The Internet is a major force in most of our lives. Consumers go online to gather information, share information, and stay connected through social networks. They use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations. If you're a business owner and if consumers are using the Web to express opinions about the products and services you sell, how does it affect your business?
The burning question on most executives' minds is, "How do we leverage the power of these new technologies, recognize the opportunities, and integrate them into an overall business strategy?" On July 17, 2008 over 300 marketing executives, IT professionals and strategists came to the 5th annual Internet Strategy Forum Summit to get the answers.
One of the biggest challenges facing marketers today is the consumers' mistrust of the advertising industry, or as Paul Gillin wrote in The New Influencers, ". . young people are so convinced in the value of peer networks that they will trust the advice of a total stranger over that of a professional marketer."
Thought leaders from eMarketer, Forrester Research, Disney, Nike, Intel, IBM, WebTrends, and Fandango took to the stage and delivered insight on how to overcome those challenges by using the new enabling technologies, social media strategies, personalized target marketing, email marketing, and customer-engagement metrics.
Charlene Li, former Vice President of Forrester Research led off the day with a presentation based on her best-selling book, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. She stressed the importance of focusing on relationships rather than technologies, engaging customers in open-ended conversations, ideas exchange, and listening.
Nancy Bhagat, VP Sales and Marketing Group; Director, Integrated Marketing, Intel Corp. discussed the fundamental shift in end-to-end marketing. She suggested that, "The biggest challenge companies face isn't being creative, or the concept of integrating the technologies, it's metrics."
All presenters agreed that too much data -- much of it contradictory -- is a problem still to be solved: how to make sense of the numbers and measure what really matters—data about traffic, click-throughs, sales, numbers that have relevance and real impact.
Mike Moran – Distinguished IBM Engineer addressed this subject in a presentation entitled Internet Marketing by the Numbers. After explaining a plethora of methods used in tracking traffic and measuring conversion rates, he reminded the audience that the numbers aren't as important as the trends. In spite of conflicting data results, all the research indicates that online marketing is outpacing other forms of media advertising.
Jeffrey Ramsey, Co-founder & CEO, eMarketer pointed out that the newest trend is online video ads which are gaining in popularity because they are measurable, targetable, and more importantly, shareable. Unlike a TV commercial, you can forward an entertaining online video ad and it spreads virally.
David Placier, Vice President, Consumer Insights and Marketing, Disney Online, focused on Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) and explained how companies can differentiate their marketing approaches depending on what they understand about the consumer's behaviors.
Some companies are using cutting-edge innovation to establish relationships with consumers. Nike's Chris Shimojima, Vice President, Global Digital Commerce, explained Nike Plus, a technology that allows users to connect and share information with others through a special community portal, and Nike ID where consumers can custom design their own shoes online, a service that has evolved into actual bricks and mortar retail stores.
There were many examples of how companies are leveraging the Groundswell. They included the importance of getting involved in the online community, blogging, listening, responding, and offering something that gets the community engaged.
Ernst and Young used Facebook to successfully recruit 3500 college students into their work force, they boosted their ranking for "most popular companies to work for" to number four, behind Apple, Microsoft and Google—pretty impressive for an accounting firm.
When Dell laptops began bursting into flames, it reverberated across the Internet as Dell got "flamed" in forums. But when one Dell employees began responding to these comments online, it demonstrated that the company was listening and taking action. His reaching out effectively put the fire out and changed the dialog.
Web 2.0 technologies have changed the whole dynamic of marketing to consumers.
Companies that are willing to listen to what others are saying and are willing to engage consumers are the ones that will succeed in the evolving marketplace.
Summit attendees came away with new insights and ideas about integrating new technologies into their overall business strategy. The event's underlying message can be summed up by a quote by David Verklin, CEO of Carat America: "Great brands are no longer the ones that are the best storytellers, but the ones with the best stories being told about them."
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