Evolving Your Agency for Online Marketing – Part 3

Before you dive in to this post, read Part 1 of the series. In Part 1, I sketched a map of where we’re going on this journey, and I assigned some homework, which I encourage you to do before you read on. You know what? I insist you do that homework. An essential step in evolving your traditional advertising agency for an online world is to overcome your fear of the unknown. You have to get in there and play with this stuff before you can start working with it. Cool?

What’s Out There?
The homework from my last post was intended to give you a feel for what’s happening in online marketing. Since you’re a marketer, I assume you did your homework with one key question in your head: “How can these sites, tools, devices, and applications help my clients connect with customers?” Here’s what I hope you discovered (and I hope you’ll share your discoveries in the comments below):

I asked you to set up a Facebook account so you could begin dipping your toe in the pool of social media (all terms in bold are discussed in more detail below under Introducing the Starting Lineup of Online Marketing). If you set up your Facebook account and added some profile information, some interesting things should have started happening. First, you should have seen some ads in the right column that were targeted to you. These ads are an example (albeit a very basic example) of online display advertising. Though these Facebook ads aren’t typically visually interesting, their power comes from targeting – you see ads that appeal to you because Facebook serves the ads based on your profile information, including your age, sex, geographical location, and interests.

If you did all of the Facebook homework, you posted daily status messages on Facebook, and began linking to some friends and family. This is the “social” in social media, and it matters to marketers for a number of reasons, not least because when real people (i.e., customers) talk in these social media spaces, they’re often sharing reviews and recommendations of products and services (i.e., your clients’ stuff). Did you start to see this happening on your Facebook Wall or the Walls of your friends?

The Google Alerts you set up should be giving you a regular peek at what’s being discussed online that’s relevant to you and your clients, where it’s being discussed, and how you can listen in. Perhaps using Google Alerts also got you thinking about how to make online content readily visible to search engines – that’s an important part of search marketing.

I encouraged you to try out all of the major search engines – Google, Bing, and Yahoo – and to spend some time looking over everything on the search results page. The search results that are displayed by search engines, how they’re formatted, and where the information comes from are all additional items of interest in search marketing, as are images, videos, news items, maps, and other media types that get displayed in search results.

The sponsored listings usually found on the right side and sometimes the top of your search results pages are paid search, which is also called pay-per-click or PPC for its most common payment model. Paid search is another important part of search marketing, but it merits its own time in your familiarization tour of online marketing.

Finally, I hope you played a bit with Foursquare on your phone. This is where social media and mobile meet, and it’s a rapidly growing opportunity for marketers to connect with customers.

Introducing the Starting Lineup of Online Marketing
So, if you did the homework from Part 1, you’ve met a few of online marketing’s players. Let’s bring them all out for a closer look.

By the way, I fully expect some dissent about how I’ve decided to divide the rich diversity of online marketing into discrete species. So let me have it. In the meantime, I submit the following as a substantially comprehensive and useful classification system.

  • Online Display — Probably the first thing everyone outside of advertising thinks of when you say “online advertising,” because everyone has seen a banner ad. This is the closest thing to traditional advertising that we have online. In fact, at its simplest, online display is just a “print ad” on a website. But there’s so much more you can do with an ad online. Want to know more? Do some searches on behavioral targeting, contextual targeting, geo targeting, retargeting, dynamic content, and rich media.
  • Search Marketing — This is the art and science of making sure that customers find your website when they’re searching for what you have. For simplicity, I divide search marketing into paid search (see the next item) and search engine optimization, which is everything you can do to improve search ranking without paying directly. Within search engine optimization (also called search optimization or SEO) there are elements of content strategy, customer research, design, development, analytics, and social media.
  • Paid Search — Paying to have your site appear in search results for desirable search terms. Google AdWords, AdSense (Google’s content network), and Bing (Microsoft adCenter) are the key players in paid search. (Yahoo Directory displays paid search ads, too, but they’ll soon all be served by Bing.)
  • Social Media — Social media is where people connect and share online. Facebook is a social networking site, as are LinkedIn, Twitter, and MySpace. Social bookmarking sites constitute another category of social media, and include Digg, Delicious, and Reddit. Review sites such as Yelp, blogs, and online forums, with their comments and discussions, also fall within social media.
  • Email — Love it or hate it, it can’t be denied that email campaigns are one of the most effective marketing media. Especially when done well, with relevant, useful, and timely content targeted to the customer. Email is the direct mail of online marketing, without the threat of global deforestation.
  • Web Design, Development, and Usability — Many traditional agencies begin their evolution into online marketing by building websites for their clients, because it seems like a small step from print ads to websites. It’s not. Do some reading on user experience, web standards, website usability, user testing, dynamic content, database development, information architecture, accessibility, and ecommerce, and you’ll start to see that there’s much more to a website than meets the eye.
  • Analytics — Online marketers were positively giddy when it first became apparent how much data could be collected about customers’ online behavior. All that tracking, measuring, and analyzing data falls under analytics, a term most commonly applied to measuring website traffic and behavior, but equally useful in email campaigns, paid search, social media, and other online media.
  • Mobile — Remember how Tom Cruise’s character couldn’t go anywhere in Minority Report without a store display or transit shelter greeting him by name and inviting him into a store? That’s real. And it’s in your pocket. Marketing through text messages and applications on cell phones and other mobile devices is hot and growing fast, because it can reach customers at critical points in the sales cycle – when they exit the movie theater hungry for a late-night snack or ready for a cocktail, for example.

Keeping Up On the Ever-Evolving Landscape of Online Marketing
With so much to learn about in online marketing, you need a study plan and some study habits. Here’s my recommendation for immersing yourself:

  • Make It a Priority — You already have an agency or a department to run, so there’s no doubt you’re busy. Nevertheless, there is much to learn, and much to gain from learning. Delegate something and use the time to explore.
  • Schedule Time Every Day — You can make great strides with an hour a day. Even 30 minutes a day would help, but put it on your calendar and hold it sacred. Use that time efficiently, by knowing in advance what you’ll investigate. An example of a general research plan would be Search Marketing Monday, Social Media Tuesday, Email Wednesday, Web Design Thursday, and Analytics Friday.
  • Make The Information Come To You — Set up systems for collecting and aggregating online information. Decide on your research topics for the coming month, and set up RSS feeds and Google Alerts, join interesting LinkedIn groups, subscribe to email newsletters, and set up a Twitter client like HootSuite or TweetDeck with live updates on topics of your choice.
  • Activate Your Network — Whom do you know who already has knowledge and expertise in some aspect of online marketing? Buy them lunch and pepper them with questions. Reaching out like this can be intimidating, because we never want our clients or our competitors to find out what we don’t know. Start with people you trust, but don’t hesitate to call a friendly competitor for a little coopetition.
  • Be Open To Discovery — You need a research plan, but be prepared to take some detours. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff out there in online marketing wonderland, and you can count on following a rabbit down a hole with startling regularity. Ready to start? Just open up your favorite search engine and type in whichever topic in this post caught your eye.

Next Up in Part 4
Got your RSS reader set up? Great! Make sure you’re subscribed to my blog. If not, mark your calendar to check back here in two weeks when I’ll bring you Part 4 – What Do You Want To Be?


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