December 8, 2008 Phil

Why online marketing will flourish in difficult economic times

You don’t have to look far these days to find bad news on the global economy. The American credit crunch has pushed the panic button on an economic time bomb that has ticking for the past 5-10 years. Inflated energy costs, low price mortgages, record high personal debt and an overheated stock market have helped to fuel one of the biggest economic slowdowns in 75 years. Businesses are tightening their belts for an extremely challenging 2009 and as a result marketing departments will have to do more with less. When dollars get tight every expenditure has to be justified. The importance of measurement grows along with the need for accountability. Businesses scrutinize every marketing tactic and begin look for new, more innovative ways to generate results. For online marketing this shift will present a huge opportunity for growth as dollars get move out of underperforming media into online budgets.

Carol Krol, a senior analyst for e-Marketer says, “The shift in consumer usage toward digital media will continue to erode TV’s share” (in 2009). According to eMarketer; television, radio, newsprint and magazine advertising spends are all going to decline in 2009 while online marketing is set to increase. The shift in dollars is fueled by an anticipated 44% growth in online video and 15% growth in online search. Search engine marketing is a great example of the value online can offer in terms of measurable results. People who search for a product are in the early stages of their buying decision and are often researching their purchase.

The Internet has become the research tool of choice for today’s consumer, they spend hours reviewing websites for product, price and brand information. They use search to find what they want online. When they have less money to spend they look harder and research more. What once was an impulse buy, now becomes online homework. If you’re not showing up on their search radar, chances are you’re not going to make it on their list.

If you’re a business, search helps your customer find you while online communities help you find your customer. The importance of reaching out to your customer and making them feel good about your brand intensifies in difficult economic times. Emphasis on maintaining and building existing relationships kicks into overdrive. Customer retention strategies move to top of mind during economic contraction. Online communities are a great way to build customer relationships that help support retention strategies. You can educate customers, listen to their needs, respond to requests and measure their reactions on a global basis.

The beauty of the Internet is its innate ability to track everything a user does when online. Where they click, what they watch, how many times they watch it. Information that network television pay millions of dollars for is now easily accessible online. Starbucks Coffee recently launched a great example of how this can work. Hit hard by the economic After being hammered by the downturn in the US economy that saw them close over 600 stores, Starbucks has responded by building an online bridge to their customer that allows them to connect and listen to their needs. They realize the importance of listening, measuring and tracking their customers. Rather than spending millions of dollars on focus groups testing ideas to help them react to the changing business they choose to go directly to their customers and as them their opinion online. Starbucks realizes the benefit that online communities can offer and has begun to leverage them to help redefine their business model.

The momentum of online, its ease of measurement, global reach and affordable value will help to propel its growth through these tough economic times. The web is still a shiny new toy in the marketers pocket. Most are still trying to figure out how to use it effectively. None are debating the value of its interactivity and power of engagement.

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