Remember how corporate web sites used to look a few years ago? Just one or two clunky pages of text describing a company's services and products? It seems desperately old-fashioned now, but four or five years ago using the Web as a place to display an electronic brochure really was the cutting edge of marketing. Technology soon evolved, static brochure sites became fully-functional transactional e-commerce sites, and the focus shifted from online marketing to online sales.
Many companies are now rediscovering the Internet as a marketing tool - and one that can reduce the costs of traditional marketing by several orders of magnitude. As if this wasn't reason enough to tear up the offline marketing plan , it also makes the difficult stuff - analysing and evaluating the results of campaigns - far easier. E-marketing campaigns can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make them, but here are some of the ways in which they can be used to save money, get closer to customers and increase sales.
The Internet lets you provide instant marketing information to customers and prospects worldwide. For example, when you make changes to your product catalogue, there's no need to reprint and mail new catalogues - you can update the information on your web site in minutes and at a fraction of the cost. The same principle can also be applied to direct mail - if you build a list of customers' email addresses and obtain their permission to send them relevant marketing information by e-mail, you can do away with costly direct mail campaigns and ensure that the information gets to the customer instantly. As well as being incomparably cheaper than direct mail, this method means that you can instantly record and monitor the results of a campaign as people respond to the mail or click on to your website.
Get to know your market
Intelligent use of data gathering, storage and analysis software can help you instantly analyse the results of all your online marketing campaigns, and identify ways in which they can be refined. It can also enable you to monitor visits to your website and track what visitors are interested in. Over time, you will be able to build up a picture of what people like and what they don't like, and use this information to enhance the content on your website so that they keep coming back. Personalisation software will let you provide a tailored homepage for each registered visitor, increasing the attractiveness - "stickiness" - of your site.
From monologue to dialogue
Providing a forum for visitor feedback will also help you get to know your customers and prospects better, and this can gradually be built into an online community or set of communities where you can interact directly with visitors on the web site. Engaging customers in direct conversation like this can be an invaluable opportunity for the marketer to gain instant feedback from the market, saving time and money.
There are many more ways to harness the Web for marketing initiatives - Internet-based seminars, virtual conferences, webcast press announcements, online surveys... the beauty of it is that you can start small - an e-mail marketing campaign say, and build your e-marketing strategy incrementally. You may well find that the only limit is the marketer's imagination.
This column was prepared by Oracle Corporation. Questions can be sent to email@example.com