The 'No Excuses' Plan for Online Marketing

The argument is over, says one expert: what your current and potential customers don't know can, and will, hurt you.

According to analyst firm IDC, the online advertising segment grew 27% in 2007, and yet when considering if and when to invest in online marketing efforts, many manufacturers go through a litany of excuses. Search engine optimizers like Andy Komack, president of Komarketing Associates, have heard all of the excuses, such as:

  • "We know all of the potential customers in our space and we are in contact with them in some form already."
  • "Our Web site serves its purpose as a capabilities overview, and attracting more visitors is not a high priority."
  • "We have a limited budget and we are not convinced of the payoff from online marketing."
  • "We just have not explored the opportunities, and we have limited technical resources in house."

Although he doesn't fault manufacturers for thinking along these lines, Komack says that each of these excuses is flawed in its own way:

"We already know the potential customer pool."

These days, people with needs use the Internet for fulfillment, whether to research questions they have about technical issues, find third-party opinions on products, look for new ideas to improve productivity, and/or to source new vendors. "If your company doesn't have an online presence that can easily be found in search engines, product review sites, industry Web sites and user forums, you can be assured that these searchers will find one of your competitors," warns Komack. "Even if you're already well entrenched with a customer, your lack of online presence has just given a competitor a window of opportunity to establish a dialogue that may eventually lead to a shift by your customer to that other vendor."

In addition, many of your current customers have multiple people responsible for procurement, and there is always the chance that even your longest-held procurement contacts won't last forever. So, by making sure that you can easily be found online, "you give yourself a chance to gain additional business from current customers at various procurement points, and give yourself the chance of being the resource that any new procurement people will find on the Web," Komack says.

"Our Web site does just fine as a capabilities overview."

If your Web site doesn't serve at least two primary purposes -- acting as a lead generation vehicle and providing technical resources for users -- you're losing half the battle, observes Komack. "Even if your primary sales channel is a dealer network, your Web site should serve as a means of generating leads to pass on to your dealer network."

Not only should your Web site serve as a means of capturing leads (which also can build a nice in-house mailing list), a manufacturing Web site should also provide excellent, up-to-date content about technical specifications and, ideally, provide content that will help end users utilize your equipment more efficiently (this goes for finished products as well as OEM products, says Komack). "This additional content will help build loyalty to your brand and will drive search engine traffic in a variety of ways."

"We have a limited budget -- what's the payoff?"

The payoff comes in many forms. "Many manufacturers offer product lines with high ticket values, and in some cases even one or two sales can cover an entire year's online marketing budget," says Komack. In other cases, it takes more transactions to cover the online marketing budget, but again, the value versus margin of sales in a manufacturing scenario usually easily covers the expenses involved. This is not to mention the lifetime value associated with recurring purchases, service contracts, parts, etc. Also, Komack reminds potential clients that "online marketing allows for a high level of tracking capabilities, so you can associate spending choices online with leads generated and sales that come later in the sales cycle."

Another payoff comes in the form of gathering marketing intelligence about your industry, assures Komack. "You can gather valuable information about how people search for your products, such as keywords used in search engines, and leverage that information to other marketing efforts such as creating marketing collateral and identifying customer needs that you may not have been aware of in the past."

Komack tells his manufacturing clients to consider that "every time a prospect finds you online, that is one more opportunity to keep that potential customer from your competitors."

"We have limited technical resources."

There is a perception that online marketing, even search engine optimization, requires that your company has highly specialized technical resources in-house to oversee the project. "Most online marketing agencies either have the capabilities to make any necessary Web site changes for you, or can recommend affordable resources, or can work with your technical staff to make things easy," assures Komack.

Manufacturers that do not use their Web sites effectively and do not build an online presence, Komack concludes, are missing significant opportunities for generating leads, building customer loyalty, gathering marketing intelligence, and keeping prospects from competitors.

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