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Customers are no longer waiting for your television or magazine ads. E-mail boxes are full of newsletters, important special offers and product release news. Direct mail is costly and often times the administrative and mailroom staffs are the only ones to see the postcards you send. With advertising funds drying up and companies looking to expand their customer base where should you be to catch customers’ attention?

In a recent IDC study of 1,000 Internet users found:

  • The Internet is the medium that online users spend the majority of time at 32.7 hours a week.
  • On average, people spend twice as much time on the Internet, 16.4 hours, as they spend watching television.
  • People spend only 3.9 hours reading newspapers and magazines.

If you are on a limited budget and looking to expand your branding message, your conversations with customers and drive incremental business, you need to be online. But there’s an art to being online. Savvy Web users have become immune to banner ads and annoying pop-ups; they’ve learn to delete e-mail offerings faster Bill Curtis can beat Michael Phelps in a wireless connectivity contest and they’ve certainly shy away from anything that is gated (requires a registration to access).

Everyone needs a Web site, but that’s just table stakes. Your site has to be more than just a digital billboard. If you are selling hardware, you should have videos on your site demonstrating your secret sauce for deploying and implementing systems. If you are selling software, you should have online demos for download. Your customers should come to your site to find everything they need and not be driven to return to a manufactures site for additional information.

A blog is a wonderful augmentation to customer relationship management. Many successful solution providers use blogs to discuss new services, product launches, perspectives on technologies and customer success stories. If you are focused on health care solutions, a blog is a perfect medium for sharing information on the newest trends and requirements. Encourage your online community to share or post their experiences and questions. Consider an “ask the expert” tab to your site to drive communications.

Build a list by offering access to high-value content in exchange for site visitor’s contact information, such as name, e-mail address and employer. Web users typically don’t like registration requirements, but most people are willing to surrender this information if they believe they’re getting something valuable in return. Solution employing this strategy should use a single sign-on registration system so users aren’t required to re-register or sign in every time they hit your site.

Talking about products is not enough to entice potential customers to your business. You must show value and differentiate yourself from the competition. This is more than listing vendor affiliations and certifications; it’s about value. Don’t be afraid to list your products and services, and compare them to your primary competitors (or a generic competitor). You can use your Web site to show why you’re more valuable than Brand X.

Engaging in a Web marketing strategy requires commitment and consistency. Once you start populating your site with rich content, you must continually refresh the content to give your customers and prospects something new to look at and a reason to return to your site. Not sure you have the staff to support this? Outsource the content. Freelancers are available and waiting to write your specific content and keep your site on the top of the search engines.

A static Web site is no longer sufficient in the Web 2.0 world. Dynamic content and information is king. A Web site that informs, entertains and provides valued resources builds affinity with customers and positions your solution provider business as both an expert and a trusted advisor. In other words, dynamic Web sites are more than marketing; they are relationship building tools.