and more important as a search engine optimization tool. Fortunately, the cost of creating high quality videos has plummeted and the range of venues for publishing your videos has grown substantially.
Get More Bang for Your Online Marketing Buck
Ad targeting technology is getting more sophisticated by the day. When you go online, your behavior is constantly being tracked and mined. To reach a very specific audience, advertisers can use:
- Semantic Advertising: Where online content is analyzed to understand the meaning of a web page and then deliver ads of interest to readers of that specific content
- Behavioral Targeting: Where the user's recent past browsing history is analyzed and exploited. For example, if a user has visited a number of smart phone sites in the past week, a business selling smart phones or smart phone applications can make an offer to a highly qualified audience.
- Keyword Advertising: Where businesses invest in "pay-per-click" ads, targeting visitors looking in search engines for very specific information. For example, if a visitor goes to Google looking for a "Midtown Restaurant," a local restaurant can pay to appear at or near the top of the search results.
Your Customers and Potential Customers Have Become Empowered by the Web
All of these marketing platforms are meaningless if you can't deliver what your potential customers are looking for: great products or services at the best possible price.
Because the web has opened the door to enormous competition, businesses must learn to provide the best products, at the best prices, and with the best customer service.Â Not only is it simple to compare prices online, you can compare the quality of service through a variety of review sites.
The latest development in price comparison comes from Amazon, which just released the "Price Check" phone app. This app allows shoppers to get pricing on a product by either scanning the product, taking a photograph of a product or even saying the name of the product.
In 2011, it is crucial for businesses to embrace the many opportunities presented by new and evolving web platforms. The Internet offers businesses ways to target qualified potential customers in ways that television, radio and print cannot.
Businesses that fail to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the web find themselves at a huge competitive disadvantage.
Gabriel Shaoolian is the founder and CEO of Blue Fountain Media, a results-driven website design and online marketing company based in Union Square, Manhattan. Read more about Gabriel here.