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Online or Offline, Relationships Are the Bottom Line: Published by SmartBiz

Even for the most polished and well-spoken individual, starting relationships can be tough. It takes time, effort, and participation from the intended target, who may have hundreds of reasons for shunning the suitor. To increase their odds many people dress appropriately, spend time in the right places where they’ll meet the types of people they want, and try to find common conversational ground. But somehow when people interact at the organizational level, the behavior changes.

Countless companies I have seen approach marketing with the mindset of telling prospects everything about themselves that they possibly can. Web sites, brochures, and other marketing vehicles tout product features and wide-ranging service options, without much regard for whether the audience or quantity of information is appropriate.  The basic law of establishing relationships – learn about other people and tailor your dialogue to them – gets muddled when practiced by companies.  If a prospect has not tried your product or service to see if your claims are true, then they will only have your marketing by which to judge you.  And if your marketing is not targeted to the right audience, with the right level of information, your prospect will leave you – and mostly likely throw away your expensive brochure on the way out.

 Understanding the process of building relationships is even more important online because the window of time you have to make an impression on someone is a short 30 seconds.  To maximize your online potential and land the relationships that will pay off for your company, consider upgrading your Web site with a blog, RSS feed, or a Podcast to attract your target audience, maintain their interest, and capture them as a satisfied customer.

Web logs (aka blogs) may have started out as a “dear diary” type of activity with irrelevant ramblings, but they have taken their rightful place as a mainstream communications vehicle embraced by business.  They let you create a more personal connection with readers than news releases, the common vehicle on Web sites for informing visitors what is happening.  Nor are they marketing brochures about your product or service.  Rather, blogs allow you to express opinions, spread key words for search engines and content aggregators to pick up, create interest among your audiences and ultimately persuade them that your value proposition is credible.  And, blogs give readers the chance to give feedback on what a user posts, so you can get an immediate and ongoing response to what you are thinking, how you are doing, and even what you are planning.  The immediacy of such posts and replies helps decision making that otherwise would have taken much longer.  The interactive element (hint: the relationship with the readers) is what makes a blog particularly valuable. 

This generation of the Web offers another relationship-building tool, known as Really Simple Syndication (RSS).  With an RSS feed, you can distribute online content automatically, and more easily than email because readers designate which content they want to receive from you.  Their RSS readers pull your content based on their preferences (product news, shipping schedules, your blog, etc.) and post it for viewing in desktops, personal digital assistants (PDAs), or anywhere they get their online information.  They can see the content’s title, author, a summary, and date created, and usually there is a link back to your site where the content is posted.  The upshot is that your information and delivery mechanism is tailored to their needs, and you have the basis to continue the relationship.  In fact, the ease of RSS feeds allows you to reach larger audiences than you otherwise could.

In the spirit of giving your audience what they want, you may also consider a podcast program that delivers digital audio or video files to your audience.  Evolved from the popular “iPod” that allows you to store and play songs, photos, videos, and television shows, the podcast is different from Internet audio as you may know it.  Much like the RSS feed delivers text files, podcasts allow listeners to hear a program when they want and are automatically delivered; no files have to be downloaded from Web pages.  Moreover, listeners can hear podcasts from a computer or portable player, so an iPod is not needed.

Podcasts are available for numerous topics, and a good place to start is the iTunes site that now lists about 1,500 business-related topics.  Audiences subscribe to them according to their preferences, so they are getting what they want, when they want it.  The relevance and convenience factors increase the chances that listeners will pay attention, which is a paramount consideration if you want to pursue your own podcast for distributing important news and connecting with your audience.  For starters check out the iTunes site at www.apple.com/itunes

Yes, marketing is changing.  If you have a growing company and a prominent position in your industry, chances are that people are using newer technologies to talk about you.  It may no longer be sufficient for you to talk to them through news releases.  Instead, you want to be part of the interaction with your audiences so that the relationships flourish.  No matter how much marketing tactics change, the basics stay the same. 

Dina Wasmer is president of Incite Creative, Inc., a provider of strategic marketing and communications design services.  She is a longtime member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and has received awards from the Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington, Graphic Design USA, University and College Designers Association, and the Advertising Association of Baltimore.  Contact her at dina@incitecreativeinc.com, or see www.incitecreativeinc.com.

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