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New Year, new ways to market your company . . . at your fingertips

No, I’m not referring to the Yellow Pages, which admittedly I have talked a few clients out of allocating big dollars to over the years. Nothing against that particular medium, and there are some service providers that swear by it, but not sure it’s not the best place to park too many of your very hard earned marketing dollars this day and age. Getting the most exposure for your company, your brand and your message for the fewest dollars is the new mantra. Some experts actually think you should spend more, but spend it wisely, of course.

In a September, 2008 Forbes.com article on innovative marketing techniques, guerrilla-marketing expert Jay Conrad Levinson notes, “in times like this, people think the first thing to do is to cut back on marketing to save money. But that’s kind of like ditching your wristwatch to save time. A down economy is not a time to become low profile or people will forget you.”

Levinson’s philosophy is to double the marketing budget in tough times. From the more traditional four percent, he suggests growing it to eight percent of projected gross sales. An attorney at a formidable statewide law firm just informed me that his firm had committed to a larger marketing budget based on similar logic. Hats off to them for savvy planning, even in shaky economic times.

But as we traverse this somewhat unchartered territory, I feel sure that all smart companies are going to insist, even as they grow their budgets, ideally, that they get more out of their current marketing investment by leveraging technology. This is the main premise of David Meerman Scott, viral-marketing strategist and author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR. He suggests that part of the new rules include that the Web lets you to tell your story directly rather than paying for advertising in traditional media channels.

In Scott’s book, he talks about leveraging new online media channels and forums to attract an influential audience. It’s a content-rich, Internet-driven world with new ways to take the message to key stakeholders.

In traditional Web site development, an arena that now seems old hat, Scott makes the point that nothing is more critical than content. Be thoughtful of what you write and how “searchable” it is. Web marketing is about delivering useful content at just the precise moment that a buyer needs it, he notes. And you must know your customer to know what to deliver in those key words and the message they convey.

We’re about to launch a new company for a client and much time was spent developing content for their Web site, particularly in the SEO (search engine optimization) phase. SEO helps improve both the volume and quality of traffic to a site from search engines (like Google) via search results. Typically, the earlier a site comes up in the search, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine.

As part of an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work and what people search for. Optimizing a website primarily involves editing its content and coding to increase its relevance to specific keywords.

Search engine marketing (SEM) lets you attempt to “buy” your spot through “sponsored links” you may see at the top or the right of the page when you search. This is different from SEO, where you hope to get there naturally or organically through smart content and coding in the site itself.

For our medical center client, newly named FitMed Partners, we worked with an outside firm to ensure the Web copy will be highly search – worthy. It’s not a science for the faint at heart or sensitive wordsmiths, but worth the effort for solid Google results, we believe. Time will tell, and of course, we will use other traditional and untraditional means to earn media interest (but not pay for it) to generate buzz for this new approach to “living life better for optimal fitness, health and performance at any age.”

In this new era we’re in, relationships with influentials and good Internet marketing strategy are both essential. News is passed around the world in nanoseconds. Scott’s book does a good job of breaking out (and down) the basics of all these options at our fingertips – from blogs (a Web log hosted by a person, company or cause, mostly text and interactive with readers and followers) or a Podcast (combines the words iPodTM, and broadcast) to Webcasts. For the latter, get a Web cam, now on many computers, and deliver customized content to your subscribers via streaming video.

Then there’s the aforementioned search engine optimization, search engine marketing and RSS feeds. RSS (Rich Site Summary) is a format for delivering regularly changing Web content. Many news-related sites, Web logs and other online publishers syndicate their content as an RSS feed to whoever wants it. You subscribe to the feed, and it allows you to easily stay informed by retrieving the latest content from the sites you are interested in.

You save time by not needing to visit each site individually. More and more sites offer RSS feeds, including Yahoo and Microsoft. Why even my 15 year old niece has her own Webcast on empalive.tv, and uses streaming video and RSS to get the latest Mac technology updates to her viewers.

Even public relations is mentioned as new to some who are looking for more efficient ways to get the word out. Scott points out that though PR has been around since the printing press, it has not always been practical for a small company. Whereas some key media targets can be costly to reach and persuade, even for your PR agency, now, as Scott notes, “…your primary audience is no longer just a handful of journalists. Your audience is millions of people with Internet connections and access to search engines and RSS readers.”

There are many days that someone tells me they don’t exactly know how this PR thing works, particularly as enhanced by savvy interactive marketing strategy, and it’s changing rapidly. But now, like never before, it seems to be the hottest tool in the “new” marketing tool box, and it’s a new way for those fingers to walk too.

Elizabeth L. Boineau runs E. Boineau & Company, a strategic marketing communications and public relations firm based in Charleston. You may reach her at eboineau@eboineauandco.com.

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