On­line Mar­ket­ing for your Small Busi­ness

The in­ter­net has ex­panded dra­mat­i­cally in the last decade and is be­com­ing a part of ev­ery as­pect of daily life. Busi­nesses are recog­nis­ing that their cus­tomers spend a con­sid­er­able amount of time on­line and are com­ing up with in­no­va­tive ways to market and

Tourism Tattler - - EDITORIAL -

Learn­ing about the in­ter­net is the first step

Be­fore you dive into on­line mar­ket­ing, the first step you should take is to learn about the in­ter­net world. If you are un­fa­mil­iar with on­line be­hav­iour, lingo and tools, you could do con­sid­er­able harm to your brand im­age. Masha du Toit, an ex­pe­ri­enced in­ter­net teacher, says that web skills are highly sought af­ter in our in­ter­con­nected world, and that no for­ward-think­ing busi­nessper­son can af­ford to ig­nore the in­ter­net. Cre­ate a solid foun­da­tion of web know-how so that you can build ap­pro­pri­ate, re­spon­sive and lu­cra­tive on­line mar­ket­ing cam­paigns. You can achieve this through the Tat­tler’s Tourism Sup­port Se­vices fa­cil­ity (see pages 14 - 15 in this mag­a­zine) or by tak­ing an on­line course in the sub­ject.

Ba­sic prin­ci­ples

Once you feel com­fort­able on­line, you can start to plan your on­line mar­ket­ing strat­egy by keep­ing the fol­low­ing ba­sic prin­ci­ples in mind.

• Cre­ate a holis­tic strat­egy. To be truly successful on­line, you need to cre­ate a var­ied and in­ter­con­nected strat­egy across var­i­ous plat­forms. For ex­am­ple, there’s no sense creat­ing a beau­ti­ful web­site if you ne­glect to op­ti­mise it for search en­gine and don’t spread the word on so­cial me­dia and in emails. Each mar­ket­ing chan­nel must feed into and build on the oth­ers.

Only use what you need. Some peo­ple who ven­ture into on­line mar­ket­ing try to do it all – they open pro­files on ev­ery so­cial net­work, build web­sites, send emails, launch SMS cam­paigns – but never take the mo­ment to con­sider what is best for their brand and tar­get au­di­ence. Only use the tools that are ap­pro­pri­ate to your im­age and that you know your cus­tomers are also us­ing.

Start slow. On­line mar­ket­ing takes years to per­fect and op­ti­mise, so don’t be afraid to start with one or two tools and ex­pand from there. Do­ing too much at once will cre­ate added stress and raise your ex­penses, and will usu­ally mean that you can­not de­vote your­self to any one as­pect fully.

Don’t fo­cus on the hard sell. Very lit­tle of in­ter­net mar­ket­ing in­volves proper ad­ver­tis­ing and hard sell­ing; it’s usu­ally more about sub­tle ap­proaches, com­mu­nity build­ing and public re­la­tions. Pushi­ness and bla­tant self-pro­mo­tion are gen­er­ally not ap­pre­ci­ated on­line. When you get these as­pects right on­line, the sales will fol­low nat­u­rally. There are many as­pects or ap­proaches that you can take when mar­ket­ing your busi­ness on­line. The most pop­u­lar ones are creat­ing a so­cial space for your cus­tomers, creat­ing an on­line “of­fice” and get­ting word out about your brand.

Build­ing a com­mu­nity

So­cial me­dia plat­forms like Face­book and Twit­ter are per­haps the best­known on­line mar­ket­ing tools and are ideal for so­cial brand­ing. So­cial brand­ing is the process of mar­ket­ing your brand in an on­line so­cial space. It’s all about creat­ing brand eq­uity, in­creas­ing aware­ness and fos­ter­ing loyal com­mu­ni­ties.

So­cial me­dia are less about mak­ing di­rect sales and more about build­ing a com­mu­nity of fans and fol­low­ers. So­cial net­works are used for chat­ting, shar­ing in­for­ma­tion and pho­tos, writ­ing rec­om­men­da­tions and pass­ing on links to friends. They are a place for hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with your cus­tomers, re­spond­ing to ques­tions, ad­dress­ing complaints, of­fer­ing spe­cial deals and shar­ing me­dia and of­fers.

In ba­sic terms, so­cial brand­ing in­volves creat­ing pro­files on so­cial me­dia web­sites and fill­ing them with brand-re­lated con­tent that is geared to­wards re­in­forc­ing the busi­ness’ de­sired brand im­age. It’s not enough to cre­ate a Face­book, Twit­ter or WordPress ac­count, how­ever; you need to en­gage daily, mean­ing­fully and ap­pro­pri­ately with your so­cial net­works. Con­ver­sa­tions, good and bad, will hap­pen around your brand re­gard­less of what you do. There­fore, it’s vi­tal that you par­tic­i­pate in them and steer them in the right di­rec­tion. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in­volves both act­ing – creat­ing and adding con­tent, links and in­for­ma­tion – and re­act­ing – lis­ten­ing and re­spond­ing to cus­tomers.

Hav­ing an ac­tive and en­gag­ing so­cial me­dia strat­egy is a large el­e­ment of build­ing a rep­utable brand im­age. If cus­tomers see your ac­tiv­ity fre­quently, they will be­gin to trust your busi­ness over the long term. Your busi­ness will ap­pear sup­port­ive, le­git­i­mate and en­dur­ing. While it won’t hap­pen in­stantly, this good­will will build and will be­come in­cred­i­bly valu­able.

Creat­ing your on­line of­fice

Be­fore the ad­vent of the in­ter­net, com­pa­nies needed an of­fice or some sort of phys­i­cal pres­ence to in­ter­act with cus­tomers. This in­cluded the need for high rental fees and re­cep­tion staff, and se­verely lim­ited the scope of the busi­ness. On­line, the pic­ture is very dif­fer­ent. Many com­pa­nies now have a vir­tual pres­ence, and some ex­ist as a web­site alone – their “of­fice” is a dig­i­tal ad­dress on the web. Cus­tomers are com­fort­able in­ter­act­ing with a busi­ness through the dig­i­tal por­tal and of­ten find it more con­ve­nient, ef­fi­cient and re­ward­ing. They can ex­am­ine the prod­uct of­fer­ings, do re­search, read tes­ti­mo­ni­als and con­tact the com­pany in one place, with­out hav­ing to travel phys­i­cally. A web­site is the cor­ner­stone of any mar­ket­ing strat­egy – all of the ad­verts, so­cial me­dia, email mes­sages and so on must di­rect to one cen­tral space to be truly ef­fec­tive. It is pos­si­ble to repli­cate the in­ti­macy, per­son­al­ity and in­ter­ac­tion of the phys­i­cal of­fice through a web­site, and it al­lows the busi­ness to market it­self glob­ally. The market reach po­ten­tial is end­less – but make sure that your in­fra­struc­ture can han­dle do­ing busi­ness in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Hav­ing an at­trac­tive, pro­fes­sional and in­for­ma­tive web­site is es­sen­tial. It is the de­fin­i­tive source of in­for­ma­tion about your busi­ness, and a place where you can in­clude the most up-to-date in­for­ma­tion avail­able.

Spread­ing in­for­ma­tion

The in­ter­net seems to be an end­less database of in­for­ma­tion, so get­ting the word out about your busi­ness re­quires care­ful thought and tar­get­ing. Con­vey­ing your mes­sage over the clut­ter can be dif­fi­cult, so it is very im­por­tant to be orig­i­nal and vis­i­ble. The more pre­cisely you can tar­get your in­for­ma­tion to peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in your busi­ness, the more successful you will be in gen­er­at­ing sales. A few ways of do­ing this are creat­ing con­tent, op­ti­mis­ing your web­site and send­ing email mar­ket­ing cam­paigns.

Con­tent and search en­gine op­ti­mi­sa­tion (SEO) go hand in hand. Creat­ing con­tent in­volves writ­ing web­site copy, ar­ti­cles, blog posts, brochures and any other writ­ten or mul­ti­me­dia in­for­ma­tion about your busi­ness. SEO is the process of op­ti­mis­ing this con­tent so that the right peo­ple can eas­ily find it by us­ing a search en­gine like Google. SEO is a highly spe­cialised skill, but you can learn to do some ba­sic SEO your­self.

Set­ting up a reg­u­lar email news­let­ter is an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of how to keep your cur­rent cus­tomers up to date on in­for­ma­tion about your busi­ness and to in­form them of spe­cial of­fers, dis­counts and deals. Email is an ex­cel­lent way to reach peo­ple be­cause you can tar­get your re­cip­i­ents very specif­i­cally; you can gather data from your own cus­tomers and find other likely peo­ple to ap­proach on­line. If you in­clude good con­tent and of­fers that your cus­tomers en­joy, it will be easy for them to pass the email on to their friends and grow your cus­tomer base for you.

Mea­sur­ing your ef­fec­tive­ness

Per­haps the big­gest ben­e­fit to mar­ket­ing your­self on­line is be­ing able to mon­i­tor and track your ef­forts ac­cu­rately. The web of­fers a wide va­ri­ety of an­a­lyt­ics tools that can help you un­der­stand your cus­tomer by tracking and re­port­ing on their on­line be­hav­iour on your web­site. An­a­lyt­ics tools can show you, for ex­am­ple, how many peo­ple are vis­it­ing your site, which pages are the most pop­u­lar, and how they spend their time on your page. Mea­sur­ing your key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors gives you valu­able in­sight into your on­line mar­ket­ing return on in­vest­ment. For ex­am­ple, see­ing how many peo­ple opened your mar­ket­ing email and clicked on the link to your web­site will im­me­di­ately tell you if your ap­proach was successful. The im­me­di­acy of on­line mar­ket­ing means you can test and adapt your strat­egy to bet­ter reach your au­di­ence.

Re­mem­ber the risks

While on­line mar­ket­ing is easy, ac­ces­si­ble and very pow­er­ful, it also comes with its own set of risks. The big­gest one is that an on­line pres­ence leaves you ex­posed and trans­par­ent – ev­ery­body on the in­ter­net can po­ten­tially see your con­tent, com­ments and strate­gies, so any mis­step will be mag­ni­fied con­sid­er­ably. While a small typo on your web­site will be ex­cused, the ag­gres­sive com­ment you leave on an unhappy cus­tomer’s Face­book page will not. The adage “think be­fore you speak” should al­ways be on the forefront of your mind.

The other big risk is le­gal trou­ble, espe­cially in light of South Africa’s Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act. It is never ac­cept­able to spam or ha­rass any­one on­line, so be care­ful with any di­rect mar­ket­ing that you do. Cus­tomers should al­ways have the op­tion of opt­ing out of email com­mu­ni­ca­tion, for ex­am­ple. Break­ing the law when mar­ket­ing is not only eth­i­cally un­sound, it also makes your busi­ness look bad.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.