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Marketing Plans for Online Enterprises

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MARKETING PLANS FOR ONLINE ENTERPRISES

The marketing aspect of any business is critical to its success. It's even more critical for an e-business, because cyberspace is much more crowded that physical space. Your marketing plan is vitally important, because it outlines the scope of your market, as well as the activities you need to perform to capture your fair market share.

Your e-marketing activities should include the following three elements:

  • Size
  • Selection
  • Targeting

ANTICIPATING YOUR MARKET

No matter how good your product or service is, it won't become prosperous if the size of your potential market isn't large enough to support it. Therefore, the first order of business is to determine the size of your target market and whether there is room for your product or service to thrive and make your business profitable.

This stage requires some research; there are many ways to conduct research on different market segments. Some of the best sources with which to start are:

  • Trade organizations related to your business
  • Government reports and statistics
  • Consulting firms that cover your area of interest

After you find out the size of your market, present your information in a way that is simple and easy to understand. The ideal approach is to use a graph showing the total market as it relates to your target market. Keep in mind that it is impossible for one company to acquire the entire market, as this would constitute a monopoly.

USING MARKET DATA EFFECTIVELY

Once you determine and validate that the overall size of your market is sufficient to support your current and future business needs, proceed to the next stage to refine your targeting effort.

At this stage, narrow your focus to the specific target market you are planing to service. Break down the entire market into different categories. Let's assume that your new enterprise focuses on online bookings for hotels only. In this case, knowing that the total number of online travel bookings is large doesn't tell you much. You need to find out the exact size of the hotel booking market.

An additional benefit of targeting is that you obtain statistical information on all other segments of your market. You might find it necessary to make modifications to your plan if some segments become more promising than others in their size and growth potential.

TARGETING POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS

Targeting is a function of deciding on a specific target market and defining the link between the need of this market target and the products or services that you provide. When you decide to target a specific market segment, you must also keep in mind the need and value you defined. In other words, when you have a choice in selecting a market target, choose the one that most closely matches your vision. This will ensure a reasonable connection between your customers and your plans.

EFFECTIVELY MARKETING TO YOUR CUSTOMERS

The next stage is to outline the activities related to marketing your e-business. Since you are building an e-strategy, your focus will be on e-marketing. However, this does not mean that you won't need to implement traditional marketing practices.

The first thing to remember about e-marketing is that when you enter the connected economy, you are just one out of millions of e-business sites. If you don't practice basic e-marketing activities, your e-business will be lost in the jungle of the World Wide Web.

POSITIONING.

Optimize your site based on the need and value that you are providing, and on the market that you have selected. The most important aspect of site optimization and positioning is the perspective of the customer. This means that when you are selecting meta tags and keywords for your site, always think about what keywords your client will use to search for your services.

You can find out what keywords your potential customers are using by contracting the services of a SEO (Search Engine Optimization) firm. This service will let you know what keywords people use when they search for your type of online service. You should design and insert keywords and meta tags reflecting the properties of interactivity and simplicity (in addition to other features, such as value, services, and so on).

OPTIMIZATION.

Optimizing your site is just the first stage. Now that your site has all the proper keywords and meta tags, it's time to move to the next stage—posting search engines and directories.

Positioning is an art unto itself, and usually requires a professional familiar with this area. Most search engines and directories post manually (someone must fill out the application form and submit it to the search engine or directory).

When your business is just starting, it is impossible to know which search engines or directories are going to be the most suitable for you. At this point, select the most visible companies. Later, when you receive tracking reports, you may wish to make some changes.

OTHER TACTICS

Everything we've done thus far falls under the "passive marketing" category. We've laid the groundwork to receive customers into your site, but we have not yet done anything to "push" customers in that direction.

In order to push customers to your Web site, first develop programs that will promote your site and entice potential customers to visit. There are many ways to practice such programs, but you need to determine what is most suitable for your e-business.

The most successful e-programs are very carefully and elaborately planned, and narrowly and specifically targeted. The first order of business is to determine what kind of a program you want to initiate. Let's assume that you are thinking of developing a direct-mail piece that will entice customers to log-on to your site and book their next cruise with you.

Your target market in this case includes those customers who are very likely to book cruise trips online.

Your form of media is direct mail. In this case, you should contact a direct-mail house and obtain statistics on the demographics and lifestyles of past cruise-line customers. From that, you can pull all potential new customers to match this profile. First, you should make a market test in one geographic area, and monitor the return rate.

Lastly, you need a promotional offer. For instance, you could offer a 10 percent discount off the cruise rate to those customers who log on to your Web site and book their trip within a specified period after receiving the mailing.

The point is that a well established and well balanced e-business-marketing program is one that combines traditional-and cyber-marketing elements, leveraging all the benifits of the former in order to build the latter, and creating a way where online and physical marketing schemes reinforce each other. The traditional components include elements related to the selection and targeting of your market segment. The electronic components include activities that make your e-business more visible in the messy world of e-business and put your business in front of as many potential online customers as possible.

FURTHER READING

Fridstein, Stan. "Marketing Plan." Catalog Age, July 2000.

"Online Advertising: It's Just the Beginning." BusinessWeek Online, July 12, 2001. Available from http://www.businessweek.com.

WizBizWeb, LLC, "The ABC's of E-Strategy," 2002. Available by request from www.wizbizweb.com.

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