How to Successfully Market Something on the Internet

Someone asked me the other day how to market something on the Internet. It took me off-guard. Is marketing on the web really that different from doing it offline? Well, yes… and no.

How to Market Something
Photo credit: Camille King (Creative Commons)

There are essentially four aspects to successful online marketing. And for some reason, most online businesses, authors, and entrepreneurs neglect them.

Remarkability: Do something incredible

Everyone on the web is a broadcaster. It costs virtually nothing to publish a blog post, send an email, or post a tweet. So lots of people do.

In order to attract an audience, you have to do something out of the ordinary. Before you launch your marketing campaign, make sure you have something remarkable.

It needs to be more than an average product for an average person. That can work on the shelves of Wal-Mart or even on a TV infomercial, but it’ll get you little to no traction on the web.

On the Internet, people are searching for things that are extraordinary, things to talk about.

The best stories get the best traction. Look at Twitter or that “Numa, Numa” guy. It’s not always the greatest ideas or the best business models that win, but rather, the most interesting ones.

So, the best marketing decision you can make is to ensure your idea will stick and that you truly have what Seth Godin calls a “purple cow.” It needs to be remarkable.

Permission: Ask before you sell

Once you have something worth talking about, start building a permission asset.

This could be a blog or a newsletter. The medium is unimportant. The purpose is what matters. You need to have a platform that you build over time, by which prospective customers give you permission to communicate with them.

Whatever it is, it needs to be something you own. Not a Facebook page or Twitter account. Those can be extensions of your asset, but they aren’t permanent tools. You don’t have sovereignty over those communities, so beware of what Sonia Simone calls “digital sharecropping.”

I recommend you begin with a website that produces dynamic content (i.e. a blog) and an email newsletter list.

The key is to offer something that clearly adds value to people’s lives. Before you ever ask anyone to “buy” what you’re marketing, you need to help people. This builds trust. Which leads to permission.

One way to do that is to offer a piece of “bait” — an signup incentive. It can be an offer, a chance to win a prize, or a freebie. For example, I built my newsletter list to over 1000 subscribers in a week by giving away an eBook.

You earn permission with your audience by delivering value and communicating honestly about your offering. It’s not about you; it’s about them. This is crucial.

If at any time the customer wants out of the permission relationship, you cut the ties, no questions asked.

Permission is valuable. Treat it as such. Don’t spam your audience; always reward them for their loyalty. Many will return the favor.

Stories: Tell captivating tales

Everyone wants to be caught up in something bigger than themselves. You can help this by telling compelling stories.

People relate to stories. In fact, societies are built around narrative. We exchange everyday anecdotes with friends and family. We relive our favorite moments through the tales we remember and tell ourselves. And we process life through the stories that matter most to us.

As an online marketer, you can leverage the power of stories to help sell your product and build word-of-mouth appeal.

A great example of an organization that successfully utilizes online storytelling is Kiva. They use short stories to fund entrepreneurial efforts in the developing world.

When you go to Kiva’s website, you quickly learn about the single mother who wants to start a cafe in Mongolia or the 26 year-old car electrician in Lebanon who needs tools to start his own business. And since it’s all micro-lending, you get to participate in these stories with other folks who are funding the projects together.

They’re not just inviting their audience to give; they’re inviting them into a story.

Metrics: Measure what you do

Lastly, you want to be able to measure success, so that you can evaluate your efforts at the end of a campaign. For the creatives, this is the boring, geeky part, but still important.

Without measuring what you’re doing, you’ll never have an idea of how successful you’re being.

A “success” may look different depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, but setting a goal ahead of time and staying accountable to the metrics is crucial.

Otherwise, you’re being creative without being responsible.

For example, with this blog, I use an analytics tool that allows me to see who reads each post, where they come from and if they’re telling their friends about it. It helps me understand how to do what I do better.

You can do the same.

Plus, measuring successes (and failures) is the only way to acknowledge what works, what doesn’t, and how to get better. Everything else is merely subjective.

Your turn

These are simple steps, but they’re important ones in marketing something on the Internet.

The web is an interesting place. It’s communal, but niche-driven. You have to consider the power of stories and ideas in this space more than with other media.

It’s not enough to try to sell something useful and practical. Your product or service has to do more than solve a problem. It has to be amazing. And you have to craft a remarkable story and tell it well to those who care.

And then, you have to measure it.

Incidentally, digital media is affecting the way we process all kinds of information. So not only is this the way to market something on the Internet; it’s really the only way to market something. Period.

Are you ready?

Time to start telling the world a remarkable story it needs to hear.

As you endeavor to do so, one book worth reading is All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin. You can read a review I wrote about it here.

What did I miss? Any other tips for successful Internet marketing? Share in the comments.