Technology that will change marketing on the Web

Is your site ready for the next era in Internet computing?

Almost as fast as you can say digital download, the ways and means of marketing on the Internet are undergoing a sea change. Banner ads, once the champion of the Internet advertising and marketing set, have been exposed as a marginal method, at best, of directing traffic to your site. While banner ads certainly increase awareness of a company’s brand, abysmal click-through rates of less than 1% make them a poor way to get people to actually visit your URL.

Despite its drawbacks, banner advertising has gotten a recent push through the addition of “rich media.” Rich media give banner ads more life through the addition of multimedia and interactive features. For instance, text, video, sound and even forms and questionnaires can now be included in banner ads and customers can access them without leaving the original site. Beyond banner ads, however, there are a bevy of technologies that will help you draw visitors to your site.

“There are several technologies such as chat and data mining that will impact Internet marketing in the year 2000,” says Craig Settles, president of Successful.com, an Oakland-based Internet marketing company. While he advocates using the latest technology in your effort to attract customers, Settles warns, “Need drives technology, not vice versa.” Deciding which of these technologies to implement should be based on their ability to meet your business goals, not your desire to have the flashiest Website.

CONVERSATION TECHNOLOGY
Chat rooms and instant messages, currently the most popular form of conversation technology, can be leveraged in various ways to boost your business. “Conversation technology has the potential to build communities among visitors of your site that will keep them coming back,” says Settles. Chat rooms and discussion boards can be a great source of information about your visitors’ desires as well as function as a place where your customers can congregate and solve each other’s problems. They also help you build one-on-one relationships with your customers and educate them about your goods. That doesn’t mean you’re in constant pitch mode. Rather, you’re finding out information about your customers’ usage, problems and desires regarding your products.

One fairly recent development involves delivering customer service via instant messaging on your site. Imagine answering a customer’s question as they browse your site. Using a “call back” button, users can summon a customer service representative as easily as if they were in a store. Once clicked, the button immediately launches an instant messaging session with the visitor, and their questions can be answered in real time. Dr. Bean, a product from Herndon, Virginia-based Sideware Corp. (www.sideware.com), lets you offer this sort of live interactive customer service. Their pricing structure is based on the size of your site.

DATA MINING
As companies doing business via the Internet compile more detailed information on customers-their buying and browsing habits, household income, etc.-there is a growing need for tools that can make sense of it. Database management software can help segment and target users based on their previous purchases. For instance, an online record store can compile

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