Proceed with Caution

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Widgets. Blogs. Social networks. RSS feeds. Wikis. Wireless. The list of applications and services that fall under the Web 2.0 umbrella seems to grow on a daily basis; and as it grows so, too, do the opportunities to market and cross-promote using these venues. In fact, nearly every one of the above technologies can be used to increase brand awareness and adoption of more traditional online marketing efforts—especially e-mail marketing, said Andrew B. Westmoreland, founder of Progressing Markets, an e-mail marketing company.

"The name of the game is seamless integration," he said. "It's a pretty big challenge, but one that answers the question: How do I reach the right customer at the right time with the right message?"

Answering that isn't always easy, according to industry experts.

The key, said Stefan Pollard, director of consulting services at e-mail marketing provider EmailLabs, is to look at these Web 2.0 channels not as individual venues but as touch points in a larger strategy that includes e-mail marketing.

"Focusing on e-mail as a strategy, for instance, is the wrong way to go about things. E-mail, or any of these technologies, is only one piece," he said. "Your end goal should be to offer as many options as possible [to allow] you to communicate with people."

The other important message, said Chris Marriott, VP-general manager, Eastern Region, at Acxiom Digital, a provider of e-mail and search marketing: You probably aren't missing out if you haven't jumped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon yet.

"There is a lot more hype than there is demonstrated, proven value yet," he said.

Blogs and RSS

If you do want to get involved, two of the easiest and most complementary technologies are blogs and RSS feeds.

Blogs, which are typically updated daily or several times each week, are different than e-newsletters because they're typically more conversational and, when done right, have very few obvious marketing messages. Still, they aren't for everyone, said Barry Parr, a media analyst at JupiterResearch.

"Part of the challenge for many marketers is that doing a blog doesn't always make sense. The thesis is if you're doing a blog, you're really doing it for the really serious users of your product. You have to think: At the end of the day, do you really want to have a conversation with your customers?"

For many, said Ed Henrich, VP-strategic services at e-mail marketing provider Responsys, the answer is yes because blogs fit so well with a traditional e-mail newsletter. Newsletters are great vehicles for product and company information, while blogs examine high-level industry issues and theories. The two give customers value from each and provide an opportunity to play them off each other, he said.

"[You can] summarize the best of the blog and send it out as a once-a-month e-mail newsletter so people can see what you're doing," he added.

RSS feeds can be used to bring both your e-mail newsletter and blog content directly to prospects and customers. But since the technology doesn't allow you to track how or even if your RSS feed is being read or opened, it's not exactly a marketer's best friend. Plus, because RSS readers are in passive mode—the technology doesn't let them take actions such as clicking through—explicit marketing messages may be less than welcome, said Craig Swerdloff, VP-general manager at Return Path, a provider of e-mail marketing services.

"Broadly speaking, we've seen less than desirable results from RSS advertising. The quality of the audience is high, but your message has really got to be compelling to get people to notice it."

Promoting e-mail efforts

So outside of straight advertising or brand awareness, what can you do with such things as RSS and blogs? Promote your existing e-mail and Web content, said Gail Goodman, CEO of e-mail marketing provider Constant Contact.

While blogs are typically a way a to promote thought leadership, they can also function as a customer barometer, she said. "You can use your blog as a way to help guide newsletter content. You can say, `This is what I'm thinking about writing this month. Are there any more questions you want to ask?' You can use your blog to make a deeper connection."

In fact, if you're looking to do straight cross-promotion, you're going to be most successful if you incorporate these types of interactions, Goodman said. "You've always got to assume that you're not going to have 100% overlap between your blog and e-mail newsletter," she said. "You need to engage those people who aren't reading your blog by picking the most active and interesting discussions, noting them in your newsletter and saying, `Click here to post your opinion.' Pick a topic and a response or two—even if it's just the opening paragraph—to get people started."

Similarly, your blog should contain a prominent link to help readers sign up for your e-newsletter.

Other marketing vehicles are also good cross-promotion venues. For example, social networking site MySpace offers users not only a place to repurpose their content but a way to promote word-of-mouth and e-newsletter signups.

Is mobile going anywhere?

But while blogs and RSS may be the next hot thing in the U.S., European marketers are making better use of mobile messaging to push content and increase use of other marketing venues, said Derek Harding, CEO of Innovyx Inc., an e-mail marketing services firm and a unit of Omnicom Group.

"The huge strength [of wireless marketing] is that most people read SMS messages immediately," he said. "There is a limitation because you have a small screen and only 192 characters. You're not going to build a relationship with that or send detailed product literature."

Of course, you can't send a text message to your customer's mobile phone unless you have their number and their permission because—at least today—there's still often a service fee associated with reading a text message. You can get this information by re- questing it in your newsletter or e-mail marketing signup or preferences page.

If you're not comfortable doing this, Henrich said, you should at the very least be thinking about the users who are already using their phones to view your existing e-mail marketing messages.

"A lot of people are already reading their messages on a BlackBerry," he said. "You think you're sending it to a corporate e-mail address, but they are reading and responding to it based on what they're seeing on a small screen. You have to start designing messages for an audience where it will work reasonably well whether they read it on their computer or on that small device."

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