The burgeoning online marketing industry has produced a veritable treasure trove of technologies and their associated tools to support your efforts. With this cache of options comes the need to be accurate in your selection, making sure the tools and technology matches the objectives. This article will highlight some basic principles to help ensure you make the right decision when faced with an ever-expanding choice.
Familiarize Yourself with the Terminology
You need to understand the technology and its implications before purchasing any online marketing tools. It's imperative that you appreciate the difference between an ASP and a hosted solution, between tags and log files, between cookies and key values, between unique users and page impressions. If this is not possible, then it's highly recommended to hire a knowledgeable advisor who is not related in any way to any vendor's product.
Define and Prioritize Your Objectives
It is vital that you define and prioritize your marketing campaign objectives before you start the search. Ask yourself and your team questions such as these:
Are you looking for an ad server to improve your trafficking efficiency and manage keyword bids or to serve rich media and do time-lag to conversion analysis? Are you looking for an e-mail tool to push 100 million e-mails per month or one that can do advanced CRM integration and conditional content segments? The honest and considered answer to questions such as these will ensure that you do not get lured by features of the tools along the way or influenced by their limitations.
The most difficult part is listing objectives you didn't know were possible. Methods for overcoming that area are researching marketing campaigns by vendors like yours, plus looking at campaigns that are similar to what you would like to accomplish. Also, keep open a blank page on your list of objectives for the ideas and suggestions that will come from the sales force of the tools and technologies.
Real value and personalized customer relationships can only be created using the high-end features that are found on the volume marketing tools you will be evaluating (especially ad serving and e-mail marketing tools). Marketers are often led to believe that they don't need all the high-end, sophisticated features, that all they need is to serve a billion ads or 100 million e-mails per month.
It is these features that separate you from the pack in this era of spam and increased ad clutter. The increase in impact will support a justifiable ROI. Take the time to learn all the possibilities of the advanced features and eliminate them only after a thorough appreciation for the difference they make at the marketing end, not the user end.
Evaluating the Value Gap
A realistic approach to your monthly ad impressions, e-mail transmissions and site traffic will ensure that you're receiving the appropriate value from the tools you selected. The value gap occurs when there is an overestimation of the use of a tool and commitment to higher fees than the value received from the tool.
The leading cause of this is usually in the area of approximations given during the sales cycle of the tool. Evaluate the cost of the tool against the lowest end of the approximations, but in all fairness, double check the correctness of the tool's use. More often than not, it is found that the tool is not being used to its fullest extent, contributing the greatest value gap.
Automation and Integration
Make sure your various online marketing tools are well-integrated on a technical level. The benefit, for example, of being able to remarket to site visitors via e-mail based on on-site behavior (and being able to do so easily) is enormous. If you are not using tools that are part of the same suite, then make integration part of your contract terms.
Check that your tools can be integrated easily with your site and CRM system. In e-mail marketing, for example, tight integration of your e-mail tool and your CRM system is a vital requirement to ensure CAN-SPAM compliance. An open API is a must-case studies of integration projects done for other clients is highly recommended. This is a vital point that goes back to the value gap. Often this lack of integration is the cause of less-than-expected results in conjunction with misapplication of analytic tools used to report the results.
Independence Levels of Various Tools
If independent use of the tool and its multiple features are an important factor in your decision and/or budgetary concerns, be sure to define those limits exclusive of any selection process. Due to the magnitude of the tools available, be aware that the level of independence in the use of these tools can vary widely.
Training Is the Key to Success
Due to the immense value training provides, it is highly recommended that the guarantee of initial training, and the vendor's ability to provide it, is a top criterion in your choice. As is true with any industry's technology, the best method for a thorough and in-depth comprehension of high-tech features is to schedule several sessions over a period of two to three months, aligned with the hands-on use of the tool. This is by far the most overlooked and undervalued part of any online marketing campaign and tends to cloud the opinion of the tools and its results the most.
Charisse Tabak, vice president of Client Services at Acceleration, helps clients get the most from their online marketing investments by getting technology, people and processes to work in harmony. She specializes in the areas of e-mail, paid search, online analytics, publisher and advertiser ad operations, plus the integration of online marketing with traditional marketing campaigns.
Based in New York City, she brings more than 18 years of experience in media and advertising, spanning both traditional and online disciplines. Charisse has an MBA from the Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, as well as a BA from the University of Witwatersrand. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.