The most important thing you need to identify before you begin any marketing activity is your goal. What is the end result of everything you’re attempting to achieve with the audience? Is it to drive traffic? Increase page views? Create a community? Sell a product? Monetize your content through advertising? Whatever your goal, the best way to conceptualize this is to think of each of your marketing efforts as the spoke of a wheel leading back to a hub. Your hub is the place where you’ll achieve that goal. It is recommended that your main URL act as your hub as it is accessible 24/7 from anywhere in the world. Once you know what that hub is, (i.e. your core URL) then you need to begin to plan each strategy that will link back to the hub and strengthen the wheel as you build momentum for your brand.
They say once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget – and once you begin to conceive your brand marketing initiatives in this fashion, with diligence, your efforts will never lose momentum.
Driving Internet Traffic to Your Hub
As you read through this document, it is important to remember that each time we discuss a new tactic, it is crucial to consider how the tactic connects back to your hub. Provide a link (whether an actual online hyperlink, signage, visuals, etc.) or a simple brand message or connection that brings the audience back to your hub where you can aggregate the fruits of all of your labour and, hopefully, commercialize them.
If your hub is indeed your URL, consider that when creating and securing your URL you want to ensure it is recognizable and easily associated with your brand. Make sure your URL is relevant to your content, memorable, easy to spell and can be clearly verbalized (so you can easily tell it to others in person or through voice over in media). If you can, buyout all the available extensions including the .ca, .tv, .org or any other relevant and available extensions. Don’t forget to buy common misspellings as well.
Driving the Right Traffic and Tracking Your Audience
Your marketing wheel has the possibility of many spokes. Although there are many tactics to chose from, not every opportunity you implement is going to be appropriate for your audience. Take the time to really understand who you are targeting and their behaviour. Know and recognize the platforms/venues your audience will most likely visit, participate in and trust. Make those the priority and the focus of your efforts. Just because people are talking about Twitter, or watching the Super Bowl, does not mean either platform is the right one for your audience. Facebook is huge, but mostly with younger generations. So will you find a great deal of Moses Znaimer’s “Zoomers” brand focusing on Facebook? No. They have a small presence, but their efforts are in other channels, more appropriate to their specific niche.
If you want to understand the behaviour of your audience, you need to be able to track them. For those with more funds, focus groups and larger studies are important to get to know audiences and their feelings toward your brand. At a lower budget level, minimally ensure you are tracking their movements on your website. This can be done with great, free tools like Google Analytics (online tracking tool,) or AWStats (server-side software) and others. Additional online analytics that can be easily tracked include number of registered users, game plays, content submissions (message board posts, UGC) return visits, length of time on the site, page views, etc. Your metrics should be consistent with your goal, as discussed in the opening paragraph.
Not every “spoke” is appropriate for every audience, every brand or every budget. That said, the following is an overview of some important marketing ideas that can help. Of course, with each one, it is vital to remember that the material must drive the audience back to the hub, contribute to your goal, and above all, provide enough value to the audience that they’ll be compelled to pay attention (and possibly even share it with their friends).
Whenever possible, it is important to create an opportunity to make your media social – allow fans to share it with friends and bring new audiences to your hub.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Be sure that your website(s) are optimized for search. Without search optimization, it is very difficult for audiences to find your site organically. Google’s Page Rank is considered the defacto tool for web crawling. The algorithm that operates Page Rank is described here. Google also offers webmaster tools to help Page Rank and other web crawlers find and properly index your site. You should also ensure that your programmer includes proper metadata in your site to further optimize this process. This includes keywords and descriptions in your meta tagging, keywords, page descriptions, etc. There are many great SEO resources online. Here is just one example. Googling “SEO tips” can find you many others. None of these are a magic bullet, but all of them together will significantly help your website to be discovered.
Search engines such as Google use algorithms to judge how relevant your site is to people searching for topics related to your niche market (your meta tags). The more inbound links you can create to your homepage, the better. This can be achieved by contacting organizations to arrange link exchanges, commenting on blogs and other content with backlinks to your site, or having partners link to the project, wherever possible. Remember, the more ‘relevant’ the site that links to you, the more ‘relevant’ search engines will believe you to be. All that said, remember that sites like Wikipedia won’t be registered by engines in this way – they figured out it was too easy for web producers to spam search results by creating their own inbound links! There are a number of web services which offer thousands of links to your Web site, commonly known as link farming. Whether offered free-of-charge or per link, they should be avoided at any cost as Google and Yahoo! have detected these methods and may penalize your site.
In addition, it is best to avoid pages devoted entirely to links. Technicalities of algorithms aside, you want your link partners to scatter links within the texts of your pages. If your inbound link is coming from a page which promotes 400 other sites, their ‘vote’ for your site doesn’t count for as much as a page with two or three links to your site.
A fun way to encourage users to sign up for mailing lists is to reward them with the opportunity to win a prize. This item is in the Low/No Cost section as it’s often possible to bring in partners that will add muscle to the contest initiative, free of charge. Bringing on a brand appropriate to your audience with a great prize could help entice a broadcaster or portal to give your contest more exposure. While always enticing, it is important to note the responsibility of running a contest. Be wary of the scope of your contest (i.e. if the contest is open to residents of Canada and the US, Quebec has different rules to adhere to, as do many individual US states), privacy and security laws in the collection of user data required to ensure users feel safe (i.e. – SSL certificates), as well as the ongoing monitoring of incoming inquiries.
Mailing Lists / Email Marketing
What better way to communicate directly with your audience than communicating directly with your audience? On your website, invite users to subscribe for content and brand updates. Then, on a four to six-week basis, preferably timed with new content or important news to your fans, send out a branded (graphically or HTML/CSS designed) email to call your audience to action. Be clear in each message about what you want them to do and ensure you’re providing value. Also, ensure you’re not overusing the mailing list or your emails will soon be ignored. Email marketing programs can be run through more simple, free services, or more robust paid services. There are dozens on the market so choose one that fits your needs.
SEM (Search Engine Marketing)
If you have a little money to spend, you might want to launch a pay-per-click campaign with Google Ad Words, Omniture or perhaps inside Facebook. This tactic is only recommended if you’re attempting to sell a product or commercialize the traffic in some way that justifies the expense – otherwise you’re just generating expensive traffic.
You should consider creating some offline promotional foundation for your brand. Sales sheets, posters, postcards and press releases provide greater awareness if used effectively. However, consider its appropriateness for your audience and your goal with the sales piece. Some materials like stickers and temporary tattoos could be great for young audiences, while sales sheets and project posters may be more appropriate for partners and distributors. Send posters to project supporters to display in their spaces to create awareness. Produce video trailers to promote the interactivity of your project. Provide samples of content (i.e. a game or two) on a USB key with a branded interface. Have postcards readily available to hand out any time your brand is going to be in the community – if you are shooting on location after your show is on air, even equip the security with some collateral to pass on to curious on-lookers. Sales sheets are an essential industry tool but can also double as content for an ‘About’ section on your site – be creative and resourceful with this information. Press releases can be distributed to a number of online news sources which generate buzz among new media opinion leaders, and automatically give your site inbound links from each online source. In addition, be wary of costs incurred for printing, distribution and storage of these assets.
Banners and Buttons
If you are selling a product and have some money to spend, banners and buttons can be a way to gain some visibility and get some traffic. Always be sure you are paying per click or if possible, per conversion (a click that leads to an actual purchase). Otherwise you are throwing money away buying impressions as this is something you can not quantify. This is not a highly recommended spend – as will be discussed later, social and other evolving media can provide more cost-effective traffic.
In the case of both SEM and Banners/Buttons, it might be advisable to create a custom landing page for your clickthroughs, taking them directly to what you are advertising, rather than sending them to your site’s homepage and forcing them to search for your product. Nobody likes to get excited about something and then have to search around the site to find the value that they came for.
Viral Activities, Guerrilla Marketing Campaigns and Social Networking
These three elements have the potential to create the most organic buzz, but are also among the most difficult to pull off. The popular Office Max “Elf Yourself” campaign was one of twenty campaigns created by Office Max’s advertising agency and the only one that succeeded. Obviously, this is an expense many can’t afford, but it also demonstrates the amazing potential of viral. Successful viral activities, guerrilla marketing campaigns, and social networking require a lot of careful planning to pull off and should not be taken lightly. These initiatives include a wide range of opportunities – they can serve as a means of pushing out awareness of the hub, as well as a hook to pull the audience into the hub. They can be about providing your users with tools, gadgets, and information to encourage the fans to take ownership of your property. In many cases, these activities will be extensions of one of your spokes (i.e. a Facebook application or a YouTube viral campaign).
Social Networking – Support the Existing Audience
Social networking is perhaps the greatest tool created in the Web 2.0 universe to keep your existing audience engaged. The low-risk, low-cost use of Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter or any other social networking tool can help in keeping current fans active in your brand. Create a Group, a Fan Page or even an Application so fans can share their enjoyment of your content with others. Be wary though, simply building these assets will not ensure success. It is vital that a person be charged with growing and nurturing these communities, to post new content in the form of discussion topics, photos, videos, or simply responding to users’ inquiries. The title of “Community Manager” is one that didn’t exist five years ago, but is shooting up in big and small businesses worldwide to address this. Remember you can’t network your brand socially without appointing someone to represent you in the conversation – this is a cost of doing business in this space.
Reward Ultimate Fans
CBS’ How I Met Your Mother is a show targeted to 18-35 year olds that provides many great examples of how to reward and provide value to its ultimate fans. The show has been known for creating micro-sites related to jokes within the series that pique interest for broadcast and drive audiences to the show’s main site. For example, a story arc in How I Met Your Mother included reference to one of its characters having once been a child pop star. The name “Robin Sparkles” lead fans on to YouTube to find a music video that added to the storyline and created a viral opportunity for the show to grow a new audience. While there is cost associated with producing this, it paid off in spades by adding value to the show’s ultimate supporters, allowing them to become brand advocates themselves.
An immersive gaming campaign leaves mysterious clues for people to find, from which they are pulled into a ‘rabbit hole’ which leads to crowdsourcing (masses of people working together to solve a puzzle), and if well-executed, a massive payoff is at the end of the tunnel.
Two of the best examples of uses of immersive gaming for marketing include the release of Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero and the multiple campaigns for Dark Knight.
Encourage User-Generated Content
The Japanese manga industry can teach us a lot about how content creators can work with their fans for the greater good of the brands. Manga fans have been encouraged to generate their own content for years – known as dojinsh It basically involves letting fans do whatever they want with your brand and its related properties. Examples range from 6teen.ca which is 100% fan-made recreations of the popular Fresh TV Inc. and Nelvana Ltd. television series, to zinc Roe design’s Zimmer Twins
Broadcasters, brands and portals, oh my!
Let’s face it: viral and social success stories on the internet are few and far between. To truly drive significant traffic to your site, you need some muscle. This is one of the great benefits of the Bell Fund – requiring that an interactive producer have a broadcaster commitment to promote their content. To have tens or even hundreds of thousands of broadcast viewers pushing to your site can do in one screen shot what months of viral efforts can accomplish – if they ever do. So treat your broadcaster like a true partner and hopefully it will pay off in traffic. Build excitement for your broadcaster by continually working with them to create bonus online content, promote contests and even attract brand sponsorships for your property.
Another opportunity lies with brands. While this opportunity is really only beginning to emerge here in Canada, brands represent some financial muscle, and in many cases have loyal followings. This is an area that will be emerging rapidly as product integration becomes more integral to financing and to the advertising world as a whole.
Finally, portals aggregate staggering amounts of traffic on a daily basis but they do so in very targeted segments. Potential partners like MSN/Sympatico, Canoe, Heavy and more can be a great home for some of your content or a great traffic driver – if you can bring value to them. Often, strong content that presents appropriate value to an advertiser can be a great opportunity to build a larger partnership.
It cannot be stressed enough that it’s crucial to always know what the hub of your wheel is. When following any of the advice above, if you don’t know where you want your audience to go, and how you’re going to receive them once they get there, your wheel of engagement is lost. When that happens, the spokes no longer connect to the hub and just like with a bicycle with broken spokes, forward momentum for your property is stalled and wasted efforts reign supreme.
Once this strategy is in place, remember that every spoke should represent an opportunity to add value for your target audience. We all know that “if you build it, they will come” worked in the movies, but in the real world it’s not so simple. You need to take advantage of every opportunity, or spoke, to drive audiences back to your hub and to provide value for them at every touch point.
With all of these things in mind, you’ll be well on your way to achieving you goal.