By Mark Reino, CEO, Merit Mile Communications
When companies large and small want to reach customers and prospects they rely on e-mail marketing primarily because it’s fast and affordable. Today, smart e-tailers are using email marketing campaigns tied in to landing pages that are custom designed and programmed for easy distribution and powerful reporting. What’s more, savvy retailers are now integrating social media marketing vehicles into their email campaigns and leveraging powerful, geo-targeted applications like Twitter and Facebook. What do all of these marketing tactics have in common? The cloud is now the preferred platform for distribution, measurement, and marketing campaign scalability.
Clearly, it’s still ultra-important for action sports retailers to have a web presence that publishes the right content and photography, and navigates the user through the buying process simply. Similarly, a website that allows visitors to publish their own opinions in the form of a Blog or User Review will cultivate a community of followers and encourage viral distribution (read: online word of mouth marketing) among enthusiasts who all share their love of riding. And today, adding video to your website is quite simply the most engaging way to educate, inform, and empower your audiences on your brand and influence their buying behaviors.
But why stop there? Action sports retailers that have made investments in website and e-mail marketing now have the opportunity to close the marketing loop and truly promote their products and services leveraging cloud technology. Doing so will provide an opportunity to significantly grow business, strengthen relationships with customers, and ultimately lower operating costs.
Cloud marketing is a business development strategy that allows a business owner to shift investments in IT and marketing communications from in-house to off-premises environments. Quite simply, this approach saves time and money, and gives the business owner all the control they need to make informed, cost conscious decisions. It also allows small-to-mid-sized companies to focus on their core business, rather than IT or their website. In short, cloud marketing integrates IT and marketing so the two work together, work smarter, and work more economically.
Then & Now
Five years ago most retailers, as well as companies in just about any B2C or B2B industry, were leveraging e-mail marketing to reach customers and prospects. But in order to carry out an e-mail marketing campaign it was very labor intensive and there weren’t a lot of analytics outside of the limited versions offered by the particular platform being used. Simply put, business owners needed to figure who was going to create the campaign, distribute the e-mail, store the campaign data, how to prepare for increased landing page and website traffic, and how to accurately measure bottom line performance.
The cloud changes every aspect of this process from distribution, to scale, to measurement. Today, executing marketing campaigns that rely on cloud technologies allows action sports retailers the ability to build an e-mail marketing campaign in less time and at a lower cost. Instead of having to create the campaign from scratch, manually pull the list and import the data, design the e-mail and decide which versions of the e-mail go to which parts of the list, it’s all processed dynamically based on criteria loaded into the automation tools being used. With cloud-based tools, business owners can send the e-mail campaign, track who responds, scale the capacity of their landing pages on-demand, and measure real-time and post campaign performance without the need for costly creative, management, and IT experts.
Furthermore, retailers can now do even more with their marketing campaigns. Determining what days are best for the delivery of your e-mail campaigns (and even what times of day) are now standard reporting metrics. Also, discovering what types of devices (e-mail clients, cell phones, tablets) your audiences use are analytics that will allow you to adjust your creative formats in future campaigns. Similarly, identifying exactly who is (and who is not) clicking will allow you to prioritize and segment your distribution lists accordingly. The true payoff, however, is that cloud marketing technology enables all of this activity in standard browser-based environments, and does so on off-premises servers—eliminating the need for dedicated infrastructure and specialized staff.
Manage Costs and Seize Opportunity
The cloud also drastically changes the way e-tailers pay for their website hosting activities, services, and marketing campaigns. In a sense, the cloud allows companies to consume these services much like they consume electricity. Instead of having traditional fixed costs associated with conventional shared or dedicated website hosting, companies can now scale their hosting services up or down, on-demand, with virtual hosting. Depending on various times of the year when more capacity is needed or not needed, a website hosted in the cloud or virtual hosting environment realizes many benefits. For example, your online snowboard business is incredibly seasonal—if you want to boost traffic during the holidays, you can launch an advertising campaign to support sales during this period. If your campaign delivers more traffic than your current shared or dedicated web server can accommodate, it would take hours, or worse, days, to get you the level of service needed to keep your online shopping cart performing at optimal levels. Not only does this scenario jeopardize sales today, it creates a negative perception that can be difficult to overcome in the future. Furthermore, in today’s review-friendly online world, your brand is at risk of negative commentary in the social universe. However, if your website is hosted in a cloud environment, you have the ability to monitor performance levels and adjust settings in real-time. This solution is likely available from your cloud provider in “self-service” or “full-service” options so your hosting partner can perform monitoring and maintenance services on your behalf if you are not proficient in this capacity. In much the same way a homeowner only pays higher utility costs to heat their home during the winter, a snowboard retailer would only pay a higher cost for email and website hosting services in a given month when there was a special promotion taking place, or the need for more bandwidth to handle increased web traffic during the peak holiday season, by example.
If you are wondering just how much all of this costs, it of course depends. As cloud service providers realize economies of scale, most of them also pass savings directly onto customers. On the whole, you can expect to pay more for virtual hosting than shared hosting, but not as much as you might think. And virtual hosting, in many cases, is more economical than dedicated hosting. In short, there are cloud hosting companies throughout the US, and pricing starts around $40/month for very basic, entry level needs.
On the surface, cloud marketing and virtual hosting may sound like more buzz terminology, but considering what the power of the cloud combined with e-mail, social media, and website administration can do for a business, it’s a must-have in today’s world of limited budget, limited staff, and expense avoidance.
Editor’s Note: Mark Reino is the CEO of Merit Mile Communications, a forward-thinking, technology-savvy marketing communications agency. The firm takes on business planning and consulting assignments, as well as creative services engagements such as branding and custom web development – all designed to fast track the business growth of its client partners. For more information visitwww.MeritMile.com <http://www.MeritMile.com/> .