November 28, 2007

A 'black hole' that eats website visitors!

By Derek Gehl, CEO, Internet Marketing Centre

Whenever I surf on the Web, I always come across dozens of sites that are missing a VITAL ingredient to online success.

I wish I had to time to contact the owners of all these websites personally and tell them what a fatal mistake they're making!

Because the absence of this vital ingredient is like a giant, sucking black hole into which the vast majority of their visitors are vanishing, never to be heard from again....

What is this key element they're missing?

An opt-in form!

An opt-in form is simply a small script-based form on your site that allows you to collect people's names and email addresses and add them to a database, so you can send them relationship-building emails in the future.

If you don't have an opt-in form to collect your visitors' contact information on your site, I can guarantee that you're only making a small fraction of the sales you could be making!

That's because the vast majority of online shoppers DON'T make a purchase on their first visit to a web site. Most people need a minimum of 7-8 points of contact with a business before they feel comfortable enough to buy from them.

So if you don't reach out to them and give them a compelling reason why they should give you their contact information-- so you can stay in touch with them and overcome their buyer resistance -- you'll never realize your full income potential.

Here are some more reasons why it's essential that you start building an opt-in list as soon as you possibly can...

  • Your "opt-in" email list is made up of people who want to hear from you. They've visited your site, or they've come into your shop, and they've decided that they like what they see enough to give you their email address. They are actually inviting you to sell to them!
  • You are giving your customers and subscribers something they've ASKED you for. When someone gives you their email address, they understand that you'll be using it to send them information they actually want to receive — meaning your opt-in list will be highly responsive to any email promotions you run in the future.
  • You are developing valuable lifetime relationships with your customers and subscribers. Email allows you to contact the people on your list over and over again, so you can build genuine relationships with them. There's simply NO WAY you could do this offline without spending a fortune on printing and postage!
  • Every time you send a mailing, the response is 100% measurable. Unlike other forms of marketing and advertising, email allows you to evaluate the success of your campaigns within just a few hours. This will save you thousands in wasted advertising dollars!
  • Opt-in email marketing is effective... instantaneous... and FREE! This is my favorite thing about email marketing: You can contact your customers and subscribers whenever you want, with whatever offer you want, and it never costs you a single dime!

So those are the "whys"... now here are the "hows":

The key to growing your opt-in list is to convince your visitors to give you their contact information by offering an enticing free gift that's so valuable they can't say "no" to it. What kind of free gift am I talking about?

Here are some ideas that have proven to be incredibly successful for us and our clients:
  • An eBook on a topic that's of interest to your visitors
  • A free report full of valuable information
  • A free subscription to an online newsletter that covers topics your visitors want to know more about
  • A free "how-to" course, delivered as a series of emails
  • Entry into a contest for a fabulous prize! (Just make sure that prize isn't the product you sell... after all, who's going to BUY a product when they have a chance to win it for free?)
It doesn't matter if you're currently set up to deliver email promotions or not... You should get an opt-in form on your site and start building your opt-in list NOW.

Then, once your email marketing efforts are set up and ready to go, you'll have a large list of people you can start mailing to!

If you want to learn more about the ins and outs of email marketing, and how it can boost the profits of ANY business (online OR off) -- I suggest you check out my best-selling course, Insider Secrets To Marketing Your Business on the Internet.

It will tell you exactly what you need to do start running highly lucrative email campaigns that will boost your profits by at least 50% -- or more!

Derek Gehl specializes in teaching real people how to start profitable Internet businesses that make $100,000 to $2.5 Million (or more) per year. To get instant access to all his most profitable marketing campaigns, strategies, tools, and resources that he's used to grow $25 into over $60 Million in online sales, visit:

November 26, 2007

Viral Marketing: Basic Training Manual

In the past,Viral Marketing and Guerrilla Marketing were used by only small, start-up businesses. Here's why they've now found their way into the marketing mix of Fortune 500 Companies along with guides on how to use them for your business.

Viral marketing is one of the ever emerging variations of guerilla marketing, a promotional strategy first made popular in 1984 by Jay Conrad Levinson in his best-selling book, Guerrilla Marketing.

Guerrilla marketing employs aggressive, non-traditional, low cost promotional activities to produce profits, rather than utilizing costly conventional media such as TV and magazine advertising. Like guerrilla warfare, it relies on timing, creativity, enthusiasm, energy, and of course, swift action.

These strategies and tactics make guerrilla marketing ideally suited for small start-up businesses and entrepreneurial ventures.

Today, however, it's also used by mega-marketers, even Fortune 500 Companies, as part of their overall marketing plans.

Viral marketing is simply “word of mouth advertising” for the Internet Age. Although initially considered another guerrilla tool for small businesses, it has evolved to become an effective form of marketing for large companies too.

Like its traditional “word of mouth”, counterpart, viral marketing encourages people to voluntarily pass on information about a product, service or company to their social and business contacts.

Conventional word of mouth advertising relies on telephone calls, snail mail, discussions at church socials or random conversations in the grocery store to spread testimonial endorsements. Customers become voluntary brand ambassadors and a free source of publicity. But that's pretty much where the similarity to traditional word of mouth advertising ends.

Viral marketing is designed for today's digital world and its diverse Internet-based social networks. Using today's high-speed technology to communicate with existing online communities, it has the power to reach a potential audience of millions with incredible speed. The effectiveness of viral marketing results from its ability to quickly and cleverly infiltrate these online social networks at little or no cost.

The viral campaign process is simple. A message with a strong, irresistible offer is developed and then passed along through the online community. It spreads the same way a human or computer virus does --- by ongoing contact. Once the message starts spreading, it's propagated and voluntarily passed along from person to person -often in a matter of just days.

One of the keys to success in any “word of mouth advertising” is the ability to identify “opinion leaders” to jump on the bandwagon and spread your message. Traditional “word of mouth” advertising identifies active members of the local community and have extensive “spheres of influence” they interact with frequently. These spheres are groups of social or business contacts that follow the trends the opinion leaders set and try products they endorse or use. Identifying these groups in traditional marketing is a relatively subjective process, time-consuming and a often unreliable process.

Viral marketers, however, can take a more scientific approach. To maximize the impact of their marketing they seek individuals with a high Social Networking Potential or SPN. This Social Networking Potential is an algorithmic representation of the size of a person's social network and their ability to influence it. (For those of us who had trouble with basic Algebra, an algorithm is a series of carefully defined successive steps that need to be completed in order to accomplish a specific task. Algorithms are also the basis of Google's search engine operations.)

A number of different factors enter the SNP equation. They include the number of online community memberships, blogging frequency, web sites visited, content of personal websites, online affiliates, number of articles published, job title, employer, and other relevant data. Once this demographic and lifestyle data is analyzed, a SNP coefficient is calculated and assigned to an individual or social networking group. This rating can then be used to pinpoint people and groups who are prime viral contact points.

Savvy marketers and advertising agencies are also developing their own unique ways of identifying prospects with strong social networks and communicating with them through viral campaigns. There are now also specialized viral marketing consultants and advertising agencies whose clients include Fortune 500 companies. This investment of time and money indicates viral marketing is finding its niche in corporate America.

Many viral marketers simply compile “seeding lists” of high-traffic websites and online communities whose visitors are strong social networker. A typical could include sites like,,,, , and a wide range of others. There are specific social network sites that appeal to teenagers, college students, twenty-somethings, music groupies, parents, and even corporate executives. More sites like tare emerging and developing a more broad based audience appeal. Today, there's an online social network for just about everyone.

Viral seeding lists aren't direct mail lists or email lists. Contrary to the belief of many mainstream marketers, viral communications are not confrontational or unsolicited. The objective is not to annoy prospects with “pop up boxes”, “ banner ads” or spam.

“Discovery” is what viral marketing is all about. The idea is to get a prospect to voluntarily find or discover and then interact with a communication containing an offer and branded content, and then pass it along to a friend. The communication could be a website, a video, music, a blog, a photo of the day, an advergame or other message. That's why they're “planted” on high traffic, highly targeted websites and portals, in news groups, bulletin boards forums and other online places where the right people will discover them and pass them along.

Very often, the offer in viral marketing is “Free”. It could be a free email account, a free web page, a free screensaver or wallpaper, free software, video or music downloads, a free magazine subscription, a free T Shirt or product sample. The big creative challenge is to make the free offer appear to be really free with no strings attached and not just another advertising gimmick.
Viral marketing is far more sophisticated that many traditional marketers or even guerrilla markets give it credit for. And an increasing number of large companies are finding a place in their promotional mix for viral marketing as well.

In order to be effective, viral marketing requires a carefully developed plan. The plan is no different that a traditional marketing plan. A basic plan includes:

  • Objectives: a clear outline of exactly what you want to accomplish
  • Strategies: a detailed plan of how you're going to it
  • Target Audience: the market segments you're trying to reach
  • Media: What social networks and online communities you're going to use
  • Creative Strategy- What are the formats, styles, tones and offers of the communications.
  • Budget - How much you plan to spend annually and how the money is allocated
  • Tracking and Results Analysis- How you measure the effectiveness of the campaign
One very effective way for any business to use viral marketing is to boost the effectiveness of a TV, print or direct response advertising campaign. It's a simple, low cost and very efficient means of increasing your advertising effectiveness. Viral campaigns can be “seeded” in targeted social network sites and online communities that will “discover” your message quickly and pass it along. The message very often reaches a potential audience of millions virtually overnight.

Usually you can see measurable results and a “lift” in your advertising performance in a matter of days.

In presenting the idea of viral marketing to some clients, I've encountered some very strange and humorous misconceptions it. One very conservative client described viral marketing as a “pack of high school kids in garages, techno-geeks in basements and pornography merchants in seedy bedrooms sending out spam that will infect PCs everywhere with deadly computer viruses.” Wow! I never realized viral marketing is destined to bring about the downfall of online civilization as we know it today. Well, thank God I'm a MAC guy and immune to most dreaded viruses. Better abandon your PC right away and get yourself a MAC today!

Viral Marketing has become serious business. Major national advertisers are shifting an increasing percentage of their advertising dollars from TV, radio, print and mail into interactive online media, including viral marketing. Like search engine marketing, pay per click advertising and guerrilla marketing, it's found its niche and is here to stay.

By Michael Crozer,

November 21, 2007

Learning to Web 2.0 - but from teachers or other student?

As is probably evident from this blog's posts, I draw on a fairly eclectic mix of sources to inspire my views on strategic online branding. This is really no surprise given the potential impact on a decision's success of a wide range of skills. Not exclusively, these span business strategy, via whatever lable you happen to apply to your view of marketing, and a confusing array of technical applications.

Although traditionally my work has been in corporate and marketing communications, I'm getting a great deal of personal satisfaction out of learning about lots of new things that wouldn't previously have been in my responsibilities. Core skills need re-focusing for Web 2.0:

  • Although I've always written, now I'm learning a copywriter's art.
  • I've studied and practiced marketing for many years, now I'm learning from experts in internet marketing.
  • While 'news' and 'stories' are stock in trade, social media works very differently.
  • While I'm trained in 2-D communications (words, and to a lesser extent image), I'm working with a pretty unique group of people to create 3-D communications (adding sound and music).

Listening to one of my favourite podcasts this morning - For Immediate Release : The Hobson & Holz Report (#294) - I was interested in a comment about the value of social media tools and community as an integral part of training programmes (themselves inevitably flourishing also online). It made me think back to when I was a raw graduate, and as an account executive at a City of London agency, I'd leave on time on Monday evenings to go and lead PR student tutorials at a nearby university. Then, as now, the best way to learn is to teach.

One example to feed into FIR of where I find I'm seeing the benefits of building a community forum as an integral part of a well-developed online training programme is in's Brian Clark's new venture, Teaching Sells. Designed to help internet entrepreneurs to replicate such learning environments within their own niches, I have to say that I'm learning as much from the 'noisy minority' you find in any 'classroom' than I am from the great course resources.

If you are interested in finding out more, you can download a Free Report from Teaching Sells in the sidebar.

November 9, 2007

Internet ad spend holds relatively steady

The nation's largest advertisers increased their share of spending on the Internet while simultaneously reducing spending in traditional advertising channels. The ad spend report, released this week by eMarketer, forecasts $21.4 billion in online advertising spending in 2007.

The report observes 68 of the top 100 advertisers, as ranked by TNS Media Intelligence, decreased spending on traditional channels including TV and print, and at the same time those advertisers have increased the share of their budgets going to the Internet.

"When you look at the largest advertisers in the U.S., they are still only putting about 3.5 percent of their total ad budgets online. However there are indications they are moving more online," said eMarketer Senior Analyst David Hallerman.

Like ad spend reports from other research firms, eMarketer reduced its previous projection of the U.S. Internet spend from $21.7 billion to $21.4 billion in 2007. The online ad spend is expected to reach $42 billion by 2011, with continued growth through that time.

Categories within the online channel are expected to see little movement. "In terms of search, it will remain at about a 40 percent range for a number of years," said Hallerman. The report finds search will represent 41.1 percent share of online this year, 42 percent in 2008, and is expected to reach 43 percent in 2011.

Display ads, in the form of banners, are forecast to take 21.5 percent of online's share of spending in 2007, 21.5 percent share next year, and 20.7 percent share in 2011. Rich media spending will hit 6.8 percent this year, 6.7 next year, and back to 6.8 percent in 2011. Dollars spent on rich media are estimated at $775 in 2007. Other categories covered include classified ads, referrals, e-mail, and sponsorship.

Unmeasured dollars reach into the billions, according to Hallerman, due to the money spent by marketers to build corporate Web sites, video, and word-of-mouth type campaigns. He said brand marketers can, in some cases, engage an audience on their Web sites better than paid media. He also points to video posted on corporate Web sites and on video-sharing sites on YouTube. The Dove brand is examples of using viral video to spread a message.

The economic climate has driven mortgage companies and others in the financial sector to pull ad dollars from their budgets. Hallerman said the financial services sector has contributed about 15 percent of the Internet ad spend. Other sectors are taking up some of the slack. Hallerman attributes the uptake to the proven measurability of search, and even with display, where they have an idea of where the impressions are going.

eMarketer reports contain aggregate numbers from other research firms.

By Enid Burns, The ClickZ Network

Corporates can learn a lot from bloggers

If you're in charge of a B2B (business to business) corporate web site, you may have wrestled with the decision of whether or not your company should create a blog. If you'd rather not engage in blogging, there are alternatives that can still help you drive qualified traffic and leads to your corporate Web site, as a blog might, and to get the search engine ranking benefits a blog might bring.

You don't have to be a blogger to take advantage of the latest blogging techniques. In fact, you can learn a lot about promoting your company's products and services online by "doing what the bloggers do."

The corporate world has traditionally been very slow to adopt blogging. After all, adding a blog to a corporate Web site is a big decision – and could have an impact on the company's brand, as well as how the brand is perceived. Additionally, there are a lot of maintenance requirements of a blog. For example, who in the company will be responsible for the writing and posting on the blog? How often will it be updated? Will the traditional blog "comments" be added as a feature? If so, whose job would it be to "moderate" those comments?

The United States Government recently launched their "GovGab" blog, in an effort to reach out to more citizens. Several managers are assigned a day of the week when they're responsible for posting on the blog. Each manager is charged with posting something on his or her designated day, and with moderating any comments left by the blog's readers, which could quickly become a full-time job in itself. A few other managers serve as backup bloggers.

If you decide not to implement a blog on your corporate site, there are still several ways that you can benefit from using the techniques of successful bloggers. Let's take a look at the many techniques they are using today to become popular, and apply them to the online promotion of a corporate Web site.

Embrace Networking
Probably the biggest, most important "technique" that successful bloggers use today is networking. Networking with other bloggers, linking to and commenting on each other's blogs, and even "guest blogging" for others' blogs is common.

Sure, corporate America does a lot of networking. After all, that's how a lot of partnerships are made and how a lot of deals get done. But there's not enough "networking" going on amongst corporations' Web sites and those responsible for maintaining the corporate Web site, including those in the marketing department.

Bloggers link to each other and recommend each others' blogs; why not link to your corporate partners and ask that they link back to your corporate Web site? If one company is an official "partner" with another company and will work together to provide solutions to their customers, why not continue this partnership on the internet level by linking both corporate Web sites together and recommending each others' solutions?

The same goes for industry trade groups. Corporations should help promote trade groups and associations to which they belong. Likewise, it's helpful if the trade group or association lists its member companies, providing links to the corporate Web sites.

Besides your existing partners, it's important to reach out to new partners as well. Why not start networking with the bloggers themselves?

In most industries there are at least a few popular bloggers who keep a close watch on the industry as a whole – and constantly write about what's really going on. When your company issues a press release, keep these bloggers in your outreach plans. Making your news and access to company executives available to the top bloggers in your industry can pay off tenfold in backlinks and blogger goodwill.

If a blogger receives a press release directly from a company in their industry, most likely they will pay attention to it. After all, bloggers are always looking for something to write about. And it's the bloggers who have the power to link directly to the corporate Web site, which will ultimately help your site's search engine rankings.

Additionally, the publicity your company will receive is wonderful: many tech industry bloggers have thousands of regular readers and subscribers who will instantly receive notification of the company's news.

Use Technology to Get Your News Out There
Another technique bloggers can teach corporate marketers is to make technology your friend. Corporate Web sites could use the latest blog publishing platforms, such as WordPress, TypePad, or BlogSmith, to publish content to the Web site.

Besides being easy for marketers to use and update the site without IT intervention, blog software has the added benefit of automatically creating an RSS feed from the content. RSS feeds allow customers to keep track of your site's content. Additionally, the blog software sends out a "ping" to search engines and other sources, alerting them that the content of the site has been updated.

A corporate news and press release section, or a company newsletter are appropriate places to provide the content in RSS format. By doing this, journalists, industry bloggers, company employees, and anyone else interested in the company's information and news could subscribe to the RSS feed and be notified instantly whenever there's news to announce.

Adding an RSS feed and the latest blogging technology to a corporate Web site doesn't mean that the company has to have a blog on the Web site. In fact, the site's visitors don't have to know what technology is being used behind the scenes. The "look and feel" of the page is still up to the site's Web designers. Pages created with blogging technology can be made to look exactly like the rest of the Web site.

By embracing online networking and adopting the latest technology that bloggers are using, a corporate Web site doesn't have to be static anymore. You can gain valuable traffic and visibility with the search engines, and build a sense of community with others in your space by applying those techniques to your corporate site.

Source: SearchEngineWatch. Bill Hartzer is a search engine marketing, social media, and website marketing consultant. His primary focus is on the optimization of business to business Web sites. He is the founder of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association (DFWSEM), and a frequent speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences.

November 2, 2007

Three Positive E-Mail Marketing Trends

It's budget season, so I've been talking with clients about their plans and objectives for the coming year. What's struck me most is how far direct marketers have come in understanding online marketing in general and e-mail in particular. The following three changes show how our industry is maturing.

Consumer Value Proposition
The first, and perhaps the most exciting, trend is marketers accepting the need to focus on recipients' expectations and requirements from company communications, on the value proposition for the recipient. This speaks to a critical difference between online and traditional direct marketing. Many fundamental aspects of online marketing flow from this one insight. The value of permission, list hygiene, segmentation, relevance, timeliness, and profiles all become obvious when one realizes in the online world the consumer is control. To be successful marketers, you must embrace this fact.

Print direct marketing was always about what a company wanted to say, when, and how often. What consumers wanted was never a consideration beyond how communications affected conversion rates. This attitude translated online into wording privacy policies and opt-in forms to be as vague as possible so "we can do whatever we like." Messaging frequency was based on quarterly sales objectives regardless of recipient preference. It was seen in approaching segmentation by trying to figure out how many recipients we can blast without getting blocked.

Now marketers are really taking a recipient-centric approach and focusing on the user experience. They are setting, meeting, and exceeding users expectations. They work to understand which recipients are interested in the content they provide, which ones are not, and why. Consideration is given to information overload and inbox flooding. This year, I'm seeing a lot more of the latter and a lot less of the former. That's a good thing for users and a recipe for success for marketers.

Media Integration
The second positive trend is a focus on multiple media and integration between those media. Businesses are always looking for the next great marketing tool, platform, or channel, but this is a much more nuanced understanding. Companies are looking beyond mainstream direct response media (print, e-mail, Web banners, etc.) to emerging channels, including SMS, blogs, podcasts, and RSS.

More crucial, companies are looking at how these channels will complement and integrate with existing communications rather than just seeking the next big thing. They're looking at which consumers will utilize these channels and how. From this, they can determine what messaging will be appropriate and effective in these channels. Currently, it's about baby steps, identifying and testing likely emerging channels. In future it will be about integration to maximize ROI (define) and enhance the user experience.

Interdisciplinary Programs
The final change is a significant increase in interdisciplinary and cross-organizational programs. In large enterprises, departments and business units can be extremely proprietary, competitive, even combative. High-level efforts at integration have grown out of a focus on the user experience, the understanding that recipients neither know nor care about an organization's internal silos and fiefdoms.

This change is manifesting in many ways, including programs to ensure consistent, one-voice communications, company-wide preference management, and multidepartment messaging. The end result is more streamlined messaging that better leverages an organization's knowledge about customers and prospects. In turn, this leads to better campaigns and higher ROI for the organization and an improved user experience for recipients.

Issues of deliverability, measurement, list hygiene, and growth remain, but this year they seem to be less of a focus. There's an implicit understanding that they'll continue to be challenges but the focus must be on delivering effective and valuable communications for the company and the recipients. And that's how it should be.

By Derek Harding

Three cheers for Dell Inc.’s new IR blog

YOU know it’s a real investor relations department blog when the first thing that greets you is a long disclaimer!

But what the heck, it’s the first* — and it’s about time someone in the reluctant investor relations community had the gumption to start talking to their shareholders openly on the Web.
Dell Shares, the new investor relations blog from Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL), launched today — Thursday November 1, 2007 — about 8 years after the first modern blogs made their appearance on the Web.

Dell Shares is the first blog by an investor relations department of a public company.
True to form in the IR field, where legal constraints are both little understood and ever present, the blog is protected by a click-thru disclaimer that people must acknowledge before they can access the posts. How this will work when posts are distributed via RSS and aggregated on external sites beats me, but lets not quibble on such a big day.

As Lynn A. Tyson, Dell’s VP of Investor Relations, says in her inaugural post, this is new territory for investor relations departments. And like any good IRO she is also sure to lower investors’ expectations for how actively Dell’s investor-facing staff will be blogging and responding.

Sometimes, however, we may be quiet, as there are periods of the quarter and various topics we can’t talk about, such as forward looking statements or non-publicly disclosed information (see RegFD). We hope you will understand some of the constraints and legal obligations that may, from time to time, limit our commentary. Also, have a little patience with us, because some of these limitations may also slow us down as we learn and sort our way through this new field.
Tyson, who is a member of the board of the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI), says investors can “expect timely posts from the IR team (and sometimes company executives) on business performance and strategy.”

Investors will be able to post comments and questions, to which IR staff will respond where appropriate in a timely manner, she says.

In a 23-minute podcast interview for the The Hobson & Holtz Report, Tyson says her department faced few internal hurdles in getting the blog going.
“The ability for an investor relations organization to execute this and do it well quite frankly is predicated on how well they do their jobs every day. And if there’s confidence in their ability to exercise sound situational judgment over the phone or over emails or in one-on-one meetings with investors or group meetings with investors or drafting press releases, then there should be that same level of confidence by the company in their ability to have a dialog over the Internet,” she says in the interview.

She quickly adds that this is a good argument for other IR departments to make to their legal counsel and executives when seeking permission for their own investor relations blogs.
* We watch this space closely, so we are comfortable declaring Dell Shares the first real English-language blog by an investor relations department of a public company.

Hat tip to Neville Hobson

By Dominic Jones, IR Web Report

November 1, 2007

What is your brand's narrative?

“Your brand is not your corporate identity. Your brand is the stories, messages, experiences that your consumers have around your brand. Yes, we label it with a logo, but it means very little if there are no stories to back it up.” This is the view of social media expert Mike Stopforth of Cerebra, speaking on online reputation management at the Digital Branding conference by Knowledge Resources in Johannesburg, 30 October 2007.

What marketers need to realise is that social media and social networks is all about networked communities: communities of people with similar interests who gather to share information and stuff. The point about these communities is that they include your customers and they are very powerful indeed as they trust their peers and friends more than obvious marketing messages.

Stopforth says consumers are now participants in a brand – they want to be involved and have gone from being consumers to ‘prosumers'.

Allen Kent of Thinking Viral agrees: “Social media is about the tools of the new generation. Advertisers are no longer in control of their brands.”The power has shifted from brands to their consumers.

And if you're still not convinced, have a look at these stats – these are your new consumers – local research undertaken by Thinking Viral has shown that the life of a 12 – 24 year old looks something like this:

1. They will never read a newspaper.
2. They will never own a landline phone.
3. They are tired of watching TV on someone else's schedule: they are getting used to
4. PVR / Tivo or downloading their favourite TV show episodes from the Internet.
5. Community is the centre of their Internet experience: 87% surveyed already have a social networking page; 50% of those surveyed are on MySpace; 82% are on Facebook, with 60 – 70 contacts and over 50% have over 100 ‘friends' listed on Facebook.
6. They trust unknown peers more than the experts.
7. They have little interest in the information source. So much info is being pushed – they are using online aggregator tools to receive and filter their content. They are using RSS to read the news.
8. They can consume 5.4 different media channels at the same time.
9. Most importantly: they want to be heard.

Becoming relevant
So how and where do marketers become relevant again? Kent says it's got to do with what you do and mostly, what other people say about you. “Classic advertising is about storytelling. But today, people want to be involved: they demand participation. Therefore make the story relevant to them.”The most common questions marketers ask, says Stopforth, are:

1. Should we blog?
2. What do we populate it with?
3. What do we do when it goes wrong?

Stopforth says blogging is not for everyone. “Unless you are going to blog with real intent with an established strategy and engage directly with your consumers, then don't do it!”

But you have to realise that your customers certainly are online and blogging. So, if you're not going to be proactive about initiating a digital presence, then at least have a reactive strategy, Stopforth advises.

“The reactive space is about managing your online reputation: online reputation management (ORM). There is too much of a possibility that you will be mentioned online somewhere. And what then? How do you respond? You have to have some sort of strategy in place to act.

”Stopforth explains that ORM is about tracking social media tools to get a sense of when and where you and your brand and your competitor brand is being mentioned online. You can start yourself by setting up a Google alert, for example, for your brand name.

The issue goes much deeper, however, says Stopforth. “I think we need a new measurement as marketers: yes, there's RAMS, AMPS and cramps… but there is nothing to measure social influence.”

There is a disconnect between the LSMs (living standards measures) and what consumers are saying on the blogosphere, he says. Those social influencers that Stopforth is describing are often unemployed students raving or ranting on about your brand that they may not even own and can't necessarily afford.

So how do you find them? “You don't – they find you,” Stopforth emphasises.

Making it work online
So then, how do you make it work for your brand online? Stopforth advises:

1. Be authentic and transparent. Don't be a persona online, Samsung's ‘Sam' blog – was slated by the blogosphere. Consumers are yearning for real brands. Samsung's latest, professional page is better to connect with their consumers, Stopforth says.
2. Have content with a call to action to augment campaigns. Make sure there is a call to action.
3. Win trust: get your hands dirty. Invest in the network. There are real word activities to enable brands to engage with those social influencers, such as the 27dinners in South Africa, the recent podcamp, and so on.
4. Respond and respond in time. You can take anything and turn it into a marketing opportunity, even those who are maliciously trying to damage your brand, Stopforth believes.
5. Give users power. If they have shown to have an interest in your brand, then support them. Identify brand champions. The best example of this are the Wikipedia champions which keep the online encyclopedia uptodate. If you give people something to believe in, they will actively champion your brands.

The tough questions that marketers have to grapple with include the following, Stopforth has found in his own contact with corporate South Africa:

- Vulnerability. It's not a word we associate with corporate SA.
- What if people say bad things? First off, people are already saying bad things about your brand, so would you rather they say it to you or behind your back?
- Will it make money? (Good ol' ROI?) No, there is no ROI for blogging. But it is a fantastic way to make money indirectly in building brand loyalty. There is a conversation going on anyways, so you need to ask ‘how do we connect with that conversation and leverage it for our own good?'.
- Can I trust my employees? (ie, banning Facebook from workplaces) You trust your employees to make million dollar deals at work and interact with clients and represent your brand daily, but not to manage their personal time? Stopforth makes an important point.
- 'Why can't my agency do it?' is a common question asked by marketers. They can and they should. You need to be encouraging your agency to push the boundaries in this regard, says Stopforth.

Achieving online brand success

Kent's seven rules for online success for marketers are:

1. Collaborate, co-create. They're out there, they are talking about the brand, use it.
2. Be relevant and connect with people. Relevance is key to motivating participation and involvement. Understand how people are creating content and engaging with content on the internet. Close to home, Engen with its ‘Endless Summer' campaign on MXit over the summer holidays targeted its future consumers in the 11 – 18 year market with a campaign which included branded Engen chat rooms on MXit with passwords for free content to share with their friends available at Engen stops on major holiday routes. It had three million messages going through its chat room…
3. Be transparent. (Don't be exposed for ‘flogs'– fake corporate blogs – your consumer will find you out and ridicule you on the Internet. There are plenty of examples from brands such as Sony PSP and Walmart who got their fingers burned here.)
4. Provide exclusivity/recognition: in communities a hierarchy exists and knowledge is power. Sharing is the new high so collaborate with uploaders of content, the bloggers. Example: the Nike website on running allows runners to track their progress, interact with other runners. It doesn't necessarily promote the brand Nike directly, but has built a very loyal following of users on its site.
5. Allow participation – let go! Traditional marketing rules no longer apply. You have to let your consumer play with your content, change it, and do what he wants with it.
6. Intrigue, inspire, entertain, surprise! Create something people want to send on to their friends.
7. Make it easy to share: plan a sharing strategy, work out the platforms to push the idea out. It is usually far easier to create an idea worth spreading than it is to spread an idea not worth spreading.

Kent's last word is: if you have a cool media idea, create context and content across as many touchpoints as you can, including the traditional media.

See also:
- Brands ‘fear' their consumers [article]
- [Digital branding] The big deal about social media for marketers [blog]
- [Digital branding] Consumers can break your brand [blog]
- [Digital branding] Answering marketer's questions [blog]

More by Louise Marsland

- Brands ‘fear' their consumers - 31 Oct 2007
- What is your brand's narrative? - 31 Oct 2007
- New insight into future ‘township' markets - 22 Oct 2007
- ABC objects to ‘spurious‘ criticism - 10 Oct 2007
- Media24: profit and performance pressure cooker - 5 Oct 2007More...

Louise Marsland is editor and editorial director of She has worked as a journalist and editor in South Africa for the past 19 years across newspapers, magazines, online and in media / communications strategy, notably: The Star; Saturday Star; Progressive Retailing (editor); Retailing Africa (managing editor); Executive Business Brief (editor); Decorex Cape (editor & publisher); FMCG Files ezine (editor); Communicate ezine (editor); and Marketing Mix (editor & business manager), including the Marketer's Guide to Africa and the annual Media Owners' Marketing Awards (MOMA). She is currently in the third year of her M Com: Strategy & Organisational Dynamics.