Breaking Through the Clutter

A few short years ago, setting up a web site on the Internet was like setting up a hot dog stand in the desert: The problem was to find customers. The business environment changed when hundreds of other hot dog vendors with huge marketing budgets and 30-foot billboards advertising their hot dog brands built their stands next to that of the original hot dog vendor. Suddenly, the problem was not just to find customers, but to differentiate the original brand from all the others.

Today, Internet companies are faced with the same problem. In 1999, Internet companies spent over $1.5 billion in offline advertising to draw consumers to their sites. One cannot make it through a day without being exposed to some kind of ad for a dot-com company.

Dot-com advertising has become so ubiquitous that people have become numb to the overcrowded traditional channels. As a result of this overexposure and decreased response to ads, companies are beginning to realize that they do not need to drop $2 million on a spot in the Super Bowl or hire the captain of the Starship Enterprise to be their spokesperson to generate awareness for their site. Web advertisers are finding non-traditional, guerrilla-driven tactics to reach their audiences and drive traffic to their sites.

If you understand your site’s purpose, know your target audience, focus on your value proposition, and use a little ingenuity, you can break through the noise, too.

Your Purpose

Determining your web site’s purpose is very simple: Why did you establish the site? A surprising number of sites don’t have a clear purpose. Their creators just felt they should be online, because “it’s the big thing right now.” There are no rights or wrongs in setting a purpose, except not setting one. Your site’s purpose can be practically anything: “To sell our products online,” for instance, or “To build our name recognition.” Knowing your site’s purpose at all times will help you mold an effective marketing strategy.

Your Target Audience

Whom are you talking to? Information about your intended audience is critical to creating a successful, effective marketing program. Understanding your audience not only shapes the content and overall site design but allows you to craft an advertising message that connects with that audience. Aside from the typical demographics of your target audience (age, income, etc.), learning their psychographic profile will play an equally important role. Know their interests, opinions, and activities. Learn what they are thinking and how they consume both offline and online media.

Value Proposition

Developing a compelling value proposition means focusing on perceived benefits from the target market’s perspective. Done right, a compelling value proposition leverages your web site’s differentiating attributes and sets it apart from the competition. When crafting breakthrough marketing tactics, dont ever take your eye off your value proposition. Many Internet companies make the mistake of forgetting their core competency and rely on sheer shock value to gain attention. The effects are short-term, and the consumer loses the ability to distinguish one advertiser from another.

Additionally, leave the dirty job of brand building to traditional media and public relations channels. Look at guerrilla marketing as brand “smart bombs” that selectively target your audience with attention-grabbing initiatives that tie in to the company’s brand and value proposition.


Your target audience is already being bombarded with messages in all the usual places. You’re much more likely to find something original if you venture off the beaten path. Adopt the mindset of your target audience and find places to weave your message into their lifestyle environment.

Experiment with a variety of approaches. Evaluate the merits of your strategy, then go out and implement your idea. Internet companies have put their ads on taxi tops, mobile billboards, bicycle messenger seats, coffee cup sleeves, barges, and even on stickers pasted to apples.

Returning to our hot dog vendors, we find we now have a marketing-savvy hot dog vendor who decides to integrate guerrilla tactics into his marketing mix to help drive customers to his stand. Unlike the other vendors with stationary billboards, he builds his own hot dog-shaped mobile billboard that drives around the city. He hires a crew to go to the local park and hand out hundreds of relish packets with his address, logo and the tag line “Relish the Taste” printed on them. He sponsors a dachshund race, and he does a cross-promotion with a soda pop company.

With this same kind of out-of-the-box thinking, web sites can drive traffic to their too.

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