To say that the internet has brought about a social revolution is to state the obvious.
Close to 80 per cent of the population is now online and whether they spend their time shopping, gaming, social networking or simply surfing, it has become a social and business phenomenon – some might say obsession. According to a recent survey, 1 in 4 people spend more time online than they do sleeping.
The implications for advertising and PR are obvious. Some retailers complain that the online marketplace is taking over the high street one, and when you look at last Christmas’s sales – traditionally the high point of the year for the retail trade – you can see why.
UK internet users made 84 million visits to retail websites on Christmas Eve and 107 million visits on Christmas Day – up 86 per cent and 71 per cent, respectively, compared to the same days the previous year, according to Experian Information Service.
Boxing Day topped the lot with consumers making 113 million visits to retailers’ websites – up 17 per cent on the previous year; presumably not all were made simply to check how much their presents had cost!
The lesson for businesses in all sectors is that digital marketing and PR should now be indispensable weapons in their promotional armoury.
But where to begin? The chief cornerstone of online marketing always used to be a website, the virtual shop window or reception desk of a business. It is the prospective customers’ first port of call and has taken the place of the sales brochure or corporate literature traditionally used to set out a company’s wares or establish its credibility.
This is not to suggest, incidentally, that online promotion is a wholesale replacement for traditional (or proven) promotional activity. On the contrary, companies now exercise 360 degree campaigns which use a whole range of promotional tools from direct mail to SEO. A complementary mix is the key to developing, and maintaining, a strong brand presence, as opposed to simply focusing on product.
The internet may be the world’s biggest marketplace, but the infinity of cyberspace is a big place to get lost in, so a website alone is just a beginning. There is the question of driving traffic to your website, and there are a variety of ways to achieve this, both on and off line. One way is even through traditional media – such as in the newspaper you’re reading – a strategy that even on-line media moguls like Google and EBay are not above using.
And then of course there is social media, with all its ramifications – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. The ‘social media, is it the new PR or advertising?’ argument is still raging but I think this misses the point to a great extent.
I would suggest that it mainly falls into the advertising category because of its measurability, but why try and force it into any of our preconceived definitions of the promotional mix? The real questions you should be asking are about goals and what will the definition of a successful campaign outcome be – are we looking to create a buzz, or to make sales? For instance, the success of PR used to be measured mainly in column inches achieved. To that can now be added likes, tweets, posted comments and much, much more.
There’s also promotion via search engines. A good example of this was a recent campaign run for Snickers who wanted to target office workers, but who knew that viral and social content could well be blocked by IT departments. They worked with Google to produce an ad every time a user misspelt a word in a search (which needless to say is quite common). The search result read: ‘Yu cant spel properlie wen hungrie – Grab yourself a Snikkers’. They targeted 500,000 people in three days, they got them in two! A humorous engagement, brilliantly executed!
If one cornerstone of online marketing is a website, the other is a blog – embedded or linked to the former – which can form the heart of a company’s social media activities. A blog can be your business, but with a lighter, more personal touch.
If there is one lesson that marketers and PR’s have been forced to learn from the digital revolution it is this: the key importance of informality, of befriending and chatting with customers, involving them and inviting their opinions, and showing a human face rather than a corporate front.
Of course the best sales people have always known and practiced this, but now the technology is making it increasingly evident and giving the competitive edge to customer-centric businesses.
There are technical strategies that will hone that edge – modern CSS built websites with management systems, the preprogramming of some of your social media and so on – but the key to a successful digital marketing campaign is in deciding from the outset what it is that you want to achieve, what tools you will need to enable you to do it, a timeframe and, dare I say it, ‘a budget’! However you decide to tackle it one thing’s for certain – non-engagement is no longer an option.