Building a successful online presence
Getting clear on how to do it
If you are starting a new business or your existing website is looking a bit tired and is not generating clients, you may need to rethink …everything.
The Internet is changing at a dizzying pace. What we used to think was a good idea for a website (a home page, a product/services page, a contact page and a blog, with some sliders to show the range of products and services, and a Facebook ‘like’ button) no longer works effectively and may, in fact, be costing you money.
Stop thinking about websites and social media
You may need both, but they are just two of the tools available to you, and how/whether you use them will depend on the stage and nature of your business. First, however, you need a strategy. Then you can determine the most powerful tools and processes for meeting your business objectives, achieving specific goals and building a dynamic online presence.
How might you do this?
First, go offline. Spend some quiet time reflecting on your business, your dreams and your objectives. They are all uniquely yours, and no one can guarantee your success—especially if you are unclear about your goals. You must find your own unique way, which will always be the best route. Whether that process is complicated or simple, difficult or easy, will also be unique to you and your business idea. Don’t Google for solutions, nicely packaged and ready to go. You’ll be swamped with slick, believable and impressive approaches. Internet marketers are very good at ‘seduce and entrap’ methods designed to make you feel you will fail unless you buy their wares. It can get very confusing.
Do your own background work to make sure you have a clearly defined brand—mission, vision, values, goals and objectives. Without these, you are a ship without a sail, vulnerable and with no clear direction. Investing this kind of time in your business at the very beginning will enable you to make strong, informed and relevant choices, specifically designed to help you achieve what you want, rather than allowing yourself to be driven by fear or an urgent need for income.
Think ‘marketing funnel’
Whatever your business does, getting the right kind of attention and taking potential customers on the right ‘customer journey’ is crucial to your success. Be aware that ‘standard’ or ‘accepted’ approaches may not work for your business. In the same way that a pharmaceutical drug will not work for everyone, no given marketing method will ‘fix’ every company.
Let’s look at one example. I had one client for whom SEO was a waste of time and online marketing had a negative effect. This company was offering a distinctive, high-quality service that set them apart from the mainstream business sector. Their SEO efforts, while successful in terms of numbers, produced inquiries that were often uninformed and time-consuming, even if they ultimately resulted in a sale. Online marketing alienated customers who felt they already had a personal relationship with the business owners. The company also had an extensive website that had no clear purpose. Its main function was to communicate the business to potential clients and to get them to contact the company. But it also contained many extraneous pages and ideas that could confuse or misdirect potential customers. As is often the case, the website contained information that was only relevant once a relationship was established. In trying to ‘cover all the bases’, it was actually getting in the way of attracting customers. Once customers were on board, only the blog was relevant as a brand awareness and educational tool for both potential and actual customers. Specifically designed landing pages, linked from blogs, did a better job of attracting new customers than did the website.
What this shows is that the marketing funnel for any business has to be specifically designed to take potential customers on a journey that is relevant, attractive and effective. While it could be argued that, in the example above, more could be learned in order to hone these activities and get better results, a clearer initial understanding of their best clients’ journeys would have yielded more cost-effective results without alienating existing customers and those who could become clients later with more careful nurturing.
Go wide, then focus
I always find it best to make decisions as late as possible in the exploratory process. You’re less likely to miss the occasional gems and ‘aha’ moments if you have adequate time to relax and digest information. You’re also more likely to come up with creative solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
Now, more than ever, marketing is about successfully communicating with individuals in their own language and building excellent relationships. We no longer have tolerance for generalized messaging, impersonal email blasts and high-pressure sales pitches. As is often said, these days, the customers are in control—as they should be!
With the Internet now firmly established as the default mechanism for efficiently creating these relationships, we are sometimes challenged to look beyond the online world for more creative ways to develop them.
Asking clients questions and A/B testing approaches are the best ways to discover the most effective options for your business, and where to focus your efforts. Leave all options, however unlikely they may seem, on the table until you have enough information to make strong choices.
You may feel you know what’s best for your business if you already have some track record. However, even if you are right (which is often not the case!), you may be missing out on powerful creative opportunities, better results or simply more economical approaches. Applying a beginner’s mind to your business helps to keep things fresh and dynamic.
Let inspiration in!
Sometimes, the most unlikely measures can have surprising benefits. One client of mine, for instance, went a long way to improving customer relationships and internal morale, simply by re-designing its vehicle livery. Another client, in a high-risk, competitive industry, established itself as an industry thought leader with the production of a simple brochure. Online activity played no part in these success stories, as is often the case.
Do you have any stories of off-beat, unusual or even bizarre successes that resulted from creative marketing? If so, please share them in the comments below.
Coming next time:
The building blocks of your new website: how to ensure flexibility, scalability and relevant data acquisition
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