Commentary

How Marketers Can Manage Brands Online

Although Web marketing has established itself as a key element in companies' ongoing quest to increase sales and generate brand loyalty, the medium's numerous methods and programs for reaching and engaging customers present marketers with many difficult challenges.

In particular, while brand marketers can control the customer experience on their own branded .com site, they have trouble maintaining their products' brand integrity across all the different online retailers, resellers, comparison shopping sites, blogs and other websites that feature their products. For example, images vary, product information is out of date, and sometimes needed information or enhanced marketing like rich media is simply not available.

In addition, there is often a strong disconnect between the current, approved marketing content produced and used by the brand, and the obsolete or inaccurate content that is found on partner websites -- causing confusion, brand fragmentation, poor shopping experiences and worse, loss of sales. Given the expense these partners incur paying to drive customer traffic to their sites to induce sales and brand loyalty, it's critical that once these customers are captured, they engage with the best marketing content available.

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Brand marketers have finally begun to recognize the commanding influence of the online channel and understand its powerful potential to either facilitate or damage their brands. According to a February 2008 report by e-Marketer, it is estimated that in-store sales influenced by online research totaled $471 billion in 2007. Additionally, the report estimates that from 2007 to 2012, Web-influenced store sales are forecast to grow at a 19% average annual rate. Thus, the notion that the online channel is driving both online and in-store sales can no longer be disputed.

Although difficult, brand marketers must do their best to embrace their business partners -- with the goal being to ensure that they not only reach customers with current, engaging product marketing information during all points of the product research and purchasing cycles, but they also develop the brand loyalty that they are expected to deliver.

To this end, and in an effort to improve online brand awareness, marketers have commenced a more strategic focus of their time, money and assets to Web-based syndication of marketing content with the intention of driving online sales, providing information to influence in-store sales, and managing an accurate brand identity.

Because most retailers don't have the time or resources to integrate and update product information with any regularity across their sites, the burden of keeping marketing information current and intriguing within the online channel lies heavily with the brand marketer. With every challenge derives a great opportunity; brand marketers who have been successful had these tips to offer:

Maintain Consistent Brand Integrity - Customers are going to search for information about your product on the Internet whether you like it or not. Work closely with retailers, VARs, distributors and other business partners to ensure that your brand is being showcased in a current and appropriate manner.

Match Content With Customer Need - Customers benefit from being able to make informed purchases based on having engaging, interactive and current product information across all stages of their shopping experience which includes knowledge discovery, comparative shopping and fulfillment.

Invest In Advanced, Automated Technology - Attempting to build and deploy proprietary content syndication tools with hundreds of business partners brand marketers is not scalable. Other content distribution solutions such as partner portals require too much ongoing manual IT integration to be regularly used by partners for each separate brand they support. Even though the online channel is still evolving, marketers, albeit a bit late, are beginning to recognize the importance and magnitude of properly syndicating their marketing content. As more customers flock to the Web for purchases and product information, brand marketers will continue to look for unique ways to achieve engaging customer interactions that increase sales and brand value both on the Web and off.

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