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You have a great product and business plan. But how do you tell the world — in a memorable way — that your widgets are superior?

What Is It?

When most people think about marketing, they are actually thinking about advertising. Advertising is part of the Promotional “P” in the four P’s of Marketing, and it is the most well-known. Advertising is everywhere around us – on the Internet, on television, in our print magazines and newspapers, in our mail, and even appears on billboards along our commute to work. In fact, it is estimated that consumers are subjected to hundreds of advertising messages in any given day.

The Dictionary in the American Marketing Association website defines Advertising as, “The placement of announcements and persuasive messages in time or space purchased in any of the mass media by business firms, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and individuals who seek to inform and/ or persuade members of a particular target market or audience about their products, services, organizations, or ideas.

Advertising has evolved to include several different types of specialization. Outdoor advertising refers to billboards and large scale signs, print advertising refers to newspapers and magazines, online advertising refers to banner ads and search engine advertising, and radio and television advertising also represent a unique specialization within advertising.

Advertising differs from other promotional specialties like sales promotion, public relations, and direct marketing in that it is purchased publicity through a mass media outlet. In advertising, targeting occurs in simply by choosing which specific media outlets to use. For example, if your prospects are female, ages 35-40, with a certain household income, you might choose to advertise in a magazine, on a cable channel, and/or on a radio station whose audience matches your prospects in demographics.

Additionally, in some cases these media offer the ability to target certain geographic areas. A radio station or cable t.v. station typically targets a limited geographic area – and many magazines allow you to advertise only in certain zip codes or regions. However, in spite of these advances in targeting, advertising is still a blanket approach that delivers your message to everyone who reads that magazine, listens to that radio station, or watches that t.v. station. That is why it is referred to as “mass” media.

One exception is Internet-based advertising. While this is grouped into “Advertising,” in many ways Internet advertising is more targeted and more closely resembles direct marketing.

Why Do I Need It?

Advertising is one of the primary tools used to build your brand, reach customers, and promote your products and services. For larger companies, advertising typically plays an important role in the marketing mix – with multiple media communications being utilized for advertising. Advertising is typically combined with public relations and direct response marketing to create a synergy and reinforce key messages using multiple tactics.

In a smaller organization, you may not have a budget for an entire multi-media campaign. Experts from each separate discipline within the marketing mix (advertising, sales promotion, public relations, and direct response marketing) would argue that their discipline represents the most cost effective option for a limited budget. However, the reality is that the real driver of such a decision – if you must choose only a limited use of the marketing mix components – is your own company’s product mix, target market, and campaign objectives.

For example, if your product is focused on a very niche market, reaching your potential customers may be more effectively handled by a direct marketing campaign that relies on a specially compiled prospect list of people who represent your best targets. In such a case, doing mass media advertising would expose your product widely, but not concentrated on your unique prospects … and that wide advertising focus would likely waste your valuable marketing dollars.

However, if you have a product or service that has mass appeal – where the average consumer is represented by most Americans – or if you are focusing on a specific geographic area, then advertising using media that reaches an audience that best matches your target prospects in demographics and geographic location might be a smart move.

Public relations and sales promotions are really complementary tactics that shouldn’t be ignored – but usually aren’t the best choices if you have a limited budget and are only planning a single campaign with a limited scope. That being said, public relations can be a great tool to launch your company, build your brand, and establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Can I Do It Myself?

The answer here is, it depends. This is much like branding and logo work in that it is very easy to spot companies that develop their own “home-grown” ads, and looking professional is very important. An exception to that rule exists when your customer base would likely be offended by slick advertising. In some lines of business, customers are turned off by what they see as pricey investment in advertising – and instead wish you would put that money into servicing your customers. The best advice on this subject is to work to achieve a balance.

In most cases, you don’t want to be known as the “King of Used Cars” guy with the cheesy t.v. and radio spots … but you also may not want to look like you’ve spent a lot of cash on slick advertising that doesn’t fit your target prospects.

In general, it’s probably best to seek some professional guidance in developing an advertising campaign. Purchasing print space, t.v. time, and radio spots is costly enough that you want to be sure you get the most bang for that exposure. Also, a professional advertising agency generally helps you purchase media time – and they are skilled at negotiating good deals, so having their help might actually reduce your media costs. That might make up for the creative and strategic costs that you’ll incur due to their involvement.

Professional Resources

Full-service advertising agencies can help you develop your overall campaign, identify your target audience, select media channels, generate the creative, and purchase the media time – they are known as full-service because they provide one-stop shopping for all your advertising needs. However, full-service sometimes does mean additional cost. If you have a limited budget, be sure you lay out your expectations when interviewing agencies and discuss your priorities. You’ll be much happier with the outcome if you are clear on these subjects.

In addition to full-service advertising agencies, you might seek resources for specific functions if you feel like you can handle some aspects yourself. For example, you might feel comfortable writing your own ad, but may need to hire a professional designer to do the creative design and layout and to handle getting the material ready for output to the specific media channel. In this case, you would follow much the same process as is recommended in the branding section to hire a freelance designer.

Another avenue for help exists at the media outlets themselves. The advantage of this is that they may or may not charge to help develop the t.v. or radio spot, or the magazine or newspaper ad. However, these organizations will only prepare advertising for their media – so if you want to use multiple media, you’ll need to work with separate organizations, and that may make it difficult to keep a consistent message. However, if you’re working strictly with radio or a local newspaper, they can provide a great deal of the professional assistance you’ll need to get your advertising developed.

Top Five Tips in Choosing an advertising agency or selecting media channels:

  1. Before you meet with anyone, spend some time on your own thinking about how to reach your best customers – are they local, in a certain region? Also, give some thought to the budget you’re willing to commit and what type of return you expect for your investment. For example, if you’re going to spend $20,000, you should calculate how many leads and sales you have to generate to make that investment worthwhile.

  2. Interview several different advertising agencies, as well as some media directly. They will usually be happy to spend the time with you. It’s especially important to meet with the medial channels you’re considering to hear the key demographics of their audience and to get some idea of their pricing. Even if you eventually hire a full-service advertising agency, you will be better informed and more able to evaluate their effectiveness if you’ve done some research on your own.

  3. As a general rule, you should try to plan a simple campaign that allows for repetition of consistent messages and visual images – and that will reach your intended audience multiple times. Research suggests that consumers have to be touched a minimum of 7 times to stimulate a response – that may seem like a lot, but you’re competing against an inundation of other messages and your message can easily be drowned. Repetition and consistency are key to breaking through the clutter.

  4. Don’t be afraid to try something different, but make sure you don’t get so far in left field that your message is too abstract and customers can’t figure out what it is you do. Big companies with established brands can experiment with abstract advertising … but smaller organizations need to stick to a simple formula that gets the customer’s attention, outlines your value proposition, and tells them how to find you. You don’t just want people to think you have a cool ad, you want them to come to your store, request information, or place an order.

  5. If you’re working with a new advertising agency the first time, be sure you don’t over commit. Make it clear that you want to test them out for this first campaign, and based on the success of that campaign you’ll make a decision as to whether or not to develop follow-up campaigns. Additionally, make sure you put in some measurement of success that is objective. Many advertising agencies will want to measure “awareness” or just whether you reached the desired audience with your message … but the entire campaign isn’t worth much to you unless it results in new customers. Make sure you agree on a measurement that is tied to actual leads generated, store traffic, or sales made. You’ll be happier with the outcome – and you’ll set up a relationship with the agency that puts you in control right from the start.

What Is It?

When you think of branding, you may immediately think of logos and taglines like the Nike Swoosh and the tagline "Just Do It."

But brands are much more than a logo and a tagline. The Dictionary in the American Marketing Association website defines a Brand as, “A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. If used for the firm as a whole, the preferred term is trade name.”

Why Do I Need It?

In short, your brand represents your entire image in the mind of the customer. Without a recognizable brand, you may have trouble standing out from your competition.

Many companies spend millions of advertising dollars over a number of years to establish a brand image that is instantly recognizable in the mind of the consumer. While large companies can and should afford such an investment, smaller companies have to be creative in developing a brand and building a positive brand image among their customers. No matter how small your organization, you should spend at least some time and money investing in the basics of a brand.

Can I Do It Myself?

Unless you’re a skilled graphic designer, this is one area where a little investment is called for. Brands that are created by business owners who are not trained graphic designers are easy to spot – and detract from the overall professional appearance of the organization. There are exceptions to every rule, but getting a logo, letterhead and business cards developed can be done inexpensively … and establishing a professional presence is important. It represents your first impression with your customer – and you want it to be positive!

Although a professional designer is recommended, it is possible to get logos and stationery developed very inexpensively. You can spend as much as $30,000 or as little as $1,500 depending on your goals and the resources you select. Recently graduated designers working on a freelance basis offer an opportunity to get trained graphic art capabilities at a very low price … but keep in mind these people have little experience and you may have to devote a great deal of your precious time to giving them direction and working through multiple iterations of logos and stationery designs, when a more experienced designer could deliver finished artwork that meets your objectives on the first or second try.

Logo Basics

There are different types of logos. Some logos are stylized words that simply spell the name of your company. Examples of this include the Wal-Mart logo, Bank of America, and Other logos have a design element combined with the words that can be used by itself to represent the same brand. Examples include the Apple computer apple logo, the Verizon “V”, and the Mercedes logo. When you see these logos, you don’t need to see the words to associate them with the company they represent.

When you create a logo, your logo should at a minimum accomplish three things:

  1. It must be unique and distinctive.
  2. It should convey what it is you do, especially if you’re a new company or you can’t afford to spend millions of dollars in advertising to establish your brand.
  3. It needs to convey the personality of your company. For instance, choose a colorful logo if your company is cutting-edge or creative.

Remember, your logo should be designed to last for 20 years or more … so spend some time choosing it. Think about your company in terms of your future identity and make sure your logo is broad enough to still represent you as your company grows and changes.

Tagline Basics

A tagline is a much more changeable item than a logo. The McDonald’s arches have been a consistent logo for nearly half a century, but they have used different taglines over the years as part of a specific advertising or marketing campaign. You make me smile, I’m lovin’ it, etc. The overall image doesn’t change, but a new tagline helps define the image and keep it current. A tagline is a tool that can unify multiple campaigns with one simple, consistent message that keeps your company’s brand image clear and reinforces work you’ve already done to communicate about your brand. A tagline should not change too often, or the public will feel like they don’t ever know what you do. Keep it consistent and make sure it clearly communicates your company’s value proposition. For instance, if you run a bookkeeping service, you might use a tagline like, “We track every penny.” This clearly reinforces what your company does, communicates your attention to detail, and also illustrates your value proposition – because a business hires you to track every penny so they don’t have to!

Other Important Branding Considerations

When you’re thinking about branding, you shouldn’t stop at just a logo and tagline. It’s important to create a consistent image in the customer’s mind, and that means thinking about having a clearly defined color scheme that coordinates with your logo, letterhead and business cards that reinforce key aspects of your image. Your website and corporate brochure should also incorporate consistent use of colors, logo, and key messages so every major way a customer hears about your company creates a consistent image. In addition to these obvious considerations, you might want to think about your reception desk, how your employees answer the phone, and any other place the customer might interact with you.

Each time you touch a customer presents an opportunity to define a customer experience that reinforces your brand – and if you ignore these opportunities you might find those experiences detract from your overall brand perception.

Professional Resources

Many agencies specialize in branding, and such organizations offer highly proprietary processes for developing a brand. They typically begin with a focus on the organization’s value proposition, mission statement, and work through several steps and evaluation tactics to achieve a set of visual and verbal items that represent the key aspects of an organization. From there, they typically develop several logo and stationery concepts to choose from. Organizations like this view branding as a 2-3 month project involving in some cases a half day or full day workshop, plus follow-up meetings. They often do fabulous work and can be very valuable in helping an organization define itself and its focus. However, this expertise does not come without cost – often running between $30,000 and $100,000 in charges.

If you hire a design firm or advertising agency simply to design a logo and stationery, the process is simpler and typically a great deal less costly. It may require an initial direction meeting, following by presentation of multiple logo concepts. This type of work, if you hire and experienced firm, can cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Freelance designers, both experienced and freshly graduated from design school, can offer the most cost-effective options. Additionally, there are resources on the Internet that offer logo development for a flat fee – and these resources can provide satisfactory assistance, particularly if you know what you’re looking for and simply need the design skills to bring it to life.

10 Tips in choosing a branding or design firm:

  1. Before you meet with anyone, spend some time on your own outlining the key mission of your organization, who your customers are, what your key value proposition is, etc. These pieces of information will be invaluable to share with your designer – and will ensure that you get an initial design that represents your culture and identity versus just providing an opportunity for a designer to create new items for their portfolio.
  2. Interview at least 3 different firms – by forcing yourself to survey the market, you will ensure you get the best firm for your needs, at the right cost. If you’re seeking freelance designers, there are several website resources such as,, and that provide a forum to find and hire designers.
  3. Spend time outlining your objectives and ask formal proposals. Some designers price on a strictly hourly basis and some provide a flat fee rate. If you hire based on an hourly rate, ask for an estimate and work to get some type of guarantee on the maximum cost … so you can be assured that you’re not facing an open-ended cost. For a project like logo design and stationery, you can often negotiate a flat fee, but the designer will typically build in extra time for revisions to protect themselves in case they estimate low on the required number of hours.
  4. Be sure to specify that you want multiple logo and stationery concepts created – and the freedom to have a couple rounds of adjustments. You don’t want to get into a position where you agreed to a price for one concept and then get caught with additional up charges for changes that would be typical for this process.
  5. Be sure your pricing includes providing the final logo in all possible electronic formats -- .tif, .gif, .jpg, .png, etc. Different types of use require different formats – for example online communications usually use a lower resolution .jpg format, because the files are smaller – but a .jpg would not be suitable for printing.
  6. Be sure you clearly identify that the stationery and business card file will be delivered “print-ready” (if you want to handle the printing separately on your own) or that the firm is also planning on handling the printing for you. If they are, they will typically earn a percentage of the print costs, so shouldn’t charge you much to manage the printing.
  7. Be careful about color – a 4-color logo may be awesome looking, but will kill you in print costs, because it will require 4-color process to produce it. Typically, a 2 or 3 color logo is best (black counts as a color), and you should also request to have a black only version of your logo created for use in black and white publications. If you don’t do this, you’ll find yourself using your color version, and if printed in black only the colors will often look grey or faded.
  8. One way to judge a designer’s experience is how well they advise you on the topics raised in this list – so initiating a discussion along these lines in the interview process is a good way to assess whether you’re getting an experienced professional or not.
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – just because they use terms you might not understand, don’t be intimidated. You’re the customer! Make sure they take time to help you understand how they approach the project and what they intend to deliver back to you … and on what timeframe. It’s not unfair to request a commitment to a reasonable timetable.
  10. Remember, you can always expand on the initial development later. You don’t have to do your logo, stationery, business cards, corporate brochure, and website all at the same time. For one thing, it can get costly. For another, you may want to test out your logo and your initial branding for a while. Sometimes you find that your key messages will get more refined in time – and you will be happier with your website and brochure if you wait until you have been in business a while before you spend the money to create those materials. It’s tempting to do the entire suite of corporate materials right at the beginning – and your design firm will likely encourage you to do so. A good rule of thumb is to do as little as possible to get yourself a professional image and business cards … and to expand your materials as your business expands.

What Is It?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a relatively new marketing term that has gotten a lot of attention in the past several years.

The Dictionary in the American Marketing Association website defines Customer Relationship Management as, “A discipline in marketing combining database and computer technology with customer service and marketing communications. Customer relationship management (or CRM) seeks to create more meaningful one-on-one communications with the customer by applying customer data (demographic, industry, buying history, etc.) to every communications vehicle. At the simplest level, this would include personalizing e-mail or other communications with customer names. At a more complex level, CRM enables a company to produce a consistent, personalized marketing communication whether the customer sees an ad, visits a Web site, or calls customer service.”

How Does It Work?

CRM has its roots in the concept of relationship marketing – which was based on the idea that marketing should not be defined only by the initial acquisition of a customer, but that every customer touch point represents a relationship-building opportunity. This idea served to broaden marketing to include every customer touch point and to define not only acquisition, cross-sell, and up-sell, but also create a powerful, loyalty-building customer experience that bonds the customer tightly to your organization. Unfortunately, when organizations tried to implement this concept, they discovered that they did not collect data at any of the customer touch points that were not sales-based, and often did not collect and analyze data when customers severed the relationship. As a result, the CRM movement evolved to include a strong focus on data collection and data warehousing.

CRM has, in fact, become so associated with data collection that the original intent of customer interaction and relationship-building has taken a back burner … and CRM has become all about software. Many companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on CRM and have realized little gain in customer loyalty, share of wallet, or return on investment.

The concept of using the information that a customer supplies at every interaction to deliver more value to that customer by delivering relevant offers, avoiding generic communications, and recognizing their status as a customer is still a very viable concept. Whether it’s called one to one marketing, relationship marketing, CRM, or another new term like customer experience management … the idea that a current customer should not receive an acquisition mailing for a product they have already purchased, that you should focus marketing efforts on rewarding and recognizing current customers by cross-selling relevant products, offering coupons and discounts, and thanking them for their business is logical and makes sense if you realize that such efforts can definitely increase profit margins. However, the need for expensive CRM software – and the dream of a fully automated process that identifies opportunities and delivers highly tailored communications to the right customer right at the time they are most reception – is still a dream in progress. A handful of companies have gotten it right, but many more are still struggling to create the vision.

Why Do I Need It?

The obvious answer for the small to mid-sized business is that you don’t need it. You certainly wouldn’t need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in CRM software. But the answer to the need for CRM isn’t quite as obvious as it appears.

Firstly, if you go back to the original concepts behind CRM – the idea that you should be customer-focused in your business approach and consider the customer experience at every touch point … and the idea that you should put in place processes to recognize customers with whom you have a relationship and treat them accordingly – well, I would argue that any business, no matter how small, should be thinking in these terms.

Secondly, CRM doesn’t have to mean highly sophisticated, automated customer touches across multi-media. In a small to mid-sized company CRM might mean implementing some simply ideas that use a much more low-tech approach. And, overall it means setting business objectives, measuring success, hiring and evaluating employees, and building marketing strategies with the customer experience fully integrated and foremost in mind. For example, every employee that interacts with a customer, no matter how mechanical that interaction, is an opportunity to reinforce the customer relationship, make relevant up-sell and cross-sell offers, and ask for feedback.

Finally, any sized business can build your processes to seize those opportunities, and track and measure the impact on your business … you just have to be motivated to do so. And, you have to think in terms of an ongoing customer relationship and customer value over time – not just one isolated sale.

Can I Do It Myself?

Yes, and No.

Yes -- You can certainly implement the principles of CRM by yourself. And, to a certain extent, you can execute marketing campaigns and customer-focused communications on your own that reflect the CRM philosophy.

No -- If you really want to implement full-scale CRM as a driving factor in your business, you will need to consult a professional.

Tips for Do-It-Yourself CRM:

  1. Identify every customer touch point. Every customer interaction, from initial acquisition through the first billing, product fulfillment, collections, renewals, customer service communications, calls into your call center – and most especially every personal interaction in a retail store – is a customer experience opportunity. Sit down and think through every step in your business process and where those steps touch a customer – then write down every one of those customer touch points.
  2. Add customer contact data requests to every form and communication that goes out at each stage. You want to collect email address, mailing address, and phone numbers every chance you get – these are the enablers of a CRM strategy. Make them an unobtrusive addition to your emails (at the bottom), any online purchase forms, collect the information at the cash register (even if you have to just write it in a notebook manually). One note of caution – only ask for what you don’t have. If you can’t customize each communication to reflect this, then be clever how you phrase it – make it a request to UPDATE their personal information so you can serve them better. You don’t want to annoy customers by asking for information they already gave you, but it’s easy to manage this issue by being clever about how you ask for it. Also, it’s a good idea to offer some type of reward in exchange for providing this data – a coupon or discount, free shipping – something of value to the customer.

Where Can I Go for Help?

If you read the 'Can I do it myself?' section and found yourself saying, “Huh?” … you probably need to consider hiring a professional to help you implement CRM in your organization. However, be very careful when you interview potential CRM experts. Many “CRM Experts” are really software salespeople selling CRM software – and you don’t need software to implement some very effective strategies. You might try working with a traditional advertising agency that specializes in direct response and “one-to-one” marketing … these kinds of professionals typically are focused on a more relationship-building orientation.

You can learn more about CRM by visiting this site: This website, as well as many others, provides information about CRM in the industry, the latest happenings, and advice on how to implement a CRM strategy.

What Is It?

The Dictionary in the American Marketing Association website defines Database Marketing as, “An approach by which computer database technologies are harnessed to design, create, and manage customer data lists containing information about each customer's characteristics and history of interactions with the company.” It goes on to say, “The lists are used as needed for locating, selecting, targeting, servicing, and establishing relationships with customers in order to enhance the long-term value of these customers to the company.

The techniques used for managing lists include:

  1. Database manipulation methods such as select and join,
  2. Statistical methods for predicting each customer's likelihood of future purchases of specific items based on his/her history of past purchases, and
  3. Measures for computing the life-time value of a customer on an ongoing basis."

Whew! Sound complicated? Well, the basic concept is actually pretty simple. It’s the execution of that concept that gets complicated. The basic idea is that your marketing is bound to be more successful if you send personal offers to people that are based on information you know about them … versus sending mass marketing offers that speak to everyone as if they are the same. We know people are different – demographically, geographically, psychographically, and economically – and data in each of these areas can be extremely powerful when used to target the right message, to the right prospective buyer.

Database marketing can be as simple as remembering to suppress current customers from a direct mail solicitation designed to acquire new customers. It’s not cost-effective to waste marketing dollars on selling your products to those who have already bought … and it can do damage to your customer relationships when customers don’t think you know they are a customer. At the very least, you might generate unwanted customer phone calls from customers who are afraid they aren’t listed correctly as a customer – instead of generating leads for new customer acquisitions, you end up using all your precious resources to conserve your existing customer base. Simply suppressing existing customers is a basic principle of direct marketing that can save lots of headaches.

More complex uses of database marketing build predictive response models that score a number of factors, including demographic, behavioral, psychographic, economic, and geographical things like age, zip code, household wealth indicators to identify prospects who most closely share statistically significant characteristics with current customers. This kind of database marketing is extremely sophisticated and often uses Ph.D. level statistical analysis to determine which characteristics are predictive and to validate that prediction.

Do I Need It?

Database marketing is also known as smart marketing. As in the simple provided in the first section – simply eliminating your current customers can save you money and headaches. Other things like targeting only the ages who are most likely to purchase your products (versus those too young or too old) can create efficiencies. The reality is, if you’re using direct mail in your marketing activities, you should be capturing as much data as you possibly can about your responders … and use that data to help you better target your prospect files. It’s just a waste of time and money to mail people who aren’t very likely to purchase your products … and you absolutely want to eliminate everyone from the mailing who isn’t eligible for your product. Whether it’s because they’re already a customer, they don’t have the disposable income, aren’t the required ages, or don’t live in areas where you provide services … excluding people based on these types of characteristics makes sense. Even if you’re not sophisticated enough to target who you want to mail using database marketing techniques … you should have the ability to exclude people from your mailing who you shouldn’t be targeting.

The bottom line is this – paper costs continue to rise, as does postage – so if you’re spending money to send a mailing to someone, you should take the time to make sure that you have a good name and address file, and that you apply some basic direct marketing techniques to tilt the scale in your favor. That’s just smart marketing.

Can I Do It Myself?

If you’re wanting to leverage some of the more sophisticated database marketing techniques for use in targeting the right prospects – and using the data you capture to personalize messages in your mailings – you should get some professional help. This is an area where the experts are highly specialized, and the savings you justify by generating higher response rates and sales for every mailing you send will justify hiring professionals to help you.

That being said, if you’re just doing a small amount of direct mail, you can handle some of the basic suppression steps manually. There are companies that will provide list cleansing via the Internet – and these companies will typically also offer the ability to pre-sort your mailing and bump it against the National Change of Address (NCOA) database to get the most recent address for your prospects. These services help you qualify for the highest postage discounts – and ensure that your list contains valid names and addresses. A site that provide this type of service is: Also, the major data companies and list brokers like Experien, FirstUnion, Equifax, and others also offer data cleansing services.

Tips for Do-It-Yourself Database Marketing:

  1. CLEAN.

    Apply basic list cleansing or data hygiene processes to remove duplicate names and ensure that you have the most recent address for your target prospects. This includes cleaning and updating names, addresses and telephone numbers to ensure that your communications are personalized, accurate and deliverable:

    • Address Validation

      - Validate, correct and update address information using reference files.

    • Movers

      - Provide new, up-to-date contact names and/or addresses for consumers or businesses that have moved.

    • Age Information

      - Provide actual date of birth and modeled age information for consumers.


    Validate individual and business contact information to ensure that direct mail is deliverable and will reach the intended recipient:

    • Individual Residency or Business Validation

      - Verify that an individual/business is present at an address.

    • Telephone Number Validation

      – Validate that a telephone number for an individual or business is complete and up-to-date.


    Identify individuals that are not eligible for your products – who you should exclude from your mailing. These may include:

    • Current Customers (if they cannot take advantage of the offer or would be offended)
    • Those who are too old or too young
    • Those who live outside your geographical area of operation or who are not eligible because of where they live.

How Can I Get It?

There are two different types of resources you should seek, depending on your objective:

  1. If you are primarily wanting to use only the basic database marketing tools and not wanting to do sophisticated targeting, then you should seek out list cleansing and data validation companies. These services can be relatively inexpensive, and can often be found via the Internet.
    • Try using the post office’s site. The US postal service offers a great deal of list cleansing functionality via their website, and for very little cost Depending on your level of sophistication, they may have everything you need. Visit In addition to services available through the post office, you’ll also find links to providers who are licensed and certified through the USPS.
    • IMS, a subsidiary of the Direct Marketing Association, can be found at: IMS manages for the DMA, the world’s largest consumer preference database of nearly 15,000,000 consumers. Additionally, as the processing arm of the DMA, IMS manages the “do not call” list for the states of Pennsylvania, Maine and Wyoming. They provide innovative list and database management software and services designed to help businesses succeed in their marketing efforts by mitigating the challenges imposed by privacy and consumer opt-out legislation. As part of their offering, they can perform web-based file cleaning and database services.
  2. If you are looking for help in targeting prospects, building models, and leveraging sophisticated database marketing tools, then you should seek a full-service analytics or database marketing agency. The American Marketing Association publishes an annual directory of direct marketing services. The link below will take you to a page on their website where the annual directory can be viewed and downloaded: This directory is a comprehensive guide to US companies providing direct marketing and database marketing services.

What Is It?

The Dictionary in the American Marketing Association website defines Direct Mail as, “The use of the mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service or other delivery services as an advertising media vehicle.” Direct mail was the original channel for direct marketing, and as such, the two terms have become somewhat interchangeable.

However, direct marketing has evolved to cover a specific discipline of marketing designed to solicit a response from a prospect of customer using media that can be personally addressed and delivered to an individual. Because direct marketing is a much broader area of expertise, this section will focus on direct marketing, with direct mail representing a very important channel within that discipline.

Direct marketing is defined by the AMA as:

  1. Retailing Definition.

    A form of non-store retailing in which customers are exposed to merchandise through an impersonal medium and then purchase the merchandise by telephone or mail.

  2. Channels of Distribution Definition. The total of activities by which the seller, in effecting the exchange of goods and services with the buyer, directs efforts to a target audience using one or more media (direct selling, direct mail, telemarketing, direct-action advertising, catalog selling, cable selling, etc.) for the purpose of soliciting a response by phone, mail, or personal visit from a prospect or customer.

Direct marketing is different from traditional advertising in its ability to be measured. Sales generated by traditional advertising are typically measured by “awareness” surveys, which measure whether or not someone remembers the ad or remembers the company associated with the ad. A direct marketing advertisement, however, has a specific response device – call this toll-free number, visit this website address, or return this form – which can precisely measure the effectiveness of the advertisement. Additionally, direct marketing can go further and match the specific responder to the original list to determine what offer and list generated that sale. This type of scientific measurement allows for very precise testing in which you can clearly show that one direct mail campaign or one advertisement sold more products or generated more inquiries than another … versus “awareness” measurements in traditional advertising that may or may not translate into sales.

There have been many cases of people remembering and ad, but not the company or brand represented in the ad … just the overall product category. In such a case, your ad might just as easily be promoting the competition’s product as yours. Additionally, there have been measured cases where a person liked an ad, remembered the ad, and even remembered the company, but didn’t or wouldn’t buy the product. It’s hard to measure the effects of traditional advertising in terms of sales generated.

Direct marketing provides proof of the results of your marketing expenditures, and is often favored as a tool for generating sales versus simply raising brand awareness. Marketing has evolved to consider both direct marketing and advertising as important tactics in a well-rounded marketing campaign. However, for those on a limited budget, the return on investment is much higher when you use direct marketing.

Do I Need It?

Direct mail is to grow 7.5 percent to $64.4 billion and Internet advertising 15 percent to $10.7 billion, according to a 2007 forecast by Universal McCann.


Both of these represent direct marketing channels, which continue to be the most cost-effective tools for generating direct sales through marketing efforts.

If you have a direct sales force, you may not need to use direct marketing to sell your products and services (although direct marketing can be used quite effectively to generate qualified leads for a sales force with a combination of direct mail, email marketing, and telephone follow-up).

If you are selling products to consumers, and you don’t have a retail sales channel, then you will likely need to rely on direct marketing to generate your sales. Let’s face it, consumers won’t come visit your website or call your toll-free phone number unless you give them a compelling reason to do so. Direct marketing provides the push that drives consumers into your organization to purchase and inquire about your products. The truth is, even retail companies are using direct marketing channels – email and direct mail solicitations – to drive traffic into their stores.

The bottom line is this – if you’re selling products to consumers, then you ought to consider direct marketing as a strong part of your overall sales strategy.

Selling to businesses instead of consumers? Direct marketing can also work well in supporting lead generation for a business to business sales force … and, believe it or not, in generating direct sales. In general, if your business to business product is very high end cost wise, then you probably want to use direct marketing to support a sales force and generate qualified leads. However, if your product is more affordable, you might find it cost-effective to sell via direct marketing channels … even to your business customers!

Can I Do It Myself?

Like many other areas of marketing addressed in this sight, if you’re wanting to leverage some of the more sophisticated direct marketing techniques, you should get some professional help. Creating the right list, selecting the right channels, and developing the right creative message are all areas where experts can leverage their years of seeing what works for different product categories – and they can help you avoid common pitfalls and immediately see positive results from your direct marketing efforts. This is an area where the experts are highly specialized, and the savings you justify by generating higher sales for every direct marketing campaign will justify the expense of getting professional help.

However, don’t be intimidated by having to generate a big budget before you start using direct marketing tactics … you can achieve success by leverage some simple, proven strategies that are relatively low cost.

Low-Cost Direct Marketing Strategies:

  1. You can’t go wrong with a simple postcard.

    If you have a small geographic footprint, try targeting a postcard to just a few zip codes. Be sure to suppress your current customers from the list. Your creative should be simple and direct – it should make a promise to the consumer that conveys a value proposition – what’s in it for them? Be sure you tell them what to do to respond and what action you want them to take – visit your website, call for an appointment, call for information, etc.

  2. Multi-channel efforts can work very well, and can be cost-effective.

    Pair a postcard with a unique website/landing page for this specific campaign – and pair the design and creative message together, providing the call to action on the postcard and website address and providing the fulfillment of that response via the landing page. Don’t be afraid to use personalization and address the postcard to John Smith – it’s much more powerful to say “Hey John Smith – I’ve got a great offer for you” than to say “Hey Resident!” Carry the personalization through to the web landing page by using a “PURL – Personal URL”, which is a unique website address that uses your company site, and ends with a unique combination of the person’s name and a tracking code so each customer has their own … this allows you to carry personalization through to the website landing page. Many printers are now offering this kind of service as they expand in to electronic as well as print services.

  3. Send a combination letter and response card in an envelope.

    A strong solicitation letter can be much more effective than mailing a brochure … and you can still address all the valuable services you can provide. Be sure to personalize, make it look like a letter, and sign it personally from an officer in your company. Use a personal, letter-writing tone, but don’t forget that your goal is to convince your reader to take the desired action. However, don’t oversell. If all you want is someone to return a request card for more information, don’t give them all the information about your product – just tease them enough to get them to response.

There are many more ways that direct marketing can be used effectively to generate leads and sales … if the low-cost tips above read like another language, then you should probably find a qualified direct marketing agency to help you. If you followed everything in the tips above, then you should probably consider a career in direct marketing!!!

How Can I Get It?

The American Marketing Association publishes an annual directory of direct marketing services. The link below will take you to a page on their website where the annual directory can be viewed and downloaded: This directory is a comprehensive guide to US companies providing direct marketing and direct mail services.

What Is It?

The Dictionary in the American Marketing Association website defines Market Research as, “The systematic gathering, recording, and analyzing of data with respect to a particular market, where market refers to a specific customer group in a specific geographic area.”

In general, market research means the gathering of information and data from both free and purchased sources to better understand your target audience. This data typically cross-references multiple data sources to create a deep customer view. Data sources can include demographic information, such as age and gender, geographic information like zip code or city, economic information such as household income, and psychographic information such as interests and hobbies. This combined information can help you better identify and target those most likely to purchase your product or service.

Market research can be qualitative or quantitative in nature, and it is generally recommended to use both approaches to achieve a solid picture of your target audience.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is considered subjective research. Focus Groups, surveys, and any other research where people are asked questions and respond according to what they report they might do or feel is considered qualitative research. This type of research is best used to determine and test out appropriate messages, branding concepts, and creative themes to see how audiences will respond. This is not the best type of research to obtain definitive information about interest in or willingness to buy a particular product, because people often will report differently than their actual behavior will show. This phenomenon is known as response bias.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research looks at actual data available about your particular audience. It might be purchasing data, response data, or other analytical data that is based on facts and not what someone “may” do. Quantitative research looks at trends and predictive patterns to identify commonalities and predict the likelihood of certain activities. This type of research is closely related to database marketing and the use of response modeling.

Why Do I Need It?

Your marketing investment will go a lot further if you understand who buys your products, and how to effectively target prospects that are most likely to buy your products. Without market research, you’re just throwing darts at a dartboard and hoping that something sticks. When you’re armed with information about who buys your products – and you use that information to target potential customers – you can generally spend less and get more overall return for your marketing dollars.

Additionally, market research can often help you identify the next most lucrative product opportunity – what product you might effectively cross-sell to your existing customers or what product prospects are interested in who haven’t yet purchased a product from you.

Can I Do It Myself?

You can effectively complete simple market research projects on your own – and the Internet has become a very useful tool to support “do-it-yourself” research. In general, if you’re planning a simple survey and merely looking to test some different marketing messages or gather some directional information, you can probably use a simple web-survey as a tool to gather information. However, if you’re doing focus groups or looking to gather some real breakthrough intelligence – it’s probably best to hire a research firm specializing in the specific discipline you’re seeking. For instance, focus group research is a very different specialty than large-scale, national survey research.

Self-service for Simple Survey Research

If you want to execute some simple surveys on your own, the Internet is your very best tool. There are a number of companies out there that offer a pool of people you can rent to survey – and you can select only those participants who match your ideal target. These services also offer the software to complete and analyze your survey. An example of such a company is Zoomerang, and there are others as well. The advantages are that you can get results incredibly quickly – and the costs are extremely affordable.

Professional Resources

There are many firms specializing in market research. In general, the more extensive your research project, the higher the cost. A multi-city focus group project can easily cost $50,000, as can a major national survey. However, statistical validity can often be achieved by using a small sample size, and a good research firm can help you get the most for your budget.

Tips in choosing a research firm:

  1. Be sure you understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
  2. Interview at least 3 different firms – by forcing yourself to survey the market, you will ensure you get the best firm for your needs, at the right cost.
  3. Spend time outlining your objectives with the firm and ask for their proposals. Indicate that you are leaning toward a survey or a focus group study, but let the firms propose alternative research strategies they might suggest to achieve your objectives. If you’re going to spend time interviewing, and ultimately hiring, a professional research firm, be sure you listen to their suggestions.
  4. Don’t be afraid to push them to accomplish more with less – but be realistic about your expectations. For example, you can’t expect a one-hour focus group to cover 10 topics and get meaningful data about each of them. You’re better off identifying 2-3 major issues you want to investigate or for which you have a hypothesis and focus on getting in-depth discussion around those issues.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – just because they use terms you might not understand, don’t be intimidated. You’re the customer! Make sure they take time to help you understand what they are proposing, how it will work, and how it will give you the information you need to reach more customers or sell more product!

What Is It?

Public relations one of the marketing disciplines within the marketing mix, which includes advertising, sales promotion, public relations, and direct response marketing. Public relations has gotten extremely sophisticated, and many experts in this discipline will argue that it is more effective than advertising for building a brand and communicating the value proposition of your organization or your products.

The Dictionary in the American Marketing Association website defines Customer Relationship Management as, “That form of communication management that seeks to make use of publicity and other non-paid forms of promotion and information to influence the feelings, opinions, or beliefs about the company, its products or services, or about the value of the product or service or the activities of the organization to buyers, prospects, or other stakeholders.”

What is interesting about public relations, or PR, is that it makes use of the side of the editorial side of media. This tactic eliminates the specific cost of purchasing media placement, and achieves a much higher level of credibility with the intended audience because your firm is referenced as part of journalistic content. This type of content is believed to be much more credible than paid advertising in the mind of the consumer.

The downside of this type of content is that you cannot control the outcome. You may provide a very positive press release, and be interviewed for a feature article about your firm. Unfortunately, the article which highlights your firm is not available for your review ahead of publication – and you can sometimes be unpleasantly surprised to find that the journalist who interviewed you also interviewed a disgruntled former customer … and their quote was printed in the article.

That’s why effective PR is most often managed by a PR agent or agency who has extensive media relationships. These relationships benefit the journalists who rely on their PR counterparts for article leads, and this relationship often allows the PR contact to be given a preliminary heads-up about the overall direction an article is taken so they can effectively work to make it appear as favorable as possible to their client.

Why Do I Need It?

Public relations can be a very powerful tool for establishing your brand and creating credibility in your industry for your expertise. It can be especially important if you are a new company, because you can use article reprints as marketing tools. There’s a great deal of power in being able to send out an article about your industry in which you or your company’s leadership are quoted as experts … or even better an article you authored that was published in a reputable trade magazine. Such an article gives you instant credibility that may not every be achievable from paid advertising alone.

Additionally, such powerful publicity can often be had at a fraction of the cost of general media advertising. One might even argue that building corporate image and branding can be done much more quickly and effectively through a public relations campaign.

A better approach would be to combine a strong PR campaign with more traditional advertising, where you can control the message that is printed, and with targeted, direct marketing that is designed to sell products to your end consumers.

The best marketing approach is one which utilizes each of the disciplines to create a well-rounded marketing plan, of which public relations can be a major part.

Can I Do It Myself?

You can certainly create the basic public relations content on your own. And, if you’re dealing with primarily local media like your city’s Business Journal, you may be able to effectively cultivate media relationships on your own.

However, if you’re marketing yourself on a geographically-dispersed or national level, hiring a competent public relations agency is a must. And, I would recommend that you consider hiring an agency even if you’re a smaller, local company. Professional agencies are less expensive than you think, and they can be far more effective at getting free media coverage than you ever could on your own.

Do-It-Yourself Public Relations Key Content

There are three must-have elements of public relations that every company needs:

  1. The Press Kit.

    The Press Kit is an overview of your company that can be delivered to media outlets. They follow a pretty standard format (see our Member Benefits section for a template you can use). Overall, they include a summary of the company’s mission, value proposition, major clients, biographies on the key management, and background on how the company was formed.

    This information is needed by any journalist who interviews someone from your company – it gives them some background to review prior to the interview, allows them to tailor their questions to get concrete information, and it saves them time. It also gives them a resource to refer back to when they are writing the article. Additionally, it gives you a chance to communicate about your company in your own terms – and giving that kind of resource to the journalist gives you a better chance that they’ll describe you the same way.

  2. The Basic Company Press Release.

    The Press Release is a standard format that allows you to release information to the media about things going on with your company (see our Member Benefits section for a template you can use). The initial Press Release on a new company should be the announcement that the company was formed, who the initial participants are, and a definition of the company’s value proposition and mission.

    These announcements are drafted and sent to each targeted media outlet, along with a press kit (if they do not already have one) in hopes that they will carry the announcement somewhere in their publication. Follow-on events that can trigger additional press releases include: announcing newly hired employees, completion of a new project or deployment of a new product, acquisition of a new client, or an update to the company financials (if a publicly held company). It’s a good idea to get as many press releases into the media as can be supported by real activity – as these are your public relations lead generators. In addition to hoping data from the press release gets published, the real goal is to stimulate a journalist to contact you for an article in which your company can be positively featured.

  3. The Byline Article.

    The Byline Article is an article authored by you or someone in your company with intent to be published in a trade magazine. In many cases, your Public Relations firm will pre-shop the concept of your Byline Article to several magazines and draft the article to match what the magazines are looking at. These are great marketing tools, because you can request reprints of the published article and send them to your prospects with a cover letter. This type of project establishes you as an expert, a “published” author in your field, and someone who speaks with authority in your industry. You could draft a Byline Article on your own, but it is very difficult to get a magazine or newspaper to publish one without the support of a Public Relations agency.

Where Can I Go for Help?

In many cases, you will want to seek the assistance of a professional public relations expert. This is especially important if you are trying to publish multiple Byline Articles, and to get referenced in the trade publications.

All those other experts who manage to get quoted in all your industry publications are not smarter than you, nor are they better experts … they just have a savvy public relations specialist on their side.

Knowing the media to target for your industry, having existing relationships with contacts at those media, and understanding how to create professional content designed for publication – these are all tools that you should expect from your Public Relations agency. And, having those capabilities working for you is often worth every penny.

Plus, you may be surprised at how little investment is required to gain professional public relations support. PR retainer fees may cost you $10,000 a month for a top-notch PR firm … or less if you work with a lower profile or recently established firm. Just remember, the more established firms have extremely deep media relationships and they know how to get you published.

One hint – you can always negotiate a public relations firm down from their basic rate by requesting a more limited schedule of Press Releases and Byline Articles. When you’re first starting out, you may not have enough events to regularly publish Press Releases – and you might want to focus on just getting one or two Byline Articles published. Or, you might want to work on getting a feature article covered about your company in your local Business Journal. If you limit the number of press releases or request a slimmed-down Public Relations plan, you might find the pricing is more manageable.

What Is It?

Telemarketing is such a dirty word that the American Marketing Association doesn’t list it in their dictionary of marketing terms. With the “Do Not Call” Registry – which allows consumers to list their phone number on the registry and bar them from the majority of solicitation-based telemarketing calls – there was some concern that this channel was dead as a viable business medium. However, the legislation primarily prohibits cold calling – if there is a verifiable relationship or if the customer responds to indicate interest – the telephone can be used.

Details on the legislation can be found at the following links. Please note that the FCC link is the official government site for the Do Not Call Registry – subsequent links provide articles and thoughts that have been published to guide those in the marketing and advertising industries.

Inbound vs. Outbound Telemarketing

There are two different kinds of telemarketing – inbound and outbound. Inbound is a call generated by the customer. Outbound is a call that is generated by a soliciting company. Inbound telemarketing is still pretty wide open and was not much impacted by the recent legislation.

Overall, the telephone is simply another medium. And, it happens to be the medium most suited to personal interaction outside a personal sales person. Telemarketing is still around and is likely to be around, in spite of recent legislation – because people feel comfortable speaking to someone on the phone. What the legislation has done is to reduce the amount of calls that are received by the typical household and to make the calls more likely to generate a positive response. As a result, good marketers who can create a relationship where a phone call is legitimate and legal, can achieve a great deal of success by using this medium.

One other important note – the limiting legislation applied primarily to individual or residential phone numbers. Business-to-business phone calls still have little limitation under the law, and cold calling is still an important part of many business sales.

In addition to live person to person calls, telemarketing has expanded to include recorded messages that are sent out via telephone – often with an option to transfer to a live person by pressing a button. These are less expensive than traditional telemarketing, because you just record one message and blast it to a list of telephone numbers. However, these are also a great deal less personal – even when someone famous records the message.

Why Do I Need It?

You may be using telemarketing and not even realize it. Inbound telemarketing is the most commonly used tool – and if you’re taking orders by phone, receiving and returning customer phone calls, or calling customers to schedule appointments or in follow-up to meetings … then you’re using telemarketing in its most basic sense.

The phone is one of your most important business tools. It helps you build relationships that are personal, it lets you contact someone very quickly, and it allows for interaction. Ignoring the phone and your use of it just doesn’t make sense.

If you’re using the phone for your business, then you may be missing opportunities if you don’t implement some simply telemarketing tactics in your phone calls. Each time you speak to a customer or a potential customer – you are selling.

You may be answering a question, solving a problem, or taking an order … but these are all opportunities to gather information about your customer that can open the door to future selling. Much like the guidance on CRM – you should take full advantage of these opportunities to ask the next question and gather as much information about your customer as possible with each conversation. And, where it makes sense, offer cross-selling and up-selling options – you may be surprised at how often they are accepted!

Can I Do It Myself?

You may be able to implement some simple telemarketing principles on your own. Especially if your volume of calls is low – then your existing staff can usually handle the flow of calls effectively. And, if you’re taking calls or making calls to customers and prospective customers, you should definitely implement some basic telemarketing principles to get the most out of this media.

Tips for Do-It-Yourself Telemarketing:

  1. Identify Every Phone Contact you have with customers. Be sure you are being deliberate about each telephone interaction between your organization and prospects, customers, and vendors.
  2. Consider phone etiquette training to be sure there is consistency about how each employee answers the phone, identifies the company and themselves, and proceeds through their business.
  3. It’s wise to develop scripts for those telemarketing conversations that represent repeated processes – collections calls, welcoming calls, introductory calls, etc. If you have a script, you can ensure that the right points are being made in each and every call.
  4. Practice your telephone calls using the scripts you have developed. Make each employee who makes regular customer and prospect telephone calls simulate calls and practice conversations. They will come off smoother and more professional – and you will have the opportunity to provide feedback and work toward improvement without impacting your precious customer base.
  5. Monitor live phone calls periodically. Even if you don’t have sophisticated call monitoring equipment, you can still ask your employee to turn up the volume on their phone so you can hear the customer’s responses and evaluate the call.
  6. Make telephone etiquette, script usage, and sales and conservation goals part of your employee’s performance review. If you want to see your telephone contacts improve – you have to be willing to reward employees for the behavior you want to see, and take action to address the behavior you don’t.

Where Can I Go for Help?

There may be times when a specific marketing campaign does make sense to have a telemarketing component. If so, you need to determine how many calls you expect to get – so you can see if your staff can handle the calls or if you’ll need to get help. If you’re doing something on a very small scale, you can certainly execute that kind of campaign without an agency – but if you expect to take a significant volume of calls, or if you’re looking to testing closing sales via the phone – you may want to hire a professional call center.

A call center is a place where multiple trained agents take inbound and make outbound calls, either for sales or service. Some full-service advertising agencies also offer telemarketing services, but you might be better off hiring two separate vendors. Call Center expertise is very specific, and a full-service advertising agency may not have the state-of-the-art dialing, tracking, and monitoring equipment, nor the highly specialized, trained phone representatives.

If you do hire a call center, you might consider asking them to put some of their compensation at risk against attaining your sales goals or other goals for the project. Making them a partner whose agenda is aligned with yours is an important key to success.

What Is It?

The Dictionary in the American Marketing Association website defines Online Marketing as, “Term referring to the Internet and e-mail based aspects of a marketing campaign. Can incorporate banner ads, e-mail marketing, search engine optimization, e-commerce and other tools.” It defines E-Commerce as, “A term referring to a wide variety of Internet-based business models. Typically, an e-commerce strategy incorporates various elements of the marketing mix to drive users to a Web site for the purpose of purchasing a product or service.”

Whether you are managing a corporate website that has pretty static content, or you’re using sophisticated search engine marketing techniques – online marketing has become mainstream. Combinations of email marketing, banner ads, search engine marketing, and other tools make up this sophisticated marketing discipline.

It can be intimidating to keep up with the ever-changing world of online marketing. But, the exciting thing about this media is the immediacy of delivery and response – and the low cost per click. You can reach so many more customers, with multiple touches, and you can afford to do more testing and highly personalized campaigns with online marketing. Compared to traditional media like television, radio, and direct mail, online marketing is a bargain. And, it offers the ability to very precisely target ideal prospects.

E-Commerce refers to the function of providing online payment and purchasing of products and services. Most of the sophisticated e-marketers are using online marketing tactics to drive traffic to their website, where they showcase and sell their products and services. Some of the best online sites are retail companies like, Dell, QVC have fully functional sites that offer recommendations, save your preferences, and will let you track your order as it’s processed.

This article is a great review of the 25 best e-commerce sites on the web:

You can learn a great deal by monitoring what successful e-commerce business are doing. has expanded it’s offering well beyond books. They recently rolled out with a new test service - Amazon Prime. This service qualifies members (it’s free for a trial period, then costs around $30 per year) for free 2-day shipping on all purchases, and reduced fees on overnight shipping. They obviously surveyed their customers and found that shipping costs were their biggest barrier to competing with brick-and-mortar retail stores … and they developed a strategy to overcome that impediment.

Many online companies have integrated telephone and email customer service into their websites to allow for more personal interaction – in an effort to compete with the store clerk at the local retailer.

Online sales continue to grow, and more and more consumers are getting comfortable purchasing online … making it a major factor in business success or failure in the modern world.

Why Do I Need It?

Today’s consumers are Internet-savvy. And, increasingly, having a web presence is not a competitive advantage, but simply a minimum requirement to be in business. If you check out your competition, it is likely that they have a website … and you should, too.

Advantages of having a Website:

  • You meet the minimum requirements to be a “real”, credible business.
  • Your competition is already online.
  • You can use email and other online marketing tools, and can drive them to your website for fulfillment.
  • You can get online relatively cheaply (you would be surprised at how little it costs to get online these days).
  • You can begin saving some paper costs by providing certain administrative materials online and directing customers to that location.

The question should not be whether or not to have a website, but instead what content and functionality do you need at your website. Your business model and your website goals should drive the basic functionality of your website. If you are in the retail business, your website should be a virtual store – with at least your most popular items available for online purchase. If you are in a service industry, your website may be more useful in capturing leads – your goal may be to drive potential customers to your website to complete a request for information.

Regardless of your sophistication level – you need to be on the web if you want to be competitive in today’s business environment.

Can I Do It Myself?

Today, many ten-year-olds are building and managing their own websites. Many of the domain name websites (places where you can “purchase” your domain name) such as the sites listed below, and many more, provide user-friendly services for designing and hosting your website for you.

Additionally, many of the cable modem and DSL services provide some web hosting and limited design services. And, you can purchase software such as Adobe Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage, or find free shareware on the Internet, that will allow you to build and design a website without ever knowing Internet programming languages such as HTML or Java.

Because of these vast resources, you can fairly easily build your own website. This is especially true if you just need simply content and don’t need to build a database that sits behind your website to store data that you capture (from member registration, etc.)

It is a little harder to “do-it-yourself” if you are installing payment processing and shopping cart functionality (key capabilities for e-commerce). However, there are vendors out there like PayPal who provide those services on an outsourced basis on a fee-for-service basis. It is often cheaper and easier just to purchase their services than to build your own version of such functionality.

Do It Yourself Guide

If you insist on building your own website, here are some simple “Do’s and Don’ts”:

  • Don’t

    do fancy graphics that will take a long time to download.

  • Don’t

    add fancy java scripting just because you can – if it doesn’t enhance the customer experience for both new AND returning customers, then leave it out.

  • Don’t

    be afraid to fill up the white space on your home page. Consumers are used to busy home pages – that typically communicates that there’s a lot of useful content and that your site is “packed” with information.

  • Don’t

    get caught up in trying to build a “pretty” site. Consumers are much more interested in finding what they want upfront, with as few clicks as possible, and with easily accesses levels of information. They will tolerate ugly, but they will not tolerate poor functionality.

  • Don’t

    use video – even if you think it’s cool, it takes forever to load and it will be quickly out-of-date.

  • Do

    offer multiple ways on your homepage to access the “meat” of your site. Navigation links along the top, left-hand topic links, and pull-down menus can all represent different labels/ways to access the same information. Different people think about things differently and, while some people only use the main navigation, others go right for what jumps out at them most.

  • Do

    use banner ads to draw special attention to your best-selling products and services.

  • Do

    build some content areas on your home page that you can change easily to keep content fresh – articles, featured products, etc. You want to encourage repeat traffic and that starts with changing up content to keep it interesting.

  • Do

    ask for feedback from your customers – on your website, on your products, on your purchasing experience, etc. It’s one of the greatest values of the Internet – immediate feedback. You can easily and cheaply survey your customers about everything under the sun … don’t miss out on the opportunity.

  • Do

    provide a Help button and make it easy to contact a person if necessary. Don’t lose a sale just because someone couldn’t find what they needed on your website.

Where Can I Go for Help?

In many cases, it is advisable to involve a savvy Internet marketer in designing your website. This will help ensure that you are building a site that is conducive to marketing. This is especially true if you want to have a website with a great deal of functionality that is highly interactive. Tools keep evolving, and there are many content management tools for websites that can allow you to easily create dynamic content that works well with email marketing, allows you to frequently change banner ads, and capture and track your customer’s movements on your website.

These functions are extremely valuable, and it is recommended that you seek the help of a web programmer who is able to provide layout and design, help with content, and who is familiar with content management tools, the latest functionality like RSS Feeds, Podcasts, Blogs, and Webinars. These tools can allow you to create a dynamic interaction with your customers that builds loyalty and increases the amount of products and services you sell.

Just be careful that you don’t get caught up in all the bells and whistles – while these functions can and do add value, you should only implement them if they add to your customer experience and increase your overall value proposition. For example, having a cool video download might generate many hits and click-throughs, but might actually hurt sales. Remember, that your ultimate purpose is to guide customers down a path that ends in a sale – and too many detours and stops often will derail that process. Don’t add too many functions and end up distracting your customers from your products and services.

There are professional advertising agencies specializing in online marketing, and they would likely be helpful. However, many general advertising agencies will be less savvy in Online Marketing, and you can often find someone who has experience in all the disciplines you need without hiring an agency.

Before you start burning programming hours, however, spend some time laying out a prototype of your website in Word (or some other word processing software). Don’t worry about layout, just use lines and boxes to depict separate areas. Do spend time on identifying your home page navigation, how you want to organize your content, and on building the content as much as possible.

You want to think about the key messages to convey, how you want your site organized, etc. And, you don’t want to do that while you’re “On-the-Clock” with your web programmer.

Helpful hints for building web content:

  • Think VERY Short

    – The Web operates in bulleted format. If you need to offer more detailed information, then provide a short, bulleted summary and offer more detail on a click-through page.

  • Use Conversational Language

    – think few words and simple phrases. You aren’t writing an English paper.

  • Put the Customer First

    – Make sure each headline, sub headline, link, and overall navigation easily identifies what it represents. Don’t make them guess.

  • Drive Your Audience to Action

    – wherever possible. Each page should offer a link to purchase, request information, download something … some action.

  • Make it Easy to Get Back to Where They Started

    – offer links to the home page from every page, show them their most recently-viewed pages, and offer a “back” button. Consumers do not like to get lost – and that often results in them clicking on the “x” and closing the window in frustration.