Digital marketing: Manual - Explore the online options

The increase in broadband penetration has provided a wealth of digital marketing opportunities.

Digital marketing can be intimidating. If you are used to employing the stock media of TV, radio or posters to put your message across, reaching people via 'new' media presents seemingly complex, uncharted channels.

But new media are no longer new - everybody who is anybody is doing it. The technicalities are simple to master and, as a marketer, you cannot afford to miss the opportunities presented by a channel set to overtake national newspapers' share of advertising revenue this year.

Digital marketing is a blanket term for a range of techniques: search-engine marketing; viral campaigns; email; display formats, such as banners or other rich-media animations; and mobile advertising. The relationship between marketing and business strategy in the online world is far more intimate than that of offline advertising.

Digital signposts such as emails or banners link potential customers direct to websites, where visits can turn into sales. In this way, digital marketing offers you the opportunity to have a conversation with people in an online environment and to take consumers through the full marketing cycle, all the way from awareness to purchase.

As a result, digital consumption and convergence are mushrooming. As broadband penetration increases and people spend more time online, there will be a switch from push to pull marketing. No longer content to be passive, people are proactively finding and pulling up the content and brands they want to interact with. As importantly, the internet increasingly functions as a channel for the delivery of TV and radio content. Both these factors mean consumers can choose the content and, more importantly, the brands to which they are exposed and interact with. This has huge implications for contemporary marketing strategy.

Search

Search marketing accounts for more than half of all online advertising revenue and is the gateway to nearly everything we do online. Web users rarely type internet site addresses into the browser bars - they locate them through search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, Ask or MSN.

Brands bid for keywords people use to search for goods, services or content online, and then pay the search engine if a user clicks on their link. So you pay only for what you get, and the effectiveness of your campaign can be tracked online, enabling you to see your return on investment, often in real time.

'A florist can run a seasonal online campaign to target Valentine's Day and then easily arrange to stop that campaign on 15 February, thereby ensuring there is no wastage from their adspend,' says Chrysi Philalithes, vice-president of global marketing and communications at pay-per-click search company MIVA.

Search's other big advantage is its targeting capabilities. It serves your links to eyeballs that are looking for something in your sector. There is a strong relationship between search and offline advertising; a study by Yahoo! found that 92% of people have searched for additional information about a product or brand name they spotted in an ad. People who see your posters and TV ads will then go and search for your brand online.

People use search engines to find everything from newspaper articles to television commercials on sites such as YouTube, Google Video and Blinkx, so your search-engine strategy shouldn't just be about driving people to your website. With some lateral thinking, there is so much more you can do to link your traditional advertising and online campaign.

Display

Display advertising online is everything from banner ads to rich-media animations that dance across the page. With some creative thinking, practically anything is possible, as Kieron Matthews, marketing director at the Internet Advertising Bureau, says: 'It can either be an awareness tool or a direct-response one.'

Although most banner advertising campaigns click through to websites, many agency experts argue that the medium is as much about brand awareness. Display is also easily integrated into above-the-line activity. 'The bad way is "matching luggage" - taking a picture of a TV or poster ad and putting it online. This isn't the best way because it doesn't make the most of the environment you are in,' says Matthews. A better method is to ensure that digital is a part of the strategy from conception, and that the copy and approach is adapted across all environments.

An example of this was a banner campaign run by the Design Council to promote its Design in Business 2005-2006 report. New media agency Syzygy built a FactFinder tool to make its contents accessible online. It was the first time that the council, which is part-funded by the taxpayer, had used online.

'The most important thing is that we were able to engage with many more people. We know that 22,000 individuals visited FactFinder, which is a good outcome - many thousands more than we would have managed through traditional means alone and a lot more cost-effectively,' says the council's marketing director, James Hobbs.

Email

Used wisely, email offers advertisers the chance to reach out to individuals with targeted communications, and is both a customer-acquisition tool and a branding mechanism. It can generate immediate responses - the more targeted, the higher the response will be - and is relatively cheap.

Its use as a marketing channel should be ongoing, engaging consumers who have specifically expressed an interest in products or services with relevant messages that add value.

'To maximise the effectiveness of this kind of communication, organisations should look to differentiate their messaging to consumers, based on their attributes and lifestyle needs. At a basic level, this might be their age, sex or income level,' says Louis Fernandes, account director at Acxiom Digital.

A good example is Times Preview, a weekly email newsletter recently launched for Times Newspapers by the customer-communications company Broadsystem. Users who opt in to the service build a personal profile and are served content tailored to it, meaning no two people receive the same email.

The initiative has 250,000 unique users and statistics from the company show that 71% of recipients always or usually open their email. More than half of those reading it agree that receiving them make them more likely to purchase The Times or The Sunday Times. 'It took Broadsystem seven months to devise and build the programme, yet the investment has paid dividends - look at the response rates,' says Andy Mullins, general manager at Times Newspapers.

On the downside, email is very easy to do, meaning it is open to abuse. So treading carefully is imperative.

Viral

The definition of viral marketing is a piece of content so good that people want to pass it on. An example is Australian agency Tequila Digital's 'Trailer Crashers' for the launch of the movie Wedding Crashers. A clever application allowed people to replace the faces of key characters in the trailer with their own.

Viral relies on the quality of the creative. So if you are going to use it, do it well - if people fail to engage with it, they will not pass it on.

Mobile

Marketing campaigns via mobile phones and other handheld devices are becoming more common. The personal nature of mobiles is both a strength and a weakness. Unlike an email campaign, which if implemented well can hit the spot, consumers have a low tolerance threshold to advertising messages received via their phone.

However, mobile has unique advantages. 'Only one medium allows instantaneous response in and out of the home, without the need for a bank of call-centre operatives sitting there round the clock, costing money,' says Jonathan Bass, managing director of mobile marketing company Incentivated.

The mobile channel can also speed reaction times for above-the-line areas of a campaign - people can order a brochure during a TV ad, for example. CASE STUDY - COLGATE

One would imagine that an FMCG brand without a sales website would benefit little from online advertising.

However, a cross-media campaign by Colgate disproves this. It used a methodology endorsed by the Advertising Research Foundation to optimise the media mix. The objective was to increase purchase intent among consumers between the ages of 18 and 49, and the company allocated more money to online than it normally would, studying the branding impact of each ad medium.

'Colgate's data showed that it cost 23% more to encourage consumer purchase using TV alone, compared with using TV in combination with online' says the report. 'For its multi-channel campaign, reallocating marketing money to online advertising would be significantly more cost effective at driving purchase intent and enhancing key branding metrics.'

The study shows that by allocating 7% of its media money to online, purchase intent increased 3.8%. This represents a 9% increase over a plan that used only television and print. Furthermore, by increasing online allocation to 11%, purchase intent rose to 4.3% - a 20% hike over a plan that used solely television and print.

The online campaign appears to have had a solid impact on Colgate's supermarket sales. The TNS Worldpanel 2006 Biggest Brands survey showed its value sales rose 13% to between £160-£165m for the year to 23 April. This increase made Colgate the 31st-most-valuable FMCG brand in terms of revenue, and second in the toiletries category only to Gillette.

The campaign, which focused on its Sensitive variant and the launch of whitening products, also contributed to the brand capturing 41% of the £270m toothpaste market.

DIGITAL MARKETING - DOS AND DON'TS

Do make sure you have a digital strategy in place - you cannot afford not to

Do make sure you approach search laterally. It is about more than keywords

Do invest in the creative quality of online display ads

Do include digital as part of your overall advertising strategy, right from the planning stage. Digital should always be part of an integrated campaign.

Don't abuse email

Don't be lazy about online; convergence means that all your media communications should come together via the medium

Don't forget to track your online campaigns

Don't let campaigns run unchanged. Watch your response rates and make the adjustments that can maximise your return on investment.

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