December 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Online Marketing

Marketers are learning new ways to optimize e-mail and pay-per-click campaigns. When it comes to social networks and mobile, it’s all new.

Today’s online marketers must be Jacks and Jills of many trades. Besides keeping up with the ever-changing worlds of e-mail and paid search marketing, they must be able to engage consumers on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and they must master the art of reaching-but not annoying-shoppers via the increasingly sophisticated mobile phones many consumers carry.

The challenge for retailers is to create campaigns specific to each marketing channel that conveys the retailer’s key message, and, more importantly, creates value for the potential customer, without turning them off or peppering them with the same message sent in different ways.

“The days of developing marketing campaigns across multiple channels that utilize much of the same content are gone,” says John Harrison, senior vice president of product strategy and client services for e-mail service provider Yesmail. “Multichannel marketers must know how to develop campaigns that deliver the content and value specific to the audience of that channel, and at the same time connect to and support the marketing messages conveyed in other channels without repeating the same content. A marketing message that works in e-mail is not likely to fly on Facebook.”

With more ways than ever to reach consumers, the first step for retailers is to choose the marketing vehicles best suited for reaching the shoppers they target. Then they should determine what they want their marketing campaigns in each channel to accomplish and what products they want to promote in each channel.

Those are decisions that the organization as a whole must make, not an individual department. And everyone should have a say. “Managers for every marketing channel ought to have a seat at the planning table so that the organization can develop marketing strategies and processes for each channel to work together and so that no channel exists in a vacuum,” says Brian Kaminski, executive vice president and managing director of search engine marketing firm iProspect.

Coordination is important because some marketing vehicles mainly promote demand-such as TV, radio or print advertising-while others-such as paid search ads-bring the consumer to a web site where she can make a purchase, Kaminski says. “Search is a demand capture channel,” he says. “A disconnect between origination and capture strategies means missed sales opportunities.”

Social marketing

Marketing through social networks has mainly been a way to stimulate demand, through offers, inside information, contests and promoting brand buzz. A few retailers have started selling directly on Facebook, but that’s still in its infancy and it remains to be seen how consumers will respond.

But what is clear is that consumers will use social networks to give their opinions about retailers and brands. Those opinions can spread quickly, and they’re not always positive. That underlines the importance of retailers keeping up with the chatter about their brands that’s circulating around the social web.

“It is just as important for retailers to track what is being said about them in social networking channels as it is to encourage consumers to use them to virally spread their marketing messages,” says Udayan Bose, founder and CEO of global online customer acquisition management firm NetElixir, Inc.

Retailers that track what consumers are saying about them in social networking channels can apply what they learn to other marketing vehicles. For instance, such tracking can identify the terms consumers use when commenting on a retailer and its products-those terms might be good candidates for use in search marketing campaigns.

“With this kind of knowledge retailers are more likely to craft search marketing campaigns that resonate with shoppers,” Bose says. “Let your customers design your search marketing campaigns.”

NetElixir has developed a web-based application that is integrated with the firm’s real time search marketing technology, LXRRetail. The application tracks references to its retailer clients and their brands/product categories and events on Twitter and then parses those postings into keywords. Keywords are ranked on how often they appear in tweets. Retailers can either add these keywords to existing paid search campaigns or create brand new campaigns through one click.

Influence the influencers

Key to leveraging social media is to understand which consumers other online shoppers listen to. To identify these influential individuals, retailers must track how their marketing messages spread through social networks and which consumers are forwarding those messages to their friends. One way to identify the so-called influencers is by using the “share to social” feature within e-mail software applications that allows the recipient to spread the e-mail virally across their social networks. When consumers click on the “share to social” link in an e-mail, it will publish a link to the e-mail or a thumbnail, plus link to that person’s Facebook wall or send a tweet out to their Twitter network.

Another method is to identify influencers by tracking how often a marketing message is opened.

“If a message is opened 42 times, it is a good bet the recipient passed it along, rather than opening it that many times,” says Susan Wall, vice president of marketing for e-mail marketer Bronto Software Inc. “The number of times a message is opened can indicate the role of a consumer as an influencer.”

It is recommended that retailers build opt-in lists of customers willing to virally market e-mail messages through social networks and then leverage that list prudently so it is not overused to the point that the list loses its potency.

Viral marketing will only work if the marketing message grabs consumers, and makes them want to send it to their friends. Routine marketing campaigns will not rise above the din of the day-to-day chatter on social networks.

“Asking a customer to tweet about a promotion for free shipping is not likely to motivate many people because it is too common of an offer,” says Bronto’s Wall. “There has to be a compelling reason for consumers that receive a marketing-related tweet from someone to want to share it with others, such as advance notice of a three-hour sale or a limited number of discount coupons that are available for download. Any message retailers want spread virally has to be either considered newsworthy by the recipient or have impact.”

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