How to Successfully Market Something on the Internet

Someone asked me the other day how to successfully market something on the web, and this was my response:

First of all, make sure that whatever you’re selling or promoting is worth a hoot. What I mean by that is that it needs to be something more than just 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.

The web is structured in such a way that the best stories get the best traction. Look at Twitter or that “Numa, Numa” guy, if you don’t believe. It’s not necessarily the greatest ideas or the best business models that win — just the most interesting and entertaining ones.

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

Second of all, once you are sure that you have a purple cow, build a permission asset for that utilizes and maximizes the power of stories. This could be a blog, newsletter, or interactive website. It really depends on what you’re offering. The key, however, is to offer something that is amazing and clearly adds value to people’s lives whether or not they actually “buy” your product. Even if this isn’t something your audience will buy, they’re certainly going to recommend it to their friends, because it’s remarkable.

Third of all, tell compelling stories. People relate to stories. They tell stories to their friends and to themselves. In many ways, we humans process life through the stories we believe. As a 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 storytelling is Kiva.org. They employ short stories and case studies to finance entrepreneurial efforts in the developing world through micro-loans. When you go to Kiva’s site, 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.

Lastly, you want to be able to measure success, so that you can evaluate your efforts at the end of a campaign. 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 just floating stuff out there with no grasp on how effective you’re being. For example, with this blog, WordPress offers an analytics tool that allows me to see how many people read this post, where they come from and if they’re telling their friends about it. You can do the same.

They’re simple steps, but important ones in marketing something online. The internet is an entirely unique place to advertise a product or service, and you have to consider the power of stories and compelling ideas in a medium like this. Moreover, it’s not enough to just try to force something average to sell; you really have to consider how buzz-worthy something is, whether or not people will tell stories about, and how you’ll know if you succeeded.

Simple, but effective. Now, it’s your turn to give it a try.

One book that you might consider reading about authentic stories and ideas that spread is All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin.

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