The Maturing of Dot-Com Marketing

Shooting gerbils against the wall… Rushing to buy multimillion-dollar Super Bowl spots… Launching a national marketing campaign before a brand’s Web site works… These are examples of dot-com marketing’s irrational exuberance, which has contributed to today’s dot-com deadpool.

It is clear that the dot-com path to profitability runs through the marketing area and that dot-coms must be more mature about the ways they plan and spend their marketing dollars. Here are some suggestions for surviving in today’s business climate.

1. Write a formal communication strategy. The strategy document Procter & Gamble uses consists of only one page, but there are battles over each word on that page. The point is to think through a strategy, have it on paper, and follow it. Then it will be easy to determine whether the “gerbils against the wall” television spot is off strategy or just bad execution.

2. Spend your marketing dollars against the consumer to build your brand and to generate sales. This is pretty obvious until you take the time to calculate what percentage of your budget is being spent on ad-agency fees, television production costs, and Web site design. It might make sense to do some of this work in-house and use the extra money to build your business.

3. Manage your marketing budget maniacally. The road to profitability is littered with dead dot-com companies that overspent on marketing. Make every dollar count, and try to measure the cause and effect of marketing spending on both awareness and sales.

4. Consider setting up an in-house ad agency. It will help you move faster, save money, and remain consistent in your messaging. There is an argument to be made for the objectivity of an ad agency. But don’t believe that agencies have cornered the market on creative talent, and always remember that agencies are in business to make a profit. Their profit goals and yours may not coincide, especially during the early stages of your company’s development.

5. Try using outside professionals on a deconstructed basis. Outside media-buying agencies, public-relations firms, and market-research companies can give you superb service on a per-project, per-month, or as-required basis. This way, you can pay for what you need and still get the expertise of professionals without having to place them on your permanent staff.

6. Be fast, flexible, and opportunistic. One of the great advantages of a dot-com is that it is not burdened by legacy structures or practices. So act on this. Test. Try different programs. Plan a reserve in your media budget so you can take advantage of last-minute media opportunities. It can let you outmaneuver the competition, push your business ahead, and, at the same time, make your company a lot of money.

7. Be humble. The people you deal with every day do not want to hear that you have all the marketing answers. This is particularly true if you are younger than 30 years old, and even more true if you are younger than 25 years old. As marketers, we know that we must learn, readjust, and persevere every day. Marketing is far from an exact science. The sooner we understand this, the better.

Dot-com marketing can and must mature. Someday, soon, there should be no distinction between dot-com marketing and conventional marketing. But there always will be a distinction between good marketing and bad marketing.

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