At Deep Ripples we hold a firm and fundamental belief that investing in your online marketing is by far the smartest decision any business can make. Whether the focus is sales, marketing, lead generation, brand recognition, PR - it really doesn't matter; if your customers live in the 21st century, their purchasing decisions are highly influenced (if not directly driven) by what they find online. While most modern businesses know the importance of online marketing, there are still many that don't make the connection. What these businesses fail to realize is the more valuable your product or services and the more educated and/or affluent your customer, the more their decisions are made online.
For every business that wants to "get some more Internet", how do we begin our approach? As far as I can tell, there are only three ways to grow your business online:
- you can pay for it
- you can work for it
- you can hope for it
Let's be honest - regardless of your online business development strategy, it's going to cost you - definitely time and probably money. But, the pay/work/hope approaches each have their own particular payoffs that need be considered when evaluating your opportunities. Here's a breakdown on your options for growing business online.
Pay For It
Paying for business online is akin to traditional advertising media buys, but online. Adwords, affiliate sales, banner advertising, display networks - what all these things have in common is an immediate "buy in", which translates into immediate results (i.e. traffic to your website). The fee format may vary (pay-per-click, monthly buy, transactional commissions, etc), but essentially they are paid advertising.
- Pros: Immediate access to audience, shorter learning curve, anybody can play.
- Cons: Limited audience, short-term investment (once you stop paying, you have nothing to show for it), high cost of entry, "anybody can play" means cost and competition continues to increase, while your opportunity decreases (unless your audience is growing faster than your competition).
Work For It
Working for business online is most similar to offline networking. SEO, social media, content markethng, PR - all of these are opportunities to plant seeds that can be cultivated over time for recurring yields. This doesn't mean the effort is without an initial cost, but from that cost you potentially have years of (usually) passive benefit. Using the real-world networking as an example, with few exceptions, you're not going to close a deal at the first event you attend, but by attending regularly and "playing the game" fairly well, you'll begin to build a substantial reputation that can generate a powerful referral network. In fact, in time, people will refer you business when you're not even there.
- Pros: Broader reach, greater opportunity, short- and long-term strategy, low cost of entry, anyone can play.
- Cons: requires momentum and sustained effort, legitimate tactics usually take longer, may have to work your way through a large crowd to see benefits.
Hope For It
Hoping for business online is what I like to refer to as "faith-based marketing". Among some businesses (and entire industries it seems) is a deep abiding belief that merit somehow impacts online marketing and advertising. This is especially prominent when talking about SEO. I am still suprised when the marketing director of a best-in-class business says "we are head and shoulders above our competition - I'm sure Google will figure that out". For anyone carrying that abiding belief, know this: merit has nothing to do with marketing. As a matter of fact, even the quality of your product or service has little to do with your marketing. When helping our clients understand the factors involved in succeeding in your online marketing, we refer to quality as "the last important thing". Of course its critical to exceed customer expectations, but you don't get that chance until you've attracted, engaged and enrolled them into a relationship (although social media provides opportunity to leverage your positive client experiences into new business)
- Pros: anybody can play, more exciting (not knowing where your next sale is coming from), you'll be proven right when "this Internet thing" passes.
- Cons: missing the majority of your audience, reach is limited to people you physically touch, business is earned "the hard way".
Regardless of your stance, I recognize that for almost every business, some of your business will originate offline, (i.e. networking, traditional advertising, etc), but be assured that even leads generated "the old fashioned way" evaluate and qualify you based on their online experience. Whether its researching your stock performance, surveying your social sentiment, digging into your stakeholder affiliations, or doing background checks on your consultants, the web is a critical part of your consumer's buying process. The best part is its easy to measure it's impact in the business you have. The worst part is that you never know the business you didn't get because of what the prospect found (or didn't find) online.