The Next Big Thing?
It seems that with every passing week we are promised instant success if we embrace The Next Big Thing. The Next Big Thing might be a new social media site, a new content sharing site, new ways of evaluating our web-based activity or a new approach to existing communication channels. Any one of these will have its enthusiasts and propagandists (including the marketing departments of developers and proprietors!) until The Next Big Thing becomes the last big thing.
The Single Solution?
The constantly evolving digital environment has spawned its own specialists. Micro-industries have evolved in parallel, adding to the pressures on the unwary to devote their time exclusively to social media, or search engine optimisation, or email marketing. But a single marketing focus is a high risk strategy, if it can be called a strategy at all. There are no magic bullets.
Followers of Share Wales will be aware that there is no single solution for success - including The Next Big Thing. Effective marketing depends upon a range of interrelated activity. So how can small businesses manage their own Internet activity, find their way around the claims and counter-claims made by professionals and enthusiastic amateurs, and resist the temptations on offer when time is at a premium?
As always, the answer is to test, track, measure and refine. And for the small business with limited management resources, prioritisation is an indispensable component of strategic marketing. It is better to develop a few avenues effectively than spread effort thinly over every available channel.
Testing the water
The ultimate measure of marketing effectiveness is profit...Every marketing channel, every marketing campaign, can only be judged by results. While there are useful tools for measuring the performance of a web site or a social medium in terms of activity (web site hits, Facebook 'Likes', etc.) it is far more difficult to track the decision making processes that lead to a sale. Although a booking, whether by telephone or online, may suggest that your web site is the key component, you have no easy way of knowing how the customer arrived at your web site. The first close encounter with your business might have been through a Facebook or Four Square post, a Trip Adviser review, a YouTube video or a Flickr image. Or it might simply have resulted from a search phrase in Google. Or from press coverage. Or from advertising, whether in digital or traditional media. Or from a word-of-mouth recommendation.
Marketing, digital or otherwise, is a time consuming process. Measuring the return on investment through the interrogation of digital data can absorb even more management time and requires a degree of technical know how.
How, then, can you be sure that your existing digital marketing channels are effective? And how can you test new channels and mechanisms efficiently?
The old ways are the best ways?
There is no reason why well tried marketing and test-marketing practices should not be applied to digital marketing. Just because new data analysis technology exists, there is no reason to use it if simpler solutions are available.
* Management and staff, especially in the accommodation sector, have personal contact with their customers from the time of an initial enquiry, through the booking process, and throughout the length of their stay. Every stage presents an opportunity to ask guests how and why they made their choice, nowhere more so than through casual conversation in the lounge, dining room or bar.
* 'Split testing' is a sound marketing principle. Run similar time-limited campaigns, discounts or offers through two or more communication channels and compare responses.
* Create voucher codes for discounts and special offers, specific to each channel, for immediate identification of the 'last stop' source of information at the booking stage.
* Only test new channels and mechanisms when you have the time to follow through adequately and sustain new marketing activity if results are positive.
* Recognise the difference between high maintenance and low maintenance channels. Social media, blogs and other conversational channels require very regular attention. Online advertising through third party sites and directory entries are for the most part annual or one-off actions. Content sharing sites such as Flickr, Tumblr, YouTube and Vimeo can be added to at leisure, when time and inclination allows. Low- and medium-maintenance channels are well worth developing over time, they all add to your business 'cloud' and can generate unpredictable routes to your product offer.
* Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. Recognise that management time is a finite resource and be selective in your use of high maintenance channels. Concentrate on the channels that are producing results. Identify the tactics that are producing business. Do more of the same. And be wary of wasting valuable resources on single solutions or the Next Big Thing!
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