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How to create an internet marketing strategy

Summary: The core of your internet marketing strategy is knowing three things:

  • what you're selling and what your customer is really buying,
  • who your target audience is and what their needs, goals, and online behaviors are,
  • who your competition is, how your product fits into the competitive market, what makes your product unique, and what opportunities and risks exist.

Planning your marketing strategy is an ongoing process, since you'll have to adapt to a changing competitive landscape.

To succeed in internet marketing you first have to answer a few key questions.

Many people intensely dislike planning. Don't let wishful thinking dash your dreams. Skipping over this initial stage can be very costly. You wouldn't blindfold yourself when driving, so why wear a blindfold when stepping into web marketing?

Questions to help build your internet marketing strategy

The bedrock of any marketing strategy is knowing three things:

  • your product or service,
  • the customer you'll target, and
  • your competition.

Once you know these in detail, you can move on to the other aspects of your marketing plan:

  • how you'll deliver your product or service to the customer,
  • what price you'll charge,
  • how you'll communicate with your customer for marketing and customer service, and
  • how you will measure your web marketing success.

Those are pretty dry, aren't they? Take a look at the following questions which can put some life into the same issues.

Know your product or service

What are you selling? What are the most valuable or unusual features of this product or service? Are there any problems or objections commonly associated with it?

What is the customer really buying? You may be selling art prints, but your customers may be buying prestige, inspiration, or decoration. In order to excel at marketing, you have to understand the underlying needs your product or service satisfies.

Know your customer

Who is your target audience? It's nearly impossible to target "everybody." Instead your internet marketing strategy should be focused specifically on one or at most several narrowly-defined groups. Who is it? You may want to invent a little story about your customer in order to describe them.

What are your customer's needs? What are the problems, tastes, motivations, and expectations of your target audience? Which of these does your product or service address?

Does your target audience use the internet? Would they search online for your product or service? Do they make purchases on the web? You may have to do some research to answer these questions. I can help with that.

If your answer to any of these questions was "no," developing a web site for these customers and this product or service is a risky proposition. It would probably be best to create a quick test site to determine the viability of your plan.

Could you expand this business over time? Does your target audience have other unmet needs that you could satisfy? Could your product or service be marketed to additional audiences?

Knowing your customer is by far the very most important aspect of your internet marketing strategy.

Know your competition

What kind of competitive environment are you in? Are there changing legal, political, economic, technical, social, or other issues that will affect your business?

Are there audiences or needs which have been ignored by your competition? Could you realistically meet them?

What are the apparent rules of the game in this particular market? Are there ways you could change the current rules to create a competitive advantage?

What is your positioning? Your positioning is the stance you adopt for your product or service in relation to the rest of the competitive market. How does it compare with your competition in price, quality, service and support, packaging, and distribution?

What sets your business apart from the competition? This difference is your "unique selling proposition." I hope you noticed that my USP is "Digital design with marketing in mind." Unlike most web developers, my decisions about design, code, and content issues are grounded in marketing.

Your unique selling proposition should be one of the very first things a visitor to your web site notices. State it in your tag line and make sure it's reflected in the written content and visual design of the web site.

Know your own business

What are your objectives and goals for your business? Where is your business now and where do you want it to be in five years? What is your time line, and how will you know when you've met an objective?

How does your business positioning affect your pricing? Pricing is similar online and offline. One difference is that as an internet marketer, you compete globally rather than locally. Internet businesses don't have to have discounted prices, but prices do have to be consistent with your positioning.

Does your product or service require physical transportation? Web sites can handle distribution of nonphysical products, such as software and information, very inexpensively. If your product or service requires transportation, web marketing can be more expensive because you may have customers all over the continent or globe.

Are there repetitive business tasks that your web site could automate? Ordering, sign-up for workshops, applications for jobs, email responses, and many other features can be added to your web site to handle routine functions. You may want to read more in the article on automating routine business processes.

How will you track and evaluate your web site's results? Most web hosts provide tracking and simple analysis software. Who will be watching this information? There are a number of standards by which you might measure your success. The most direct might be the number contacts coming from the web site, the percentage of site visitors converted into customers, and the dollar amount of sales resulting from the web site.

Be both focused and flexible with your web marketing strategy

Of course, no business can answer these questions once and for all. Your your customers, your marketing environment, and the other variables will constantly shift. The internet, especially, is likely to continue changing quickly.

It may be better to think of these as questions for ongoing planning and innovation.

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