Answer: Unlike organized e-mail marketing campaigns, routine, day-to-day e-mail is sent by every department within your company. While these communications are not specifically marketing-related, every one of them offers a real branding opportunity.
Branding these routine e-mails is typically done through the use of e-mail signatures; all major e-mail programs enable senders to create a signature that is automatically appended to outgoing e-mail.
E-mail signatures are generally used as an easy means of distributing contact information. What is often overlooked is that they can be tweaked to provide a highly effective, and cohesive, branding opportunity. To do so:
Make sure the company logo is displayed consistently, is properly sized and has no distortion or degradation.
Include functional links to the company Web site, map and a downloadable v-card, as long as you can do so cleanly.
Use HTML "ALT" tags properly to ensure the contact information in the signature is presented to those e-mail recipients who receive plain text e-mail or have image-blocking turned on.
Program HTML properly to ensure the signature image is not sent as an attachment and that e-mail messages are not at increased risk of being filtered out by SPAM and anti-virus software.
Activating a high-quality e-mail signature program across e-mail users in your company is neither expensive nor difficult, and the ongoing rewards easily justify the cost.
Rex Weston is president-CEO, StationeryCentral.com (www.stationerycentral.com ), a provider of e-mail branding solutions.
Problem: Using your Web site to target different constituencies of your audience.
Solution: The Internet created a level playing field for businesses of differing shapes and sizes, but it also leveled communications. Direct customers, VARs and investors often get served up the same Web site; someone with a long-standing relationship lands on the same pages as does some stranger who Googled his way to you. But people aren't looking to be homogenized; their interests and needs are specific and, if they have a relationship with you, they'd like it to be acknowledged.
What to do? Here are a few suggestions:
Understand who your different constituents are and what they seek.
When planning the navigation of your site, think in terms of "tours"?a customer might want to go to this page, then this one; an investor would have a different tour.
Consider a subnavigation that lets visitors self-identify: "I am an investor, VAR, etc.," or identify their relationship: "I'm a first-time visitor" or "I'm a long-standing customer." You can then set up "bridge pages" on your site that pull together what might be of most interest to these different visitors.
Write for visitors who have differing levels of familiarity with your company. Someone who has awareness of your enterprise but little comprehension needs an overview. A visitor who's loyal is looking for much more specific information?and to feel that his or her past decisions have been the right ones.
Employ best print-based typographic practices: Set up information with clear hierarchies of heads and subheads so that pages can be scanned quickly.
If you find that you really can't reconcile the needs of different constituents and acknowledge and support different relationships, maybe you need separate sites, or password-protected areas for partners, VARs and maybe even a "frequent flier lounge" for valued customers.
Roger Sametz is president, Sametz Blackstone Associates (www.sametz.com ), a strategic communications practice.
Problem: Connecting the target audience to the appropriate Web site content using search engine marketing.
Solution: Traditional b-to-b marketing requires considerable strategic planning to engage key decision-makers; b-to-b search engine marketing is no different.
The key to a successful campaign is developing an "intelligent search architecture" (ISA), using well-researched keywords that are psychologically, emotionally and intellectually aligned with each target search engine user, as well as each stage in the sales cycle. It is essential to thoroughly understand your market segments and the behavioral patterns of the target search engine user.
An ISA moves beyond targeting general search phrases and then delivering generic content. Instead, it requires a platform that allows you to identify and segment your audience based on search-term scenarios. This is important because it gives you the power to capture and direct search engine users to the appropriate content based on their own self-identifying terms.
For example, while general consumers might search for "VoIP" or "voice over IP," a CIO at a large corporation might search for "Enterprise VoIP solutions," and a small-business owner might search for "IP telephone system." By adjusting your search program accordingly, you can increase the relevance of the messaging delivered to each of these very different searches and create a greater level of engagement.
Research and strategy are the keys. Ultimately, a successful search program depends on having a thorough understanding of your audience. By committing to research and developing a solid ISA, you will begin to lower your cost-per-click and deliver more and better-qualified leads to your sales force.
Steve Riegel is a partner and director of search strategies, Faction Media (factionmedia.com ), a full-service agency.