Building a Brand

TV, radio, print, billboards, other Web sites... There’s so many different ways of promoting a dot.com and it all seems to cost so much. Don’t panic. You can start marketing your company without it costing you a fortune

  • E-Mail
By  David Ingham Published  September 5, 2000

Introduction|~||~||~|AME Info, a regional portal aimed at senior business executives, reckons its marketing campaign last year was worth around US $250,000.

Although it did much of it through barter and cross marketing deals, sales director Lars Nielsen reckons that was the cash value of a campaign that helped AME Info brand its portal to regional business executives. “We are very active in marketing,” says Nielsen. “If you don’t do it, nobody’s going to know about you.”

AiwaGulf’s managing director Faisal Al-Essa says he’s prepared to spend a seven figure dollar sum next year on marketing. For him, that’s the price of ensuring that visitors keep coming back.

“We’re learning from the overspending outside and we considered it in our business plan,” says Al-Essa, referring to the $200 million collapse of clothing e-tailer Boo. “It’s going to be smartly spent, it’s not going to be wasted.”

Whilst AME Info and AiwaGulf might be serious about their marketing, a dot.com marketing wave of the type that has swept the USA certainly hasn’t hit the Middle East yet.

Radio is starting to attract a steady number of dot.com ads, but how many TV, billboard or print adverts have you seen for a dot.com recently? The main reasons, according to experts interviewed by arabian-business.com, are a combination of low awareness about marketing, financial constraints and an approach that is too Web-centric.

“We’ve been in conversation now with 15 or 20 companies and the one thread running through all of them is that they don’t have the funding,” says Rohit Misra, managing director of advertising agency Euro RSCG.

“Internet advertising works when you have subscribers,” adds Sharad Agarwal, managing director for Web site designer Cyber Gear, and a shareholder in ad agency Click2 Advertising. “The numbers haven’t been there so far.”

||**||Investing in Future Revenues|~||~||~|Evidence is mounting, however, that investment in marketing is an investment in future revenues. According to ActivMedia Research, Web sites will spend a whopping $13.1 billion globally in 2000 on advertising, generating $132 billion in business revenues.

A breakdown shows that US $5.8 billion of that will be spent by business to consumer portals, US $5.4 billion by business to business sites, and $1.5 billion by content portals. The remaining $400 million will be spent by application service providers.

The biggest names in the dot.com world certainly appear to believe that marketing is vital. At a time when most of them are still losing money and their share prices are down, the biggest names on the Net continue to be big spenders on marketing and advertising.

E*Trade spent $177.5 million in the first three months of the year to fortify its position as a leading electronic equities broker.

Amazon.com, the king of B2C e-commerce which is losing money hand over fist, still managed to spend $140 million on marketing in the first quarter.

These figures couldn’t compare with America Online, the world’s number one (and profitable) Internet service provider. To help it reinforce its dominant position, it spent $266 million on sales and marketing in the three months ended March 31.

No-one’s suggesting that anyone in the Middle East can begin to come anywhere near those levels of spending, but without marketing visitors aren’t going to come.

“You can’t rely on something working simply because it’s a good idea,” says Angela Walsh, projects manager at Linteractive, a recently-formed division of Lintas Gulf. Plus, with user numbers and interest in the Internet rising in the region, now is the time to capture eyeballs.

A cash-strapped startup reading this feature will find that little consolation, however. The challenge is to maximise exposure whilst staying within your means.

||**||Keeping a Control of the Costs|~||~||~|You could take a leaf out of AME Info’s book. The company’s 1999 marketing program included a massive TV campaign on Orbit that promoted the ameinfo.com URL. 550 adverts were run over 60 days at a total cost of practically zero to AME Info.

In return, Orbit got a large presence on the AME Info business CD-ROM and a number of branded copies to distribute. “The value was $60,000, but we didn’t spend anything,” says Lars Nielsen. “We’re very small, so we think about what we spend.”

AME Info struck another deal with BusinessWeek. The company landed three full page adverts in the European & Middle Eastern edition in return for a major presence on the AME Info CD-ROM.

Brilliant exposure for little capital outlay and it’s also something that AME Info can put down in front of potential advertisers when they ask about the company’s exposure and reach. “It makes an impact,” says Nielsen.

Whether you’re spending a lot or keeping a lid on costs, both advertising agencies and the dot.coms themselves agree that a multi-channel approach to marketing is vital. Because a dot.com is Internet-based, don’t think that all your self promotion should be through links on other people’s sites.

Once your target audience and marketing goals are defined, think about the role that print, TV, radio, billboards and sponsorship can play in achieving your goals. Did you know that most of the advertising during this year’s televised Super Bowl final came from dot.coms? Take a trip to California and the side of the highway is littered with billboards advertising dot.coms.

The multi-channel message has already got through to companies in the USA. ActivMedia estimates that dot.coms will spend 30% of their marketing money on online advertising this year, but that 70% will be spent offline on print media, TV, radio and billboards.

“Today’s sophisticated marketers integrate online and offline promotional techniques for optimal promotional mix,” says Harry Wolhandler, vice president of market research at ActivMedia.

||**||Taking the Multi-channel Approach|~||~||~|A survey by Euro RSCG discovered that 75% of its dot.com clients invest advertising budget in TV. 68% use radio, 53% use magazines, 52% use newspapers and 52% use mail. The company signed up 50 dot.com clients in 1999, including names like America Online, Ask Jeeves and Amazon.

Euro RSCG’s Rohit Misra is in no doubt that the multi-channel approach works best. “The critical element if an agency wants to build a dot.com brand is being able to offer an integrated range of services,” says Misra. “Unlike a lot of traditional businesses, dot.coms really require integrated marketing.”

That’s certainly the view of AiwaGulf’s Faisal Al-Essa. “Since we launched, we’ve done them all — radio, newspapers, magazines, TV shows,” says Al-Essa. “I think they should all be integrated together.”

He enjoyed particular success with a radio campaign that invited listeners to ‘Find a Frog’ on AiwaGulf.com and a tieup with a Kuwaiti TV program where a PC was offered as a competition prize. Al-Essa claims site traffic has grown by 900% in three months. “That’s definitely to do with advertising and marketing,” he says.

Linteractive took what might be called a traditional approach when it put together a launch campaign for Businessdubai.com, a B2B portal aimed at UAE traders. It wanted to reach a business audience, and concluded that print was the best way to do that.

“There’s no unique publication or media targeting traders,” says Lakshmanan Narayan, chief operating officer, Linteractive. “Print is the best medium for achieving the maximum reach.”

Knowing what works and what doesn’t can be a process of trial and error, however. You can take what’s happened in the USA and apply that to the Middle East, but will it necessarily work?

For example, Euro RSCG’s Misra says that TV advertising has been great for his company’s international clients. “Television works extremely well for dot.coms and we’ve seen people spending huge sums of money on TV,” says Misra. An example was Hotjobs.com, which is believed to have spent around half of its annual marketing budget on a single Super Bowl TV spot this year.

||**||Getting Your Message Across|~||~||~|AME Info, however, didn’t see any great spike in its traffic levels as a result of its TV campaign. “We were told the traffic would to through the ceiling and it didn’t,” says Nielsen. He intends, however, to repeat the exercise again this year because of its generic branding value.

Another favourite of US dot.coms is outdoor billboard advertising. On a recent trip to the USA, Click2’s Sharad Agarwal was amazed by the amount of such adverts he saw alongside major highways. “Today, you drive up Sheikh Zayed Road and you don’t see any dot.com billboards,” he points out.

Guess what his plan is? He’s in negotiations with billboard owners in an effort to secure space at competitive rates. He optimistically predicts that 70% of the billboards on Sheikh Zayed Road will be sporting dot.com advertising in a year’s time.

As well as deciding where your adverts go, you obviously need to think carefully about what you actually put in them. Euro RSCG offers this advice: don’t just brand a URL but also ensure that your imagery tells people why a site matters to them.

For example, Ask Jeeves, an advanced search engine, ran a campaign featuring a butler who was helping people find what they wanted.

Excite used an image of a disorganised person to show that even he could use the Excite search engine to find what he wanted. “We’ve found greatest success by talking about the role brands play in changing peoples’ lives,” says Misra.

The need to use multiple advertising channels and be smart about the content of your creatives applies as much to the online part of your marketing campaign as the offline part. Remember you have a lot more options available to you than simply placing banner adverts.
Meta Group has concluded that surfers find sites mainly through search engine queries.

“Our research, along with that of IMT Strategies, indicates search engines remain the most popular way customers locate new Web sites (46% of respondents),” says analyst Mike Gotta in a research note. He says companies should ensure that Web site managers know how to achieve high rankings in search engines.

In fact, preliminary research by ActivMedia finds that dot.coms themselves actually consider the banner ad an inadequate way to promote themselves.

A forthcoming study called ‘Real Numbers Behind Website Promotion’ finds that only 2% of dot.coms think paid-for banners are an ‘excellent’ online marketing method and only 4% believe they are a ‘very good’ marketing method.

The same study finds that search engines are considered ‘excellent’ by 24% of dot.coms and ‘very good’ by 25% of dot.coms, backing up Meta Group’s findings. Other online marketing methods include sponsored buttons and Web site sections, reciprocal site links and affiliate programs.

||**||Promoting Postive PR|~||~||~|Online or offline, paid or through partnerships, whichever way you choose to go with your marketing, everyone seems to agree on one thing: positive PR.

A public relations effort aimed at generating press coverage is considered a vital complement to a dot.com advertising campaign. Adverts imprint a brand in your mind, whilst PR helps inform you what the brand does.

ExpatSite ExpatSite, a portal aimed at the regional expatriate community, shied away from a blanket advertising campaign and focused its efforts on PR when it launched around four months ago.

Deputy chairman John Caulcutt explains that the company’s plan was to exploit the buzz created by Dubai Internet City and ExpatSite.com’s status as the first portal of its kind. “Being out and about and chatting with journalists spreads the word,” says Caulcutt.

The obvious way to secure press coverage is to hire a public relations agency, which will try to use its contacts in the press to maximise coverage and secure face to face contact with editors.

If you want to spend well on PR, nearly all the international public relations agencies are now represented in the region directly or through affiliates. Again, however, public relations needn’t necessarily cost you your house.

If your budget is modest, you can make use of news wires like Press Release Network. This UAE-based company distributes press releases electronically to regional publications (and globally if you want) for a starting price of US $250 per release.

It’s being used by a steadily growing number of regional New Economy companies, including a new UAE portal called Netpiper Netpiper. “We only have a small set up here at Netpiper.com. Until the web site grows, there can be no justification in hiring a PR company,” says Netpiper.com’s Flettin M.C. “We have a good relationship with PRN, anyway, and we find that they do a pretty good job.”

Integrated, relevant to the consumer, use public relations to back up your other promotional efforts: those are the messages that agencies and fellow dot.coms have for those putting together a promotional campaign. The days are clearly gone when a dot.com could rely heavily on first mover advantage and word of mouth to build up a loyal following.

There are now too many users and too many other sites out there to compete with. It may take trial and error, some of the things you try may not even work, but now is the time to start marketing your Web site; and it doesn’t have to cost you the earth.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code