It is amazing to think that at the turn of the century only 12 years ago the internet in the UK was at a relatively fledgling stage with only 15.4 million users. Today, according to Internet World Stats, there are 52.7 million users in the UK alone, with a staggering 513 million users in China. The internet is here to stay so shouldn’t it form an essential part of our marketing communication mix?
Few people would doubt the need for a business to have a website or some form of online presence (social media etc). But as with all forms of marketing communication, a website needs careful consideration:
• It can help you serve your customers — garden centres can provide timely gardening tips and nurseries can provide retailers with bespoke point-of-sale material or online plant images.
• You can sell things — there is not much that cannot be sold over the internet these days, even plants if well packaged.
• You can get feedback from your customers.
• You can open international markets — the internet makes you available for business worldwide.
• You can reach the media more effectively.
• You can be found easily by your prospective customers.
• You can release time-sensitive information quickly and efficiently — and cheaply.
In essence, you need to embrace the internet so that you can establish a presence. You need to let your community — if you are retailing, that may mean your local customers, while if you operate in a business-to-business capacity, it means your business community — know what you are up to. If you do not, your competitors will get in first.
Another good reason to put your business on the web is to network. A lot of what passes for business is nothing more than making connections with other people and every smart business person knows it is not what you know it is who you know, and the web is a great place to get to know people.
It is important to ask yourself what you want it to achieve or, in other words, what do you want visitors to your site to do? Read something, sign up to a newsletter, buy something? Having decided on your objectives, the website needs to be created. It is best to avoid common mistakes:
• Have a plan. Work out what type of website you want, get ideas by searching around for sites that you like and do something similar to what you want yours to do.
• Get it designed professionally. Homemade websites can look cheap. First impressions count.
• Keep it short. If you are selling online you want to reduce the number of clicks between purchasing a product and checkout. The more clicks there are, the more likely it is that someone will give up.
• Give a reason to revisit. The fatal flaw is to offer no reason for someone to revisit the site, so it needs to change frequently and be updated regularly. Find a way to add some dynamic content onto your site. Whether it be a video, downloadable coupon, blog or newsletter, look at ways of attracting visitors back.
• Make sure that you measure. The great thing about a website is that you can measure visitor numbers and where they are coming from. If you do not measure the traffic to your website, you will not know what to change to make it more effective.
Need to integrate
Perhaps the classic mistake is to think that once you have a website the floodgates will open and you will be inundated with customers. Not true. The internet is like the high street, a crowded place, and to stand out you need to take an integrated approach to marketing.
You need to integrate offline marketing (PR, advertising, flyers, leaflets, newsletters) with online marketing and your website must become the hub of your marketing. This means that all your marketing material should point visitors to your website. In addition to your offline marketing, you should also consider online marketing — how are customers going to find you online?. Here are some things to consider:
• Use search engine optimisation to appear high on the ranking when searches are conducted — maybe use a professional to do this for you.
• Take advantage of free online directories.
• Start blogging.
• Invest money in online advertising such as pay per click.
But of course we cannot talk about websites without discussing that most recent digital revolution, social media, which is primarily internet-based tools for sharing and discussing information and "apps".
The most widely known social media site, Facebook, has more than 600 million active users and is becoming increasingly important as a business tool. Powerful, when you consider that half of the UK population uses Facebook and more than 10 million people use Twitter. Not to be ignored then. Here are some tips to help you capitalise on social media:
• Use microblogs such as Twitter — great for letting customers know what new plants you have available or whether you have an offer on at the weekend. Use it to establish your expertise and give out tips.
• Create a fan page on Facebook — it is a great way to interact with and get feedback from customers.
• Use Facebook ads — this is probably the most targeted form of advertising you could undertake.
• Link your social media sites.
• Keep your eye open for new social media sites and apps — those such as Four Square, already with 20 million users, and Pinterest are becoming increasingly important as communication tools.
Most of us are convinced about the need for a web presence. The key though is to use the web as an integrated part of your whole marketing communications. Get it right and who knows what can happen?
Neville Stein is managing director of business consultancy Ovation