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Creative strategies to market your business online

If you can get people to come to your online business, you stand a fair chance of making money. But how do you market your business and attract those visitors? We look at three Australian businesses making use of marketing techniques such as microsites, online auctions and blogging, so you too can grow your business online.

Developing a basic online presence is a prerequisite for any successful business, but merely creating a vanilla site with basic company information is unlikely to make you stand out from the crowd. Making use of newer online technologies such as blogging or video is one way to differentiate yourself from competitors, but how do you make such strategies effective? Here are three companies that have successfully used unusual online strategies to maximise visibility, and profitability.

Online Auctions & Videos

Kogan Technologies sells hi-tech equipment such as LCD televisions and GPS systems exclusively via the internet. Attracting customers is a critical activity for the company, but founder Ruslan Kogan had to go through a fair amount of trial and error to evolve the best strategies. “We’re always looking at ways to improve,” Kogan says. That experimentation has paid off, with the company predicting revenue of $5 million in 2008.

The business began when Kogan, a former consultant, wanted to buy himself an LCD TV. “I saw the prices and was a bit stunned,” he says. “I was earning a bit of money but still couldn’t afford one. I had done some eBay importing and I’d made contact with a few suppliers, so when I saw the price gap I saw a definite market opportunity.” Kogan imported a container load of LCD screens and sold them all within 45 days.

One of Kogan’s most successful strategies has been to sell much of the product via online auction site eBay. “EBay’s got a lot of customers and it’s the world’s biggest marketplace. You can’t ignore it.”

Despite the relatively high value of the products, Kogan lists the items with no reserve, starting the bidding at just 99 cents. That strategy attracts more customers and represents a relatively low risk, he says. “I knew it was a product in high demand, and it was going to get the right price.”

Kogan has made use of other online marketing strategies, including setting up discussion forums and purchasing strategic online advertising. An advertisement attached to a specific product type, such as ‘19-inch LCD’, is much more likely to succeed than a generic one such as ‘LCD TV’, which will attract many competitors, he says.

Future plans also incorporate online technology. “A customer buying online loses out on a lot of the shopping experience compared with buying in a store. We’re going to be doing things like ad campaigns on YouTube and all sorts of marketing initiatives. We’re also realising that pulling people back to the site after they’ve been there once is very important.”

While marketing in this way is important, fundamentals are also vital, he says. “The online customer is a very hard person to please, a lot harder than people who shop in retail stores. Your business is constantly transparent. You’ve got to make sure that customer satisfaction is paramount. Just selling online isn’t enough of a business differentiator. You have to make sure everything is running smoothly.

“It’s all about maintaining first-class service. If your customers are happy, then the business is going to be successful.”

Creating Microsites & Communities

Health product manufacturer, Blackmores, has long had a central website with company and product information, but promoting newly launched lines required a different strategy. For the past few years much of Blackmores’ internet marketing has centred around the creation of microsites—small but highly focused sites designed to address one particular segment of the audience. To help build those sites, the company hired specialist marketing agency, Bullseye.

“Going from the web of old of being an information source, the next step is really about getting into a conversation with your customers,” Bullseye managing director, Jason Davey, says. “Our strategies revolve around advising clients about how to get into that conversation using web technologies.

“A client like Blackmores doesn’t sell directly to customers online, but does communicate a lot to customers online. Rather than just providing product information, we become a hub for communities of interest.”

One such strategy saw Blackmores build an online paintball game. “Blackmores wanted to get into conversation with young men,” Davey says, “with the long-term goal of promoting its men’s performance multivitamin. The paintball game allowed people to upload their own photos and compete with teams, ensuring multiple repeat visits to the site and what was close to a free advertising platform for the products.
“We’re involving the brand in a discussion with the audience. It’s not about the old spray and pray style advertising, it’s much more about customer engagement.”

A similar strategy saw the launch of a site, Pregnancy Companion, aimed at expectant mothers. The site includes a weekly email service that offers an update on what happens during each week of a pregnancy. While the content for the site is relatively timeless, new audiences continually emerge as former site users pass on details to other pregnant friends.

For any such strategy, promotion is critical. “It’s not a build-it-and-they-will-come mentality,” Davey explains. “There must be some form of promotion, even if it’s just including a link to your site in all your communications that go out. You must build a way of capturing customer details and have a good reason for them to give you their details. Consumers in 2008 know the value of their data. Put your customer cap on and think like a consumer. Identify who your audience is and think of what their topics of interest are.”
Innovation is also crucial. “Don’t copy what everyone else is doing,” he says. “Think of something new.”

Grow Your Profile by Blogging

For the Sydney Writers’ Centre, which offers training courses in a range of writing-related subjects, building an online presence was a critical part of marketing its real-world offerings. Most of the organisation’s initial marketing was carried out online.

“When we first started in September 2005, we were invisible on Google in the natural search rankings,” says founder Valerie Khoo. The centre’s first attempts at a site were based on a pre-defined template, but Khoo quickly decided that spending time learning site maintenance skills would be worthwhile.

“We tried Google adwords and for the first year or so it was responsible for around 95 percent of our business,” Khoo says. “Without Google adwords, we would not have been able to grow the business so quickly, and our business would not be what we are today without the technological tools we’ve come to rely on.

“At first, I had no idea whether adwords would be effective or not. But the beauty of adwords is that it is low cost so the risk is minimal. If it doesn’t work, you’ve only lost a few dollars. And if it works, the return on investment is excellent. I also like the fact that you can control the dollar amount you want to spend each day by setting an upper limit so that your advertising expenses don’t go out of control.

“It’s been flexible in that we’ve been able to grow our AdWord campaigns as we’ve grown. When we develop a new course, it’s only a matter of minutes before we can advertise it online.”

Maintaining search engine visibility requires constantly changing dynamic content. With a focus on the written word, developing a blog—an online diary or newspaper reporting on issues relating to writers and the business—was a fairly natural step for the centre to take. “To help this we added a blog, which has also proved to be a useful marketing tool,” Khoo says. “Through this, we can also notify students of author talks, poetry nights, and writers groups in the area.

“It’s not difficult to add new entries to the blog because, as we have gained a profile, we are now regularly sent interesting news and announcements from other writing-related organisations. We also include interviews with authors on our blog so it has become a great resource for that too.”

The centre also developed an online newsletter, which now has more than 2,000 subscribers. “We ensure that the newsletter contains useful information, tips and competitions so that it’s not just all about the courses.”

Further expansion into the online medium is on the agenda. “We started offering online payment a few months ago and enrolments increased immediately,” Khoo says. “We have since created online courses which are mainly delivered by audio programs that can be streamed or downloaded via a password-protected site.”

Top 20 Websites

Want to know which sites are getting the most hits?
Hitwise Australia presents the most popular websites based on Australian internet usage for December, 2007, ranked by market share of visits across all Hitwise industries.

Rank  Website    Market Share
1.  www.google.com.au 7.8%
2.  mail.live.com 3.16%
3.  ninemsn.com.au 2.64%
4.  www.myspace.com 2.18%
5.  www.ebay.com.au 1.99%
6.  www.facebook.com 1.73%
7.  www.google.com 1.72%
8.  www.youtube.com 1.07%
9. au.yahoo.com 0.95%
10.  www.bom.gov.au 0.9%
11.  www.netbank.commbank.com.au 0.61%
12.  mail.yahoo.com.au 0.6%
13.  www.gmail.com 0.6%
14.  www.yahoo.com 0.6%
15.  www.wikipedia.org 0.57%
16.  www.live.com 0.55%
17.  images.google.com.au 0.52%
18.  www.msn.com 0.51%
19.  www.microsoft.com 0.48%
20.  news.ninemsn.com.au 0.46%

*Source: Hitwise Australia, December, 2007—based on market share of visits, which is the percentage of online traffic to the domain or industry, from the Hitwise sample of 2.95 million internet users in Australia.

IT’s Million-Dollar Babe Awards

Six Australian women in the IT industry were recently awarded Million $ Babes Awards, in recognition of them running million dollar technology businesses.

The women, aged in their 20s to 40s, were recognised for their innovation, creativity and transformational impact by itmillion.com.

The winners are:
Vanessa Brewis: CEO Taurus Software
Taurus delivers comprehensive web-based project, contract, tender and works management solutions.

Liesel Capper: CEO My CyberTwin
My CyberTwin creates an artificial intelligence ‘clone’ of themselves, the cyber twins live on social networks, corporate websites, and inside virtual worlds like Second Life.

Lisa Fletcher: CEO b-Free
B-free is a revolutionary friendly accounting software that automatically prepares your accounts and BAS from your online bank statements.

Raeleen Gillett: CEO Octahedron
Octahedron develops innovative comprehensive and powerful jewellery management software. From business intelligence to customer marketing, stock control and sales.

Julie Irwin: Executive Chairman ADB Group
A-DB Group of Companies provides application development and database administration solutions.

Danielle Lehrer: CEO GO Shout
Go Shout is a social Web 2.0 application that lets people publish and promote their own petitions or polls on important social issues or issues that affect their daily lives.

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Angus Kidman

Angus Kidman

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