In last month's column, I wrote about building sales momentum through relevance and consistency. Creating an intuitive navigational scheme that works with your customers' search intent, and implementing a helpful site search (including one that helps even when a search result is empty) will go a long ways towards increasing your website sales.
This month, I want to take a step back and write about how to gain exposure for your brand, products and/or services. In the first column I wrote for Web Wholesaler, I proposed that what is holding most merchants back from increasing website sales is one or more of the three layers of the customer experience: (1) advertising, (2) website and (3) market strategy. Then in a follow up column I provided an online advertising plan; but this plan concentrated on only the bigger buckets, including search engine, affiliate and email marketing. Since then, I have spent considerable time on website and market strategy factors that help improve website sales. In this column, I want to re-focus attention on gaining exposure through other buckets within the advertising layer.
Gaining exposure means letting your potential customers know that your unique product/service exists, and/or that your company exists, and offers a specific product or service. If potential buyers are not exposed to you or your product/service then you do not exist within the context of their decision making ability. If a majority of potential buyers within your target market do not know you exist or that your unique product or service exists to solve their problem, then you have a real sales problem.
For example, have you ever shopped at a store for a product to solve a home improvement problem, bought the best item available, and worked awkwardly with increasing frustrations to get the product to fix your problem? Then weeks later you discovered through an infomercial, or while wandering on the Web, that a product actually existed to perfectly fix your problem? This has happened to me more than once, but I remind myself that I can only make a decision based on the set of knowledge I have at the time of the decision. Your goal as a merchant is to ensure that your brand, product or service is known and accessible by your target market when they seek to resolve a problem you are positioned to solve.
For larger companies, this is the point behind tens to hundreds of millions of dollars spent on brand advertising. They want to frame the buyer's beliefs about their brand's capabilities and remain top of mind during the buyer's decision process. For smaller businesses without substantial branding dollars, a different and more guerilla marketing approach is required to gain exposure.
The first step for smaller businesses is to accurately define your target market. What problem does your product or service solve? When and where does your buyer think about solving the problem? How do your potential buyers typically seek a solution? This enables you to evaluate available and affordable online and traditional advertising strategies to reach your defined market, when they are considering how to solve their problem your service or product fixes. Once you find an accessible market and learn how to communicate to it clearly, finding the best advertising strategies requires some careful thinking and research. There are two books I recommend for some traditional marketing advice: Duct Tape Marketing by Jason Jantsch and Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson. In the meantime, here are some online advertising strategies, beyond the big buckets of search engine, email and affiliate marketing, to help you gain exposure:
- Press Release Optimization. I love well written, newsworthy press releases for gaining outstanding exposure in the media, news and even search markets. There are many excellent PR websites, including PRWeb.com, OpenPR.com, and eReleases.com, to submit your press releases for broad Web exposure. If your press release is written effectively, you can gain top placement in Google News and Yahoo News, while potentially producing some decent media attention.
- Google Definitions. If you are in a market that naturally generates buyer inquiries for term definitions like web hosting, architecture or even unique products like, "fair trade coffee," then you have a great opportunity to develop a glossary on your website to gain exposure in Google definitions. If you can show up as an authority on key terms, then it generates exposure early in the buyer's information gathering process.
- Videos, Audios and Podcasts. Whether how-to videos or product usage demos, videos have an outstanding potential for gaining exposure across the Web. Using sites like YouTube.com, Allbusiness.com, or any other video site can help clarify your problem/solution and benefit value proposition. Although video production is slightly expensive, generating informative audio messages via podcasts using a free audio program like Audacity (get it at audacity.sourceforge.net) and uploading them to iTunes or other podcast directories may offer a more affordable solution.
- Blogs. Although blogs require time, imagination and persistence to produce, the exposure benefits can be tremendous. There are entire blogs created around the concept of developing effective blogs like problogger.com. If you can find and write informatively on a specific topic related to your product or service that your target market is interested in learning, and if your topic provides frequent, fresh content development opportunities like student loans and ongoing legislation, or trends regarding them, then blogs may help you gain excellent exposure.
- Social Media. Similar to blogs but potentially more powerful, social media websites like Squidoo.com, LinkedIn, FaceBook, and MySpace offer great exposure opportunities. Creating min-sites around specific niche markets, products or services enables you to be viewed as an authority on the subject and help funnel gained interest into your primary website.
As a merchant seeking more sales, you have to be continuously focused on finding and executing various online advertising strategies for gaining more exposure for your company, product and service. In ideal terms, your brand name should appear anytime a potential buyer seeks to solve a problem your product or service solves. After you gain the potential buyer's attention, then you have to rely on your website and market strategy to seal the deal.
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