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E-Business Trends: It's All About the Customer

Want to grow your online business in the coming year? Cater to your customers wherever and whenever they want to hear your marketing message.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you're serious about growing your online business, you need to know where your market is and how to reach it. What does the future of internet marketing look like right now? Pretty much like a teenager. Just take a look at today's teens, and here's what you'll see:

  • iPods loaded with music they've selected
  • Cell phones used constantly for text messaging, sending photos or short video clips, web surfing and talking
  • Wireless laptops that can link to the internet from pretty much anywhere

And what are these kids doing on their computers?

  • Reading new blog posts and special-interest sites via RSS feeds
  • Watching viral videos friends send them
  • Hanging out at social networking sites with people who share their interests
  • Creating their own web content and uploading it so other people can see it

These kids have some things to tell us online business owners. They tell us that people are creating their own personal web experience. They're creating networks of trust made up of people, groups and businesses they want to hear from. They're eliminating what's irrelevant to them and pulling in only what they consider significant. And they're using a whole array of tools to do this, while accessing a full range of media.

That means that if we want to market to today's internet audience, we've got to become part of their trusted networks and use the same tools and media to reach them with content they want to see. And that boils down to one thing: segment, segment, segment.

Target Your Customers' Desires

According to a recent study from Jupiter Research, segmenting lists based on behavior data--what customers bought, where they clicked on a website and other information--improved e-mail open rates by 165 percent and click-through rates by 147 percent over unpersonalized, unsegmented e-mails. Conversion rates were up 355 percent and revenues were an amazing 781 percent higher.

Giving people what they want is the best way to build the kind of trust that can shoot your numbers up like that. And as people become even less patient with messages and content they don't want, precision targeting will become even more vital. However, the majority of marketers haven't caught on yet. The Jupiter Research study said only 11 percent of marketers use behavior data to segment their lists and target their most likely customers.

How can you stay ahead of the curve? Improved analytics and metrics are making it possible to collect specific data, such as:

  • Where individual visitors are coming from
  • Exactly which pages they view
  • Which links they click on

That, along with the other data you collect from your sales history or analytics reports, gives you the tools to give your opt-ins what they want and keep you in their networks.

Create Content With Viral Potential

Another way to reach your target market is through viral marketing. Viral content has grown, well, virally, and it's a powerful (and cheap) way to reach potential customers.

When people pass your content on to others, they're saying that your material is interesting and valuable--and they're showing their friends that you're already part of their trusted network. Even better, they're sending your content to people they think would be interested, so they're doing the targeting for you.

Your best chance of having your material go viral is simply to get it out there--distributing articles to free content sites, writing a blog, doing a podcast or posting useful information on sites where people get together to exchange information and opinions. When you make your content specific and useful, it's more likely to be passed on to potential customers. Any kind of content can go viral, particularly if you include a "send to a friend" reminder.

Google Groups, MySpace, Facebook, Xanga and similar social sites have thousands of groups dedicated to every niche interest you can imagine. So if a blog post or podcast on these sites attracts one member, it will likely be referred to whole lists of like-minded people.

Build Buzz With Video

While we're talking e-business trends, let's take a look at video, which has gone through rapid and massive growth this past year. Free hosting by sites like YouTube, plus the availability of digital video recorders on cameras and mobile phones, enable literally anyone to create their own videos.

So far, one of the most successful applications of video-to-internet marketing has been to offer quality educational content for free (with or without an opt-in), and position it as a limited-time offer. Viewers watch the video, such as the first part of a ten-part course, and then pass it on to other potential customers. The more people who see it and recognize the value for their own life or business, the more they'll take the next step and go to your website to get the next installment.

How-to videos uploaded to video-sharing sites can also draw targeted audiences. I just spotted one recently: "How to Fold a Fitted Sheet." Don't you think an online bedding store should've done that first?

Go Mobile

Mobile is on the move--it's a market twice the size of the internet. Those kids I talked about earlier are connected wherever they go--to their network of friends and to the multimedia content they choose. And they're buying.

One report for Enpocket Insight found that permission-based mobile marketing was 50 percent more effective than TV and 130 percent more effective than radio. The key here is that the marketing is "permission based." The marketers who've had success with this group so far have inspired the mobile audience and gotten them involved. This summer's Starbucks scavenger hunt campaign was a great example. People who opted in got clues via text messages and could send in answers via text or photos.

If you want to get in on this massive new market, you should think about a building new opt-in list--one that includes mobile phone numbers--and look at ways to adapt your promotions to interactive text messaging.

Another way to reach mobile customers is by creating sites for cell phone web users. There are two new top-level domains for sites with content aimed at mobile phones: .tel We're still in the early days of .mobi and .tel, so take advantage and buy a couple of domain names. Then put up simple pages that look good on a small screen. This'll tell those phone surfers you're out there and paying attention to them--before your competition does.

Use RSS and Direct-to-Desktop Technology

I read an article recently in USA Today that said the average consumer is hit with a whopping 3,500 to 5,000 marketing messages every day! That's a minimum of three advertising messages every single minute. Can you blame people for eliminating what they don't want and pulling in what they do want?

RSS and direct-to-desktop technology do that by funneling the content people have requested to special readers. RSS gives people a feed reader where all the updates that they've requested show up in one place. It's been around awhile and is starting to grow beyond the bloggers and newshounds who first adopted it.

Direct-to-desktop technology is similar to RSS, but it offers an exclusive pipeline from sender to receiver with no competing feeds. It also tracks open rates, open times, response rates and exact sales figures, so it helps you segment your list very specifically.

The internet is no longer just an anonymous sales portal. To succeed, you have to work within multiple personal networks of trusted associates. You become part of these networks by the old standby methods: offering something valuable for free and/or being referred or recommended by a trusted source (hardly what you'd call a new e-business trend). What's cool is that new technologies make what you can offer and how your material gets passed around a lot more exciting.





Derek Gehl is's "E-Business" columnist and the CEO of the Internet Marketing Center, an internet marketing firm that has helped thousands of people learn to start and run their own online businesses.

Written By

Derek Gehl is the CEO of the Internet Marketing Center, an internet marketing firm that has helped thousands of people learn to start and run their own online businesses. IMC hosts a new Search Marketing Lab Forum, where members have their strategy questions answered by search marketing specialists.