The Internet used to be a way for people to just find information. Now, it’s turning into a free platform for doing things such as connecting with friends, writing documents, storing photos and editing home videos — and that has radical implications for how you market online in 2008.
1. It is no longer enough to have a web site. If your web site is a cottage front door, your target customers are now off playing deep in the forest.
2. It is also no longer enough to rely on keyword search or SEO to hope customers find you on search engines. New, free web services allow people to “do” and not just “search.” And people will not find you online if they are not in search mode.
The source of this shift is amazing. Customers can now do things online that used to require expensive PC software. Picnik allows you to store and edit photos, Jumpcut edits videos online, Mint will balance your checkbook, and Google is rumored to be preparing a Gdrive online backup service for everything.
Chris Anderson predicts in The Economist’s 2008 outlook that free online services are the wave of the future, because technology, not strategy, is driving this. As the cost of storing and manipulating data falls to zero, it makes sense for service providers such as Google to compete with incumbents like Microsoft by giving utilities away at zero cost. Of course, these “free” online service models are supported by advertising. So paradoxically, even as interest may wane in advertisements that appear next to a free online widget — leave me alone, I’m balancing my checkbook! — the company that provides the free online service wants advertisers more than ever before.
The solution to this huge shift in how people use the Internet is to move far outside of your web site. Robert Scoble points out in Fast Company that U.S. presidential candidates are getting online marketing right by avoiding single web sites and instead casting a wide net to reach people as they do other things online:
Rather than expecting a Web site to be a destination all by itself, the candidates are employing what I call the “starfish” approach. A starfish has many legs radiating outward from its central core. It uses its legs to move toward its prey, which it will ultimately devour with one of its stomachs. The analogy should be clear. Social media–blogs, text messaging, video, and social networking–are the legs of your online strategy. Your Web site is the belly of the beast, where you convert visitors into customers.
The only way to get to someone who is not in search mode is to intercept them when they are doing something else.
We recommend to our own clients that they allocate at least 5% of their advertising budget to test a range of online communications in 2008 — keyword search on Google is a prerequisite, followed by behavioral targeted ad networks and tests with social networks and emerging widgets. Not every aspect of this new online ad portfolio will pay off. But it is vital to learn what works and what doesn’t as more consumers move their working lives and social connections online. Fail to navigate the woods, and you may never see these customers again.