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A Match Made in Cyberspace

by Michel Fortin

Along with starting a business on the Internet comes many new issues that were once nonexistent in the physical world. In addition to the possible infringement of trademarks, copyrights, and international laws, the floodgates to an overabundance of risks have literally been smashed wide open. For instance, a small business in Cleveland may certainly not infringe on a trademark registered in Budapest. But on the Internet, that barrier is eradicated.

Similarly, there is one issue in particular that most cybermarketers tend to scoff -- it's the size of their competition. While an offline business may be subjected to the diversion a competitor next door may create, people tend to forget that, online, trillions of competitors have become their neighbors. Marketing in the global marketplace has therefore become a daunting task.

The Numbers are Growing
The number of new businesses keeps growing everyday. In fact, a recent survey of 36,000 households by he National Federation of Independent Business and Wells Fargo have found that the sheer number of Americans taking the entrepreneurial plunge is tremendous. According to NFIB's Jim Weidman, "(In 1997 alone) nearly 4 million people started firms from scratch, and another 1 million purchased almost 700,000 existing businesses."

Here are other interesting figures* that the survey reported:

     - There were over 3.6 million new businesses launched in 1997;
     - Only 21% of these new businesses employed people other than the owners;
     - Almost 2,000,000 of these new businesses were single owner-operated enterprises;
     - And over two-thirds (or 69%) were home-based businesses.

            [*Source: http://www.nfibonline.com]

The study did not reflect the Internet but other studies prove that the numbers are tantamount. The Internet may in fact be its fertile ground. Thus, setting your business, your web site, and your methods of creating traffic apart from the competition, while arguably not an easy task, is the surest way of both surviving and thriving in a hypercompetitive cybermarketplace.

Even Search Engines are Doing it
"How to Increase Hits With Traffic Generators" (http://SuccessDoctor.com/article22.htm) alluded to the fact that the future of the Internet lies in personalized services supplied by small companies and individuals. But since a small business' advertising budget is definitely not comparable to those from larger companies, the article indicated more effective and economical ways of creating traffic. One such way is through offline traffic generation.

This method consists of several points, namely: Positioning your company as unique or one with a unique selling proposition, focusing on your niche and specializing (to focus your site on a single, narrow theme), and using targeted marketing. For example, in the case of the latter many Internet marketers are turning to direct mail marketing (such as with "card decks," postcards, even coupon envelope packs) to successfully draw visitors to their sites.

However, it would be unfair to omit at this point that search engines do have their place in traffic generation and therefore should not be discounted. But even the search engines themselves are slowly redefining that place in similar ways -- they too are now starting to realize the need to find other, more targeted, and often offline means of traffic generation.

For example, a technique that's been quite successful for many years are coupon envelope packs, which are usually mixed-and-matched to meet specific demographic requirements. While they mostly operate offline, new media such as subscriber-based email coupons and Internet coupon-on-demand services (like http://hotcoupons.com and http://coupons.net) are great tools for online businesses that wish to approach far better, more targeted markets.

In the same way, more and more search engines are fusing their online and offline marketing efforts in order to target their potential visitors more effectively. In fact, they are recognizing offline direct mail marketing by joining firms such as Val-Pak and Money Mailer; firms that offer specific targeted marketing information and tools that make it easy for advertisers to find their best advertising clients. According to Money Mailer, "In 1996 alone direct mail generated $35 billion in sales. And over the past 16 years, direct mail has grown an astounding 232%."

"Fusion" Marketing Models
Consequently, Yahoo! has recently joined the direct market targeting bandwagon by teaming up with ValPak, the coupon pack direct mailer giant. Called "YahooCoupons!," visitors simply enter their zip code in order to receive a panoply of special offers that they can print, cut out, and redeem in their area let alone their area of interest (see http://coupons.yahoo.com).

C|Net writer Jim Hu (http://www.news.com), in a recent interview with Jeff Mallett (Yahoo!'s president and the mastermind behind the recent merger), pointed out: "[When Mallett joined Yahoo! in 1995] the face of the web was defined by a handful of search engines run by Stanford grads. While the jury was still out on whether [their business models] would work, the fact remained that they had the uncanny ability to attract hoards of Netizens."

Even opt-in direct emailers such as Targ-It! (http://www.targ-it.com) and Postmaster Direct (http://www.postmasterdirect.com) are in turn becoming the targets of search engines as opposed to the converse. In addition to Yahoo!'s recent alliances with companies such as Yoyodyne and ValPak, AltaVista (http://altavista.com) has moved in similar ways by joining Postmaster Direct (http://www.dmnews.com/articles/1998-11-02/2242.html).

Therefore, search engines will play an even greater role as time goes on, not only as support systems but also as excellent marketing models for smaller online businesses, which thrive primarily on targeted marketing as well. It would therefore be wise to conclude that, if the big search engines are doing it, the smaller companies can do it too -- and probably even better.

In the end, it's not the strength of your competition that can kill your business, it's the weakness of your innovation. The goal is to ultimately fuse online and offline marketing efforts to not only build a stronger presence on the web but also to remain a step ahead of the next.

About the Author
Michel Fortin is a consultant dedicated to helping businesses turn into powerful magnets. Visit http://SuccessDoctor.com to receive a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning." He is also the editor of the "Internet Marketing Chronicles" ezine delivered weekly to 90,000 subscribers -- subscribe free at http://SuccessDoctor.com/IMC/.

Tags: E-commerce and Internet



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