Unlike the interruption marketing techniques that dominate so much off-line advertising, online marketing is a more subtle and engaged process. Online marketers attempt to build relationships with potential customers long before attempting to make a sale, often by providing valuable information or by creating conversations.
Building trust, credibility and a sense of connection is central to this approach, and should inform your writing, just as it informs website design and every other aspect of the marketing process.
While online businesses vary a good deal in the way they engage customers, it is possible to identify three key stages in the online marketing process that are almost always present.
Stage 1: The Initial Contact
In this stage the customer does not know anything about the product or service. Online businesses work hard to create visibility – to reach out to potential customers and attract them to their website or social media presence, where they can learn more and the process of relationship building can begin.
Initial contact may take place off-line, through traditional advertising such as billboards or direct mail, or online through social media, banner advertising, forums, Google adwords, organic search, affiliate marketing, and many other avenues. As a copywriter you may be involved in creating material for all of these channels. Before beginning to write it’s important to be clear on the action you wish the potential customer to take – to visit the website, to become a Facebook follower, to make a purchase, to read an article?
Stage 2: On The Website
Once people reach the website, relationship building can begin in earnest. Many online companies will use a landing page – carefully written and designed to guide the visitor to take a particular action, for instance, to make a purchase, sign up for a newsletter, or join an email list.
The most successful online businesses recognise that visitors often do not purchase a product or service on their first visit. Typically they will visit 4 or 5 times before making the purchase. This is one reason for the growing use of email lists, for example, because they provide a way for the business to stay in touch with a prospective customer and continue to build the relationship. Email lists only work, of course, if the business is providing relevant and useful information to readers. If emails consist only of sales messages the relationship will be destroyed before it is even begun.
Other businesses provide useful resources or information to tempt the potential customer to visit more than once. Examples include free ebooks and articles that speak directly to the customer’s needs, fears or worries.
The website should also work hard to build the visitor’s trust and confidence in the business.
Stage 3: Continuous Relationship Building
In stage 3, the business continues to build relationships and credibility with visitors – many of whom may be subscribers. Many of the tools discussed above such as email lists, ebooks and informational articles, continue to be important at this stage. Informing visitors about the product or service for sale – its benefits and advantages, for example – may make up only a very small part of the communication.
Brian Clark of Copyblogger notes:
Remember, content drives the Internet, and consumers are looking for information that solves a problem, not immediate sales pitches. The trust, credibility, and authority that content marketing creates knocks down sales resistance, all while providing a baseline introduction to the benefits of a particular product or service.
Dialogue is also key to this stage of the marketing process. For the business, it offers an ideal opportunity to start conversations with visitors, to learn more about their interests and needs. Such insights can be used to adapt content, products and services to more closely match visitors needs.