Hiring an Internet Marketing Service – Plan Before You Leap!

A frequent mistake that businesses make is hiring an internet marketing company too quickly — primarily based on price. Your website is a visual representation of your business and a poorly designed site can frustrate visitors, misrepresent your products and even lose sales. Before you hire a internet marketing firm, research the answers to these questions:

1. How Much Experience Does The Internet Marketing Company Have? Do They Have Any Special Qualifications Or Designations?

Longevity in the industry is a good indicator of stability and skill. Online marketing firms that have been in the business for a while and built admirable reputations are usually known for sound design work and customer service. Choosing an internet marketing company that has been around longer means they will be more likely to be around in the future for ongoing maintenance and updates to your website.

The answer to this question will give you a general idea about the skill set at the web company. Having a tertiary qualification is good. Having a lot of experience is better, and combining experience with a tertiary education is best.

2. How Many Staff Members Do They Have And What Are Their Roles?

Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to effective web emarketing companies. Companies on average have one designer, a couple of web developers, analysts, and a few sales and support people. Some companies use Just-in-Time staffing, adding or removing staff as needed. This helps keep overhead low.

3. In Addition To Internet Marketing, What Other Services Does The Agency Offer?

Many prominent internet marketing firms are branching out and offering other services, including web development and design. SEO, Search Engine Marketing, Web Content Writing, Social Media Marketing, Blog promotion, and Google AdWords Management are services offered by many experienced online marketing companies. The key is finding a company that offers the services that you are looking for.

4. Does The Internet Marketing Firm Spend Time With You To Gather Business Knowledge And Give You A Formal Proposal?

It is good to select an web marketing company that will take the time to offer a custom solution for your website. Oftentimes, the online marketing firm will provide you with a questionnaire to fill out so that they can get a better feel for your goals, competition and overall website needs. Your website will play a large part in your overall brand marketing. Therefore, it is important that your internet marketing firm have a clear picture of your overall internet marketing goals.

5. What Are the Internet Marketing Company’s Payment Terms?

For anything from a small non-profit site to full corporate branding, most internet marketing companies will charge an upfront deposit and stage payments based on agreed milestones and deliverables. Be wary of any internet marketing firm that asks for payment in full before starting the project.

6. What Is The Internet Marketing Company’s Policy On Non-Disclosure And Privacy Of Information?

In order to create the perfect marketing plan for you, your internet marketing firm needs access to important information about your company — information you wouldn’t want your competition, or anyone else, to know.

This is particularly true if you are starting a new company. You don’t want others to steal your concept before you’ve had a chance to monetize it. Therefore, a solid non-disclosure and privacy policy will protect your information.

7. What Are The Average Timelines For Completing Your Web Design Project Including Ecommerce, Logo Design, And Corporate Branding?

If the company does both web development and internet marketing, ask what the firm considers a typical turn-around time for projects similar in size to your own. This should give you a fairly clear idea if the website designer/developer has time tracking and project management systems in place. If you have a hard deadline that you need to meet, be sure you tell the design company up front so that they can plan accordingly.

8. Who Will Be Your Central Point Of Contact For Your Internet Marketing Project?

It is important to have a single point of contact for your project to ensure nothing gets lost in translation. A Project Manager should be assigned to all web projects. If you are working with a small web company, however, the Project Manager may also be the web designer and/or web developer himself.

9. Does The Company Outsource Any Project Components To Third Parties Or To Countries Like India? If So, Which Components?

While outsourcing may be a valid business decision to save costs and keep overheads lower, you’ll want to be cautious with any internet marketing company who takes your project and out-sources large components to another country. If you have concerns about low quality, cheap labour, and remote project management issues when jobs are outsourced to India, be sure to bring them up before your project begins.

10. Can The Internet Marketing Company Help With Website Content Copy Writing?

SEO copywriting can make or break your website. Your website design may draw the reader in and focus their attention where it needs to be – but the words themselves do the selling. And if the content is optimized correctly, your website can be showing up on the front pages of the search engines for your chosen search terms.

Be sure the internet marketing firm you choose offers copywriting and ask to see samples — particularly samples of sites within your same industry. This will give you a good foundation on which to base your decision.

11. What Programming Languages And Operating Systems Does The Internet Marketing and/or Web Development Company Work With?

Ideally, your web development company should offer both the open source PHP/MySQL and ASP.NET programming languages. They should make a technical recommendation on which

Platform would best meet your needs and budget.

12. Do The Internet Marketing And Web Development Experts Build Websites To Web Standards?

Standards compliance, such as W3C and Web Standards Group are highly recommended industry practices. The main reason is consistency in how your visitors view your website on different platforms and future proofing.

13. What Is Covered In The Firm’s Website Testing/Quality Checking Phase? Are You Able To See The Website While It Is Still In Development?

Basic testing requirements should be browser testing, checking for broken links and general usability tests to ensure the website is easy for website visitors to use and interact with.

By seeing a development staging version, you will be able to check the website before the launch date and make any necessary adjustments.

14. Does The Internet Marketing Firm Allow Clients To Host Their Websites With Any Host?

Sometimes, for the sake of functionality or other good reasons, a web company may ask that you host your website with them, but this is not always the case. You may have existing commercial relationships with an ISP or web hosting company that you would prefer to use. It is important to know before hiring a internet marketing firm if they will require you to move hosting to them.

15. Do They Provide Any Training Once The Website Is Launched?

If your website project includes customized systems or software, it can be extremely helpful if your internet marketing company provides you with training documents for future reference. If your system is very detailed, it might even be optimal to arrange for a training program or ongoing customer support.

16. Is The Internet Marketing Firm Knowledgeable in Web 2.0? Is This Included In Your Quote, Or Are There Extra Charges?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a science in itself; an experienced Internet marketing company should be able to offer you a variety of options including organic, PPC and social media marketing including Facebook advertising. Depending on your business requirements, you should consider hiring an internet marketing company that can create a custom online campaign to help you achieve maximum results.

Usually there is an extra charge for single items like developing videos, commercials and ads, photo shoots, copywriting and so on. Ask about these if they are part of your marketing plan.

17. What Is The Charge For Website Updates After The Initial Website Is Completed?

While marketing is an ongoing process, the website is often considered a one-time effort. But there is always extra work to be done: changes and updates, new content and so on.

Be aware of the charging structure for updates to your website. Consider how often you will require updates and ask the internet marketing firm how they handle future updates and maintenance.

If you have frequent or large updates to your website, you could consider a Content Management System. A CMS is only really useful in the event of regular changes and if a staff member has good training in it. If neither are the case, it may just be cheaper to have the supplier to manage small updates.

18. What If You Find A Problem Or Code Bug After The Site Is Finished? Does The Graphic Design Company Have Any Kind Of Code Warranty Or Guarantee?

Often web companies will make the change if it is small for no additional costs. However, be aware that if it is a change and not a bug fix, you may be required to pay extra. Typically, internet marketing companies will give you several designs to approve initially and then involve you every step of the way. Each approved section of the project is considered finished. Going back and making changes — even if they seem simple — can be costly.

19. Is The Copyright For The Website Transferred To You When The Project Is Complete? What About Images in The Website? Logo Design?

Copyright law is a specialized legal field. You should ask to own the copyright on all of the work designed and developed after you have paid in full for the project.

20. Will The Website Development Company Comment Your Source Code?

Commenting code is part of good website development. If code is commented well, you won’t spend a lot of time if the unthinkable happens and you’re forced to find another website supplier either part way through the project or its maintenance.

Finding the answers to these questions may seem time consuming and quite involved, but it is an important part of the interview process. After you have interviewed several companies and had your questions and concerns addressed, you should be able to select a talented internet marketing and web development company that is knowledgeable and easy to work with. The firm you choose also needs to have the ability to produce a web design and website that represents and enhances your overall corporate branding.

Of course, you could choose to not follow our suggestions and just hire the least expensive firm available — or a friend of a friend who does graphic design and internet marketing. But then you could end up with a real mess. Your internet business depends on how good you look. You wouldn’t ask a friend to install a new set of teeth for you, would you?

Essentials of an Integrated Marketing Communication Process

The American Marketing Association (AMA) which represents marketing professionals defines marketing as “The process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion and distribution of ideas, goods and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organisational objectives.”

Effective marketing requires that managers recognize the interdependence of such activities as sales and promotion and how they can be combined to develop a marketing program. In marketing, exchange is a central concept. For exchange to occur there must be two or more parties with something of value to one another, a desire and ability to give up that something to other party, and a way to communicate with each other.

Marketing facilitates the exchange process and the development of relationships by carefully examining the needs and wants of customers, developing a product or service that satisfies these needs, offering it at a certain price, making it available through a particular place or channel of distribution, and developing a program of promotion or communication to create awareness and interest. The focus of market driven companies is on developing and sustaining relationships with their customers. This has led to a new emphasis on relationship marketing which involves creating, maintaining and enhancing longterm relationships with individual customers as well as other stakeholders for mutual benefit.

The marketer’s task is to devise marketing activities and fully integrated marketing activities and assemble fully integrated marketing programs to create, communicate and deliver value for customers.

Advertising and promotion play an important role in the exchange process by informing consumers of an organisation’s product or service and convincing them of its ability to satisfy their needs or wants. The American Association of Advertising Agencies developed definition of Integrated Marketing Communication as “A concept of marketing communications planning that recognizes the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic role of a variety of communication disciplines – advertising, direct response, sales promotion and public relations – and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum communications impact.” Integrated Marketing Communication involves coordinating the various promotional elements. Six major promotional tools are advertisement, sales promotion, personal selling, direct marketing, publicity/public relations, internet marketing.

The Integrated Marketing Communication approach helps companies identify the most appropriate and effective methods for communicating and building relationships with their customers as well as other stakeholders such as employees, suppliers, investors, interest groups and the general public. Companies send messages to customers and other stakeholders through all aspects of their marketing mixes, not just promotion. Consumers make inferences about a product on the basis of elements such as its design, appearance, performance, pricing, service support, and where and how it is distributed. For example a high price may symbolize quality to customers, as may be the shape or design of a product, its packaging, its brand name, or the image of the stores in which it is sold.

The Integrated Marketing Communication approach to marketing communications planning and strategy is being adopted by both large and small companies and has become popular among firms marketing consumer products and services as well as business- to-business marketers. By coordinating their marketing communications efforts, companies can avoid duplication, take advantage of synergy among promotional tools, and develop more efficient and effective marketing communication programs.

To move to Integrated Marketing Communication also reflects an adaptation by marketers to a changing environment, particularly with respect to consumers, technology and media. Major changes have occurred among consumers with respect to demographics, lifestyles, media use and buying and shopping patterns. Media strategy involves determining which communication channels will be used to deliver the advertising message to the target audience. Two most important aspects of the advertising program are development of the message and media strategy. Message development, referred as creative strategy involves determining the basic appeal and message the advertiser wishes to convey to the target audience. Once the message and media strategies have been determined, steps must be taken to implement them. Most large companies hire advertising agencies to plan and produce their messages and to evaluate and purchase the media that will carry their ads. Marketing Communication can tell or show consumers how and why a product is used, by what kind of person, and where and when. They can learn about who makes the product and what the company and brand stand for; and they can get an incentive or reward for trial or usage. Marketing communications allow companies to link their brands to other people, places, events, brands, experiences, feelings and things.

The Ins and Outs of Affiliate Marketing Campaigns

Let the professionals help you… in mass:

Affiliate marketing networks provide an environment where companies who have something to sell (Advertisers) meet with companies who know how to sell it (Publishers). Many large Affiliate marketing networks provide hundreds of products to be sold to their network of thousands of publishers.

Affiliate marketing networks generally work on a performance basis (CPA), where you only pay when a sale or lead is generated for you. You receive a sale or lead at a predetermined cost and then award the affiliate network with a bounty for generating the sale or lead for you. The Affiliate network then pays their publishers for generating sales on your behalf, minus what the network keeps for itself for putting the deal together. This may sound similar to a shopping portal, however there are some distinct differences. A shopping portal places your products in direct connection with the online shopper. Affiliate marketing networks place your products in direct connection with publishers (marketing or media companies.) Each publisher will then use their own resources to generate sales for you, be it PPC, SEO, email, banners and the like.

Not every product or service will work with an affiliate marketing campaign, and many affiliate networks will not accept your offer unless certain criteria are met. The average website is not “marketing ready” for an affiliate marketing campaign, and often requires a redesign or a separate website to allow for easy sales or lead conversions. Most sales lead generation campaigns work across affiliate marketing networks as long as you are not trying to collect too much information, or information that makes your customers feel nervous such as a social security number. For product sales, you need to present a very attractive offer like “a free 7 day trial for a diet pill”, “free services for 1 month”, or anything that can be considered a low risk bargain. An offer such as “a 42 inch plasma screen Television for only $1,597” will not work. As always, there are exceptions, and you may need to work closely with your affiliate manager to produce a campaign that will be popular amongst the publishers.

Due to the nature of the affiliate networks, they can be volatile and risky, and are not recommended for any company until they have a lot of internet marketing experience under their belt. The overall sales potential of affiliate network marketing can be enormous, and any time gigantic sales numbers come into play, so do gigantic risks. Many affiliate networks have what are known as “Super Affiliates” who have the potential to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales commissions each month. The volatility stems from both the marketing power available through an affiliate network, along with the performance-based environment they provide.

For the most part, the publishers who do the selling through the affiliate networks are greedy. They want to sell only the products and services that yield them the most revenue. It is their right, after all, because they are working on a performance basis and assume all marketing risks. If a good offer comes across an affiliate network, where a lot of money can be made, many publishers will market the product and sales will come streaming in. If a product comes in that does not generate good, or at least acceptable, revenue for the publishers, they will chose to not market the product and sales will be almost nonexistent. It is difficult to find the right balance to satisfy all parties involved (advertiser, publisher, affiliate network, and potential customer.) All parties must be happy in order to yield a successful affiliate campaign. The swing between a high performing campaign and an unpopular one can be tremendous. This volatility introduces significant risk, which comes in three flavors.

Affiliate Network Marketing Risk:

  • (1) Not enough business You have put significant time and resources into building an Affiliate marketing campaign. You have commissioned all types of marketing creative, website design and even bulked up your sales staff. Despite this preparation, your offer is not a money maker for the publishers, and they are not marketing your campaign. Your expenses have increased in anticipation of increased sales that simply never materialized.
  • (2) Too much business You hit the nail on the head… Your offer is hot and the publishers love it. They love it so much that sales flow in faster than you can handle. Your call center can handle 50 leads per day but the publishers are generating 200. For each sale or lead made you must pay a commission whether or not you can address it. You are literally downing in too much business, and your pocketbook can’t hold out long enough to expand accordingly.
  • (3) Cheating You didn’t invest much effort in validating your sales or leads. Your affiliate marketing campaign is generating a lot of leads, but sales are not happening. You are receiving numerous disconnected phone numbers, invalid credit card numbers or people who say “I only signed up for the free gift.” Leads are coming in, but a bunch of crooked publishers are submitting fake information to get paid as if their data was real. Notice how that last lead had a Texas area code, their zip code was “12345,” they stated they live in Alaska and gave you the credit card number “4444555544445555.”

Many Affiliate marketing networks will also ask if they can run your campaign exclusively. This means that they are the only affiliate network that can provide your offer to the world. There are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to running your campaign exclusively with one network.

Exclusive Affiliate network Campaign Advantages:

  • Your Affiliate marketing campaign manager may pass your campaign on to other affiliate marketing networks, and manage your account for you. This saves you considerable time by not having to seek out new networks, organizing campaign launches, marketing creative, and other tasks required to launch a new campaign.
  • You will not have to pay startup fees or sign contracts for the affiliate marketing networks that your affiliate manager passes your campaign on to. You simply work under your single agreement with your affiliate manager. This can save you thousands of dollars in startup costs, and lots of time.
  • Affiliate marketing networks use exclusive campaigns as “bragging rights,” and often give priority to their exclusive campaigns. Your campaign is more likely to be advertised to the publishers and given special attention. This helps to get your campaign noticed by the publisher, and ultimately increases sales or lead flow.

Exclusive Affiliate network Disadvantages:

  • Your campaign manager will outsource your campaign to other affiliate marketing networks. You will not know exactly who is marketing your offer and therefore the quality of the web traffic coming into your website is unknown.
  • Your affiliate manager may not be as ambitious as you. Your campaign may not get passed on to other affiliate marketing networks, and because it is an exclusive offer you can’t pass it on to other networks. Growth may become stifled.
  • The publishers who run your campaign through outsourced affiliate networks will not receive as high of a payout (sales commission). There are effectively two affiliate marketing networks: Your direct affiliate network and the outsourced network. More hands are in the pot, taking money and leaving less for the publishers themselves. The decreased publisher bounty with result in decreased interest in your campaign, so the outsourced affiliate marketing networks will not be as productive as if you worked with them directly.

Most affiliate networks will want to incorporate email marketing into your campaign. This is strongly recommended, as sales or lead generation volumes could be significantly higher. If you do allow your campaign to be email marketed, you will need to be able to maintain an email suppression list. The suppression list is a list of email addresses of people who want to opt-out from receiving your offer. An opt-out link must be provided on your email marketing creative where people can opt-out from your offer. You must then supply the suppression file to your affiliate network so they can in turn pass your suppression file to their publishers. This is a part of the Can-Spam law and it can be effectively managed with a small opt-out landing page connected to a simple database. Make sure you provide an updated suppression file to the affiliate networks at least once per week.

Launching affiliate marketing campaigns that convert:

  • Your goal is to generate a campaign that puts the most money possible into your publisher’s pockets, while also generating a profit yourself. Keep in mind that a break-even campaign is also a successful campaign as long as you can re-market to your clients and generate additional sales, upgrades, etc.
  • Design your campaign to maximize conversions. Minimize the clicks needed to purchase a product, or have your lead generation form on the home page. Don’t collect information that you really do not need, or that people do not like to give out (like an SSN.) You may have to build a unique website for the affiliate marketing campaign if your current website is not fine-tuned for affiliate marketing.
  • You are competing against all of the other campaigns on an affiliate network, not just ones selling the same thing you are. Publishers optimize the offers they market and drop the poor performing campaigns. Design an offer that works both for you and your publishers; your affiliate manager can help.
  • Make the steps necessary to allow your campaign to be email marketed by the publishers. This means you will need to create Can-Spam compliant email marketing creative, an opt-out page linked to a database, and provide access to an updated suppression file (a text dump of your database suppression file.) Email marketing will significantly amplify your campaign’s effectiveness.
  • Develop a large selection of various marketing creative, lots of standard size banners, multiple email creative, multiple email titles and subject lines, various text links and so on. Your affiliate manager will provide you a list of critical media types and sizes, but try to provide more than their minimum requirements.
  • Stay on top of lead quality and fraud. No matter how advanced your validation system may get, someone will try to sneak fake data past you. Make sure that you can track all lead sources, including the subIDs that are passed on through the affiliate network.
  • Every time you make a change to your website, submit a test to ensure that the affiliate campaign is still running as it should be. If your website has an error preventing sales conversions or introduces tracking problems, you may be asked to pay the publishers for their lost business. Remember that your broken website will affect many companies who stuck their neck out for you.
  • Be prepared for large volumes of leads, or no leads at all.

The risks associated with affiliate network marketing are many, and they are significant. You must be on your toes, thinking ahead and quick to move if things turn sour. But if you come prepared and design an offer that the publishers love, the financial rewards can be enormous.

Developing A New Nonprofit Marketing Communications Plan

With another unsettling economic year on top of us, it’s time again to begin developing or refining a new marketing and marketing communications strategy, budget and plan. If you’re fortunate enough to have achieved a good ROI from your current program, along with the data to substantiate the reasons, you’re in better shape than most.

For example, in the for profit arena, only eight percent of Chief Marketing Officers (CMO’s) say they can determine the ROI of their social media efforts. And 93 percent of CMO’s say they’re under more pressure to deliver significant ROI.

A Changing Nonprofit Marketing Landscape

The Giving USA Annual Report presented the nonprofit community with some good news – giving increased by 7.1 percent in 2014 versus 2013 to $359 billion. Individuals again accounted for nearly three-quarters of the total, with foundations a distant second, at 15 percent.

And, interestingly, while arts/culture/humanities increased by 9.2 percent, and the environment/animals by 7 percent, international affairs declined by 2 percent for the third year in a row.

As individuals are leading this growth, the obvious question becomes how to continue this trend? Consumer demographics, income, expanded consumer promotion and politics will impact many marketing communications programs next year. Consider the following:

  • The two largest age groups, Millennials and Boomers, are very different. Millennials are cash strapped, unimpressed with brand names, and socially conscious; Boomers, on the other hand, are brand loyal and projected to account for about 70 percent of U.S. disposable income in 2017 (Quirk’s Market Research).
  • Asians and Hispanics will continue to become even larger and more potent portions of the US population. Many will be courted by nonprofits for the first time, representing a brand new audience (US Census Bureau, 2014 National Projections).
  • Median household income actually declined 8.7 percent between 1999 and 2013 to $51,939 (Census Bureau Current Population Survey). And, while many people care deeply about certain causes, how to dispose of those hard earned disposable dollars rules many spending and giving decisions.
  • At the same time, these consumers are being bombarded with the largest major media and marketing services expenditures in history — $406 billion is expected in 2015. That’s a staggering $1,262 per person (Zenith Optimedia)! Beyond the dollars, that’s a lot of clutter and competition.

The road ahead will be very different than previous years. And, with the onslaught of political advertising driving up prices and reducing media inventory, even greater emphasis must be placed on developing smarter marketing communications plans to deliver improved ROI.

Marketing Tactics To Consider Before Finalizing Your Plan

There are a number of important tactics that can be used to improve ROI as well as brand presence. I’ll focus on four:

  1. Like most managers, you probably think you understand what’s important to your donors, prospective donors, staff, volunteers and even your Board. But, do you really know what they believe about the organization? And, do they in turn understand your mission, or has “mission creep” expanded your core identity? Further, do they see their time and financial commitment rewarding and making a difference? That means employing market research to learn what’s really important and providing focus before committing to a marketing communications plan. It’s prudent, and fact trumps opinion.
  2. Consider conducting a marketing communications audit to determine when, where and how to invest your time and money. An audit will provide an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of your existing program as a whole, as well as how each individual tactic does or does not meet your objectives. With this information, all of the elements of your program – subject matter, budget allocation, media mix, theming, graphics, tone and manner, new versus traditional media – can all be integrated into a holistic marketing communications program well before committing to the unknown. Look before you leap.
  3. Be sure you’re media neutral. Traditional media such as print, broadcast, direct mail, newsletter, events and public relations still remain important media tools. But, today, so do blogs, social media, online videos, webinars and more. All have value, but learning how to use them is vital. There must be an understanding of the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.
  4. Your anniversary, whether it’s your 5th, 33rd or 50th provides a unique opportunity to rekindle enthusiasm, and to galvanize all of your constituents to the relevant, important and needs of the organization. It gives you the chance to tell your story, not just your history but also your plans and goals for the future. Unify and focus everyone around a 12 – 18 month program to establish your vision.

Marketing Communications Consultants Or Internal Staff

If you’re like most nonprofit leaders, the majority of your time, talent and training is devoted to your passion for the programs and services you provide. The same is probably true of your most committed volunteers, staff and Board members.

Given that, does your organization have the marketing and marketing communications talent and background to develop the strategies, budgets, plans and tactics that are necessary to help you succeed in today’s environment?

If not, consider partnering with established, media neutral, senior level professionals to help your team formulate, refine and, if necessary, implement your programs. Look for people with experience in both nonprofit and for profit arenas, with extensive experience across brands and industries, as well as a willingness to “tell it like it is”, so that candor will flourish.

Most probably, the near future will present nonprofit marketers with a rocky road to travel. Hopefully, some of these thoughts will help, but also remember what Mark Twain said – “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”.