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Interactive Marketing: A New Strategic Challenge

Integrate online and offline efforts in your digital strategy.

While those in the industrial sector have been busy perfecting processes, fine-tuning supply chains, grappling with globalization, shouldering rising raw material costs and fighting to maintain margins, a marketing revolution has occurred. The staples of trade shows, print advertising and occasional press releases are no longer sufficient.

The Internet has added a dizzying array of tools to the marketing mix. Most “brick and mortar” marketers don’t have formal training in search engine marketing, e-mail marketing, online branding, digital design, Web analytics or social media and are scrambling to catch up. We must become technologically sophistica-ted, learn to speak the language of IT and figure out how to integrate online and offline efforts.

Interactive marketing is no longer an optional supplement to traditional marketing activities.

Social Media Impact
Any one interactive marketing topic could devour huge amounts of time. Take, for example, social media. Aviva Cuyler, founder/CEO of JD Supra, an information-sharing site for legal professionals, commented in the April 6, 2009, issue of DMNews that “at a minimum, you should have a compa-ny blog, a company Twitter and a Facebook page.” She encourages marketers to keep digital “outposts” like Linkedin, Flickr and YouTube “fresh” with company news and industry discussions “that will equate to a strong social Web presence that engages and adds to your own brand’s visibility.”

Who’s got the time for all that? And anyway, manufacturers can disregard social media since it’s really a tool for marketing consumer goods, right? Wrong! You dismiss interactive marketing platforms at your own risk. Before deciding to steer clear of social networking sites, you should understand the impact of social media on methods of defining authoritative online information such as Google’s Page-Rank algorithm.

The time has passed when interactive marketing is an optional supplement to traditional marketing activities. Customer expectations have shifted right along with Internet technology advances. Customers expect credible businesses to have an online presence that clearly and consistently communicates the brand message and provides rich interactive experiences.

Where to Start?
For those just beginning to take digital marketing seriously, where do you start? It’s important to take a measured and strategic approach. Inappropriate messaging or shabby execution can have a negative impact. Rather than haphazardly littering the Web with a hodgepodge of online ads, sites, articles and blogs, you must carefully evaluate the suitability of interactive options for your company and markets. This analysis forms the basis of an interactive strategy that aligns online initiatives with existing business goals and objectives.

In conjunction with this strategic planning, it’s important to take steps to build the foundation for a maturing interactive marketing program.

Build In-House Expertise
A couple of years ago, we created a new position in our corporate marketing department focused exclusively on digital marketing and interactive strategy. It’s crucial to have someone in-house who can interpret digital media jargon, give guidance on online options, evaluate interactive vendors, stay abreast of emerging technologies, manage complex technology projects and safeguard your company’s global interactive strategy.

Become Friends with It
A lot of companies suffer with the stereotypical strained relationship between the marketing and IT departments. To prevent this, it’s absolutely key to work at building a respectful and collaborative relationship with your IT team. Include IT personnel at the planning stage of all technology-enabled marketing projects. Their resource, security and infrastructure concerns must be included in project planning and scoping, and they should stay engaged and communicative during the entire project lifecycle. The result is faster project delivery, fewer errors and less rework.

Carefully Select an Interactive Agency
At EnerSys, in-house marketing and IT carry the burden of most of our Web-based work. But there are instances when outside expertise is appropriate. There are innumerable firms banging on doors offering interactive services, and offline advertising and PR firms are expanding their offerings to include digital media. This makes it tempting to switch vendors for each project. The goal is to identify an interactive agency that will be a long-term partner. The selected vendor will have the range of skills and business savvy needed to help drive interactive strategies forward.

Design for Data-Driven Decision Making
The Internet allows for an unprecedented amount of data related to campaign effectiveness, lead generation and visitor behavior. Marketing teams can easily drown in the data. Combat this by developing the data warehousing and management tools needed to handle this data stream and enable intelligent decisions. With supporting metrics and reporting, you gain the ability to understand how digital initiatives affect buying behaviors and how these behaviors translate into sales and profits. The bottom line will rule: If it doesn’t generate value for the company, it gets “unplugged,” and it’s time to revise or try something new.

Flex Your Muscles with Internal Web Projects
While we gear up for significant interactive initiatives, we have been cutting our teeth on internal projects. Marketing is engaged in all Web-based projects. IT benefits from this arrangement by getting help defining business requirements and project management. Marketing benefits by developing deeper Web development expertise and an increased awareness of existing tools that can be leveraged for interactive marketing projects.

The message is clear: Maintaining a competitive position and building your brand necessitates increasing your digital footprint. But venturing forth without careful planning and a framework for making smart choices could hurt your company more that it helps.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Michelle Kissinger Meet the Author
Michelle Kissinger is the marketing manager at EnerSys, located in Reading, Pennsylvania, and on the Web at www.enersys.com.

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