Making your online brand a success

John Straw, chief executive of Netrank, gives advice on taking your brand online and making it a success. It involves a little...

John Straw, chief executive of Netrank, gives advice on taking your brand online and making it a success. It involves a little more than just setting up a website.

David Ogilvy's quote that half of his marketing budget was wasted - he just didn't know which half - is testimony to the reason why performance-based online marketing is growing at 56% per year.

Online's success is down to the fact that you can understand, very precisely, which part of your online campaigns are working and which aren't.

For marketeers and business owners, having this kind of accountability is a dream come true. Many businesses have, by now, taken their first steps in this compelling arena through banner advertising and paid for search listings provided by Overture, Espotting and Google AdWords. Now's the time to adopt a specific online strategy and make it work.

A cornerstone of any online strategy has to be the sourcing of a tracking solution that will allow you to track visitors from ad to sale.

There are many solutions available and you need not spend a fortune. Clicktracks tracks visitors and provides a beautiful rendition of the way your site is navigated - very useful in identifying the most and least popular pages on your site. Or type "online ad tracking solutions" into Yahoo's new search engine and you'll be spoilt for choice!

Once you have your tracking solution in place, you can then decide which type of marketing style will fit with your brand - active or passive marketing.

Active marketing techniques are banner ads and direct e-mail. Think carefully before you adopt an active strategy - fresh research from the US indicates that consumers are becoming resistant to and irritated by overt marketing. If you do adopt this approach try to move towards a performance-based purchasing model - pay for click through and not brand exposure, a service offered by Valueclick.

In my view, direct e-mail is one of the more controversial marketing tactics. It needs careful consideration and even more careful execution - just one e-mail out of context to one prospective customer and you may well have lost that prospect for life.

Passive marketing is where my own company is seeing strong success. Broadly speaking we have a two-pronged strategy that combines search marketing and virtual distribution.

There are two kinds of search marketing - paid for (as provided by Google Adwords and Overture) and natural (getting high natural listings for your site which are, essentially, free). Paid for listings are tactically excellent, but watch out for your competitors buying keywords that have your brand name in them. All the paid-for listing providers claim to monitor this and take down offending listings, but they're not always successful.

Natural search has long-term benefits, but often needs upfront investment - and watch out for cowboy operators! If you're approached by any natural search suppliers make sure they conform to Google's advice for webmasters.

With virtual distribution, think of having 100,000 retailers out there for whom you don't have to provide stock, account management or support. Even better, think of only paying them on results. This is virtual distribution, otherwise known as affiliate networking. It's easy to setup and works like this… you provide your creatives to one of the "affiliate concentrators" (such as TradeDoubler), who then add tracking code via their server farms. The affiliate concentrator then offers your creatives to its virtual network of dealer websites (called "publishers"). Every time a sale is made from your site as a direct result of a click through from a publisher you pay the publisher a commission.

Once you have campaigns up and running, good statistical analysis is vital to ensuring ongoing success. You may find that the best sales conversion rate comes from a highly specialist term purchased on Overture, but that term - while providing ROI - does not produce scale. Equally, a highly used term produces good scale but poor conversion. Like everything else, it's a balance.

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