An Unexploited Market: Striking Gold Without Searching for El Dorado

Companies have been focused on using the Internet to market goods and services to the consumer. Many see this as the major revenue stream on the net. But there is an undiscovered El Dorado, a goldmine of opportunity that very few have begun to mine.

Traditionally, companies have tried to capitalize on the Internet by establishing a Web page where consumers can research and buy products or services on-line. These Web sites are elaborate brochures touting the company's many qualities and competencies. A few companies, like Amazon.com, and retail giant L.L. Bean, have turned these online retail brochures into huge success stories. Many companies have tried to replicate this success, with uneven results, stumbling because of a few inherent problems with the Web page.

Web pages are static. They require a potential customer to find them, and once found, to bookmark the page and forget about it.

Some have managed to mitigate these problems with direct email offers. For instance, I periodically logged on to Amazon.com to look at the latest fiction releases. Some time last year, emails from Amazon began arriving in my inbox. These emails announced new releases of fiction, and in some cases offered a discount. Links took me directly to the Web page. In some cases, I have bought books that I might never have bought, or might have bought from elsewhere. I am not alone.

The Motivation to Go Online

More than half of American adults are online. They use the Internet for two primary purposes, email and product research. Almost half of Americans now use email and more than one-third use the Internet to search for product and service information before making online purchases.

Not surprisingly, marketers have been quick to try to capitalize on this effective sales channel. Opt-In News, published by Keaton Communications, recently reported that 54.2 percent of advertisers used emails to promote their products at the end of 2001, making direct email marketing the most used retail channel on the Internet. Almost 60 percent of email marketing campaigns in 2001 were focused on retail.

The report also revealed where the undiscovered gold I previously mentioned will be found. Amazingly, only 20 percent of these companies used email newsletters, and so capitalized on the first use, but failed to make use of the second reason people log online. Email newsletters fuse the two main purposes for which people go, email and research, and it's more effective than simple email offers, which often come across as "SPAM."

But there is an even larger undiscovered mother lode. Consumers are only a portion, and a minority portion at that, of the users surfing the Internet. Nearly 80 percent of the managers and professionals in the nation use the Internet at work. 70 percent of sales, marketing, technical support and administrative workers use the Internet in their jobs. Again, the two biggest uses were email first, and research second.

Leading the Reader to Read the Newsletter

Given this, it might seem astonishing that the marketers haven't begun mining the B2B gold with email newsletters. The reason is that most marketers use the form poorly.

The average businessperson now gets over 50 emails a day. When they open their in-box they have three thoughts in mind ? which do I read, which I save to read later, and which do I delete without opening?

Therefore, the first rule is to only send your newsletter to people who want it. Encourage people in your database to opt-in to receiving your newsletter. This brings us to the second cardinal rule, the newsletter must provide value if they are to continue receiving it, opening it, reading it, and most importantly, acting on it.

Most marketers simply want to beat the company drum, talk about new products or services, tout recent awards, new hires, or promising mergers. But the better strategy is to focus the content of the newsletter on the reader. It is better to pull than to push with your content, better to provide articles that explore issues, engage dialogue, solve problems common to your readers than it is to simply blow your own horn. Americans are so snowed under with advertising that we have effective filters. Anything smacking of a pitch will be screened, the message lost.

Marketers can keep their newsletter in the 'read and saved column' by making sure their content meets the following criteria:

Relevant ? the content speaks to the customer's interests and not your own.

Anticipated ? Distribute on a regular basis so people expect your newsletter to arrive on a certain day, but don't publish so often they become fatigues with you.

Monitored ? One of the best benefits provided by online marketing channels is the reporting. Monitor how readers are looking at your newsletter and alter it to conform to their interests.

Email newsletters with timely, interesting articles are more apt to get forwarded, increasing the number of readers with time. Everyone who reads the newsletter and decides to opt-in to a company's list is a qualified lead. B2B newsletters are the latest undiscovered gold in the virtual world.

Meryl K. Evans is the Content Maven behind meryl's notes, eNewsletter Journal, and The Remediator Security Digest. She is also a PC Today columnist and a tour guide at InformIT. She is geared to tackle your editing, writing, content, and process needs. The native Texan resides in Plano, Texas, a heartbeat north of Dallas, and doesn't wear a 10-gallon hat or cowboy boots.

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