The five pillars of digital marketing

Advertising today is experiencing a period of profound and accelerated transformation. Technologies such as blogs, podcasts and streaming video are permanently changing consumer attitude and behavior. The good news is that this transformation creates advertising opportunities for everyone. The key, however, is to integrate the tried and true old media outlets with the emerging new media to get more consumer engagement and better results from your advertising dollars.

Smart advertisers now realize that the trend is not going from old media outlets to new media outlets; rather, the trend is about combining the two media outlets so they work in harmony. That is, the old media (TV, radio and print) can be used to get the advertising message out into the marketplace, while the new media (online and wireless) get the consumers' engagement and response.

But before you rush out and start integrating your advertising, you need to first understand some basic tenets or pillars of digital marketing. These pillars are the foundation of your online ad campaign and give some much-needed discipline to digital marketing. Use these concepts to enhance the engagement in and response to your digital marketing campaign and successfully integrate your old and new media approaches.

Pillar 1: Personalization

Consumers will be more interested in your ad if it addresses their specific needs and interests. The question is how do you personalize an ad that's going out to so many people? Fortunately, with digital marketing, you can personalize. In fact, the Internet allows for ever-increasing ways to target and create personal experiences and ads for consumers.

For example, you could run a radio ad about your hot tubs (old media). At the end of your ad you direct people to your Web site to download coupons for a free package of spa fragrance (directing them to new media). Once visitors enter your site, you can ask them two or three short questions, such as how often they use their hot tubs, how many people and what ages are in the household, and the model and age of the hot tub. Just by knowing those three small pieces of information, you know a lot about that consumer and can then customize the coupons and future ads you direct to that person.

Always remember that junk advertising is actually good advertising that went to the wrong person. By personalizing your advertising to your consumers, you greatly reduce your investment in junk advertising, and you give people a meaningful experience with your company. Even better, when you can personalize shoppers' experiences on your Web site, it's like getting permission to market to them. They will actually want to know what you have to offer.

Ask yourself: How can we use targeting and personalization to introduce a new product and grow brand loyalty?

Pillar 2: Communities

Communities of practice and communities of interest are two types of online communities. A community of practice may be all the salespeople in a company or industry, or a group of cardiologists. It's a professional type of community where members share their ideas and best practices.

A community of interest may be people who love swimming or cooking or motorcycles. It's a hobby type of environment where people share similar interests or passions. You can even get granular when it comes to communities of interest. For example, you can narrow down your motorcycle community to one that only includes people who drive a Harley Davidson Heritage Soft Tail Classic. The more granular you get, the more targeted you can be in giving people what they would like rather than the junk they don't want.

Purina has an online community for both dog and cat owners. It provides expert advice and creates a place where consumers can enter a community of other dog or cat owners to share information. By setting up such a community, Purina can target its ads to the specific needs of the group. Every day, 8 million pet lovers visit the community of their choice. That's a lot of exposure and potential pet food purchases.

Ask yourself: How can hosting an electronic community of interest enhance customer interest in our products or services?

Pillar 3: Intelligent Multimedia Search

Internet searches are going through a metamorphosis. It's no longer about typing a term into a search engine and being satisfied with sifting through the results. Indeed, many searches yield so many results ("hot tub" yielded 31,700,000 results from Google) that it would not be possible to review even a small percentage of the pages. Search is getting intelligent and is taking into account more than just Web pages.

Intelligent multimedia search gives you the ability to search the Internet (or your computer) for text, graphics, video, animation and sound using simple commands. Even better, intelligent search uses software to help the user narrow the search down to find exactly what he or she is looking for. With this technology, people can use natural language or simple questions to find exactly what they want. For example, people could search their computers, their networks or the entire Internet for a segment of a video or audio recording, and retrieve it quickly.

All the major search engines are working diligently to make searching more intelligent so people get more-customized results. As an advertiser, this means you can even target specific geographic locations online. So let's say that you have retail stores in 10 different cities. Your ads could appear only when a search originates from a city where you have a store. That makes your ad more relevant to the online consumer searching for the product or service you offer.

Ask yourself: How can we use search engines to help consumers solve problems and find product information, including photographs, audio and video, faster?

Pillar 4: Content

As technology evolves, new forms of content emerge. Just a few short years ago podcasts didn't exist. Today, they're taking over the digital world. And once podcasts took root, it wasn't long until we had video podcasts. The same thing happened with blogs, where we now have video blogs. We also have sites like MySpace and YouTube where anyone can create and post videos.

Because all the software needed to create these new types of content is virtually free (much of it comes pre-loaded on computers today), anyone can create video or audio and unleash their creativity. As such, advertisers can stimulate users to create content that does the advertising for them. For example, a student created a Super Bowl ad recently. The ad was the result of an open contest and - remarkably - it was ranked the third best of all the Super Bowl commercials. The company didn't spend a dime for the concept.

Ask yourself: How can we use different forms of content, produced by either professionals or amateurs, to create interest in our products?

Pillar 5: Interactivity

In the past, advertising was static. Users would sit back passively and read or watch an ad. Today, people are interacting with digital content, clicking on icons, moving things around, playing games, adding content and in some cases, creating their own content. Any time you can get people to go beyond reading to clicking, you're getting consumers engaged. And engagement is the key to creating a positive outcome - action in the form of a sale.

Ask yourself: How can we add interactivity to our ads?

Think Five To Thrive

As you create and implement your old and new media advertising campaign, ask yourself if you're making use of all five pillars. If you're not able to use them all, then decide which ones will serve you best as you integrate old and new media outlets. A new world of advertising is dawning, and the new tools are available to all. If you don't use them, your competitors will.

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