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May 21, 2008
The New Rules of Online Marketing

I was looking at some internet usage stats today that should make any marketer stop and think very hard. This data relates specifically to the way consumers use the web to research cars and trucks, but the broad take-away is relevant to pretty much anyone trying to sell stuff on the web.

First up: 70% of new vehicle buyers use the web during the research/purchase process (2007 New AutoShopper.com study).

Lots of retailers in multiple industries say that the web only accounts for around 15% of their sales. What they don’t realize is that they’re only looking at the purchases they can directly tie to leads generated online. The vast majority of consumers use the web as part of the shopping process. They just keep quiet about it.

Indeed, as our second stat reveals: Only 22% of all new vehicle buyers request a quote or enter a lead process online (2007 New Autoshopper.com study).

Unfortunately (for marketers) most people (78% in this instance) never “raise their hand” as part of the online shopping process, and only reveal themselves at the point of purchase - an auto dealer, a department store, Orbitz.com.

This misunderstanding has two unfortunate consequences - both related to the fact that companies significantly underestimate the importance of the web as a buying tool rather than a selling tool. The first is that they don’t invest enough in it, and the second is that they use it the wrong way - as a way to ‘capture’ a consumer with CRM or push ad messages as opposed to actually helping the buyer get what she wants.

Third stat: 70% of consumers trust the authority, opinion and experience of other vehicle owning consumers during the online shopping process (2007 Cap Gemini, Ernst & Young).

Well duh! But of course this is huge. Marketers have no choice but to accept (or better still embrace) consumer opinion and ratings of the products and services they sell. Brand perception is in the hands of the consumer and with the advent of amped-up digital networks, consumer perceptions (whether positive or negative) spread like wildfire - and are believed and trusted much more than anything the brand might try to say. Marketers can no longer advertise their way out of a bad brand (or product or service) proposition. Everything to do with a corporation is now in play as a potential driver or drag on brand perception. There are no hiding places left.

So here are my BIG 5 do’s for web marketing

  1. Embrace the primacy of the consumer. She controls the buying process and she can make your life miserable if she has a bad experience while shopping for your product.
  2. Accept that you’re there to assist her in her non-linear buying process, not to drive messaging, leads and closes through your linear selling process.
  3. Open up your site so she can find what she needs on her terms. Don’t assume you can predict the path she’ll follow.
  4. Concentrate on content over messaging, architecture over ‘experience’, social media analysis and interaction over PR.
  5. Bear in mind this analogy. Worrying about leads is like tying your shoelace just before the avalanche hits. Devote your energy to the big picture and focus on things that actually make a difference.

It’s a whole new world out there.

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Jeremy Morris leads two large and highly successful Campbell-Ewald disciplines -- the rapidly expanding Digital Group and the traditional powerhouse of Custom Publishing. Prior to Campbell-Ewald, Jeremy enjoyed an extensive career in publishing, a background that has proved highly valuable as the agency continues to develop uniquely integrated capabilities for an array of blue-chip clients including Alltel, Chevrolet, Michelin, the United States Navy, and United States Postal Service.

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