Logging on to higher profits - How to win and influence customers and prospects via great web and email marketing.
By Rich Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
You work hard, each and every day, to delivery top-notch service to your customers. You use every tool, every bit of technique and technology, to keep consumers comfortable in their homes and businesses. Your company uses every resource available to them to remain competitive; that's part of being successful. As the modern business model continues to evolve, through advances in technology, there is one resource that is becoming increasingly important for every business to utilize - the Internet.
There's no question about it; the Internet has changed all of our lives forever, providing consumers with immediate access to incredible volumes of information and resources, right from the comfort of their homes. Many people already feel that they don't remember what life was like without access to the web. The Internet provides a wealth of opportunity for propane companies to preserve, promote and expand their businesses through the use of websites and Internet services.
Recent studies reveal that more than 75% of the population in America now has Internet access in their home. That means three out of every four of your customers have access to the web. It also means three-quarters of your prospective customers are now surfing the web. When they look for a home comfort provider, do you want them to find your company's online presence - or only your competition's?
The Internet has created many new opportunities for businesses, in terms of both marketing and brand-name recognition. Websites are a consistent marketing tool, working for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visitors to a website can look up information about your company, see what you have to offer, and contact your staff for more information. In many cases, websites allow consumers to place requests for service, and pay their account balances, right online! On the other hand, email marketing provides a new and invaluable way of getting information out to customers and prospects alike. This new form of mass-advertising delivers your message - whether it is an announcement of new products, a public relations article, or a distribution of specials/coupons to entice people to purchase a service - and is delivered nearly instantaneously.
Websites and email marketing allow you to reach out and communicate with current and potential customers alike, helping to both solidify and expand your customer base. PriMedia's motto for websites is to, "Get 'em there, Keep 'em there." By bringing customers to your website and keeping them there, you open up realms of opportunities for new business. The more interested the customer is in what you have to offer them, the more likely they are to become (and remain) your customer.
Show them what you've got
As the saying goes, "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression." The first thing a customer will notice about your website is the look, the style. You can offer the best service in the country, yet if they don't like what they see when they first enter your website, a vast majority will hop back over to a search engine and move onto the next website. A clean, well-designed website utilizing relevant images and artwork goes a long way towards making a good first impression, and keeping the user on the website long enough to see what you have to offer.
A company website is all about selling your company. Consumers will immediately ask, "Why should I choose you?" Your website should provide viewers with a comprehensive listing of all the valuable services you can provide for them. By organizing common services together under specific headings (such as Heating, Cooling, etc.), you can make it easy for the customer to find the service they are looking for. In addition, this form of grouping provides immediate cross-marketing opportunities, as information on related products and services are immediately visible to the customer as they search for their original objective. Even more important than just listing what you offer is to make the navigation of the website clear, consistent from page to page, and intuitive. If a customer has a hard time finding what they are looking for, chances are that they'll look somewhere else.
Keep them coming back for more
At their core, websites are an elaborate combination of two parts - graphics and content. If your website uses good design elements to draw a customer's attention, they're more likely to read what you have to say. However, if each time they come to the website everything is exactly the same, they are far less likely to continue returning. If the news every morning was exactly the same, day in and day out, would you continue to read it? Probably not. The key to bringing people back to your website, over and over again, is dynamic content.
Dynamic content is just that, content that changes. This can be a combination of rotating images (seasonal graphics work quite well), and refreshing/revising content. Give consumers a reason to come back to your website, such as weekly website-only specials, seasonal tips to conserve energy, etc. Every time you bring a consumer back to your website you have a new opportunity to offer them your services. And since most people use the Internet to research before they buy, if they find what they want on your website, they are more likely to choose you as their service provider.
An invaluable way to bring people to your website is email marketing. Email marketing provides an effective, inexpensive means of distributing information to designated email mailing lists. Email marketing is quite similar to direct marketing in theory, with the added benefits of being more targeted (you're sending to a personal email account), quicker (email delivery is almost instantaneous), and cheaper (in most cases, email is complete free to send).
By using an opt-in and opt-out system, you can maintain email lists of those customers who wish to receive information, while also allowing consumers to decline receiving additional correspondence. Everyone appreciates having a choice. The content of your email distributions can be reminders of recommended services ("It's time for that annual tune-up!"), announcement of new services ("We now offer air conditioning, in addition to our high-quality propane."), or even exclusive specials only delivered to email recipients ("Print out this email for $10.00 off a two-year service agreement."). Not only will these messages generate extra traffic to your website, but they are often directly responsible for helping promote current (and potential) customers take the initiative to order your services.
If you build it, will they come?
Just because you have a website out there on the web somewhere does not necessarily mean people will automatically come to your site. Many people believe that right after setting up their website, they should be able to go to Google and find it. Unfortunately, there is a lot more involved in making your website "visible" to the world. Even if you have submitted your website to the various Search Engines out there (Google, MSN, Yahoo, etc.), there is no guarantee that consumers will find your website on a given search. However, there are several ways you can utilize Search Engines to help ensure your website comes up when people perform a relevant search on the Internet.
One of the most important ways to bring people to your website is simply make the website domain name (i.e., http://propane-advertising.com) visible. Every piece of literature and all marketing materials that your company has (business cards, brochures, etc) should proudly display your company website address on it. This allows your materials to work as a constant means for people to find you online - and potentially create new business opportunities.
Search Engine Optimization is a relatively new, and extremely important, technology for websites. Basically, when a website is indexed into the Internet, a series of keywords are assigned based on several criteria. Search Engine Optimization ensures that your website has the proper balance of terms and content to make your website "appear" on Search Engines for specific terms.
Another important means of helping customers to find your website is to use pay-per-click advertising. If you've ever used the Google search engine, you've seen the small text ads that appear on the right side of the screen after each search. The websites described in those ads aren't there for free - they are paying for the service. However, if you have noticed those ads, and ever clicked on them after a search, then you already realize how effective they can be. By utilizing a pay-per-click system, you are only charged for the users that actually click your ad, and therefore only those people that come to your website. The price per click is usually only a few cents, and is well worth it to bring new prospects (and potential business) to your company's website.
Your place in cyberspace
Gone are the days where having a website was a luxury or something only high-end financial companies could afford. Websites have become an integral part of modern marketing and maintaining a successful business. Having a dedicated company website, one that provides your current customers with valuable information while also marketing your services to potential customers, has become less of an option and more of a requirement to stay competitive in today's technologically-savvy marketplace.
What can I do with the Internet again?
- Company Websites - a customer service, marketing, and brand recognition tool that works for you all day, every day
- Email Marketing - get your word out to current and prospective customers alike
- Search Engine Services - make sure people can find your website, and bring new business right to your door
Interested in a company website? Ready to take your existing website to the next level? Want to find out more about how Email Marketing can bolster your profits while minimizing your costs? Contact PriMedia. With a comprehensive portfolio of proven propane Internet Service success, PriMedia can help take your business from the office into cyberspace - and beyond. Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full service marketing and communications firm with offices in New York City, Long Island and Boston. The company is now offering free marketing consultations to Oilheat retailers. Phone: 800-796-3342, or visit their Web sites at www.primediany.com and www.propane-advertising.com.