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Developing an Effective E-Marketing Strategy with an Application Service Provider

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The sustaining value of a Web site—and an entire e-business strategy—is the enabling of more interactive communication with customers. Many ASPs promise e-marketing, with a few being focused on providing brochureware while others build truly interactive means of learning what customers want. This article focuses on how to make the right decision for your company's e-marketing direction on the Web.

Your Web site may have the same look as your brochures, presentations, and even your commercials, but only the first step has been taken in creating a true e-marketing strategy. The point is that a Web site is a tool for getting more in touch with customers and building a stronger communications link with every customer who visits your site.

What is e-marketing? It's more than just putting your brochures and collateral materials on a Web site; it's also more than just creating a series of PowerPoint slides in HTML format and putting them out for the world to view. What e-marketing really entails is creating a reason for visitors to return to your site again and again, and, for those who have a need for what you're offering, the creation of a sustainable customer base. The world of e-marketing at times can be a slippery slope, as a few companies who can place brochures on a Web site will tell you that's e-marketing. Often called brochureware, this approach is readily apparent from looking at the reference sites of companies. The spectrum of e-marketing is wide, with brochureware-oriented sites, static in nature, at one end, and sites full of opt-in opportunities at the other. This static-to-responsive spectrum is a useful way to think about e-marketing overall and specifically for the development of your Web site. Even if you already have a Web site, consider moving further up the spectrum of responsiveness toward the point of integrating tools that add value to the content of your Web site, and provide the visitor with a reason to return.

There's also the issue of metrics, and being able to see just what has been accomplished on your site. The fact that responsiveness is best illustrated with metrics needs to be part of any e-business strategy going forward. The focus of this article is on how you can measure the responsiveness of your site from a marketing standpoint. Relying on metrics over the anecdotal and a very limited measure (Web site hits) highlights the need for partnering with an application service provider (ASP) who can provide both the opportunities to make a marketing-centric site more responsive in its approach to presenting content and tools, and more amendable to metrics associated with its performance.

What E-Marketing Is and Isn't

There's a common perception that e-marketing describes any site that has a logo, banner ads, a phone number or address, and maybe a few brochures in HTML format or downloadable as Adobe Acrobat PDF files. But sites that rely exclusively on content they have in other areas of their business are shortchanging themselves when it comes to creating a memorable Web site that visitors will return to again and again. Companies that post brochures are getting only 20% of the value of their Web investment. Those that purchase or lease email distribution lists and then randomly send thousands of email messages are both alienating potential customers from their business and showing their products to be either mildly relevant or not relevant at all to a customer's needs.

E-marketing isn't posting brochureware or doing en mass email blasts; it's adding value to the visitor's experience.

E-marketing is creating an interactive, collaborative relationship with your customer. This can begin with opt-in email programs, which are increasingly being seen as the polite approach to getting back in touch with customers. Strong e-marketing sites focus on how they can be relevant to the visitor, thereby adding value to the experience of visiting the site.

Examples of companies doing a great job of e-marketing include Southwest Airlines, who for example have a Click 'n Save® Internet Special campaign that's always running, and offer visitors to the site a chance to receive updates on travel savings via email. When you visit this site, notice that there isn't a strong push for you to opt in; it's very low key, and strives to be informative. This is an example of being very relevant to both the business and personal traveler at the same time. Southwest is known for having one of the best customer satisfaction ratings in the airline industry—quite a feat, as legislation is pending today over airline passengers' rights due to the large number of complaints against other carriers. Southwest also makes the site valuable by making their Travel Center simple yet relevant to the needs of the traveler. Lastly, the navigation of their Schedules, Fares, and Reservations areas is intuitive, uncluttered, very simple to navigate. The site is very relevant to anyone traveling, and it's easy to see why this airline's site gets even more hits than Travelocity.com during a typical month. Clearly, Southwest has found a way to be both responsive and relevant to their customers, even adding e-commerce to the site and challenging the effect of travel portals on their business.

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