Internet MarketingYou would be amazed how many times I’m asked the question: “I’d like to do more marketing online, but it seems so cold and impersonal….” A businessowner describes this dilemma below.

“I have a small business helping lawyers and accountants set up birthday greeting-card programs for their customers. For a fee, they give me the names and birthdays of all their customers and I generate a customized birthday greeting card for each customer — something unique to that customer, which shows the professional really cares about them as individuals. I send the cards back to the professional, who signs and sends them out on their own stationery so the customer never knows my business was involved.

“I want to advertise this business on the Internet, but I’m not sure I should be using e-mail newsletters or search-engine advertising, as I perceive these as very impersonal methods of advertising. I’m afraid that by using them I’ll be contradicting my marketing message, which is that my customers — and their customers — will receive individualized, personalized service. Is there any way I can tailor my Internet marketing program so it sends the same customized, individualized messages I try to create for my professional clients?”

I’m no fan of e-mail as a means of communication, precisely because it is so “cold and impersonal,” but there are lots of other options. Blogs, for one.

Catherine Seda, Internet marketing expert and author of How to Win Sales & Influence Spiders, says blogging can be used effectively for one-to-one marketing. For this businessowner, blogging on blogs that are already popular with lawyers and accountants is a great way to start, she says. “If lawyers and accountants participate in blogs, you can find ones that offer business-generating tips for these professionals. Without promoting your business, you can respond to relevant questions. You’ll automatically get a link back to your Web site, so if you impress blog readers, they can find you quickly and easily,” she says.

To research relevant blogs, says Seda, you can use blog engines such as IceRocket or Technorati. Also check out the Web sites of professional association magazines, as many of those have blogs targeting their members. The key is not to promote your business too aggressively, for fear you will turn your customers off, or (worse) generate negative feedback from other bloggers that will tarnish your reputation.

Do not rule out an e-newsletter, Seda advises. If and when you have an active blog, you can create an online newsletter and simply republish the blog questions and answers in your newsletter. “Some people like to receive newsletters, some like to subscribe to blogs, so it’s a good idea to offer both. Creating a Q&A newsletter based on your blog is a way to show more personalized communication with your community.”

Another approach is to offer tips on your Web site. True, this isn’t “personalized” information, says Seda, but it is still valuable. “Think about your own target audience — lawyers, for example. While they offer personalized services, you still see them advertising in banner ads, e-mail, online newsletters and pay-per-click ads. Don’t worry about any possible contradiction. There are many companies that offer customized services and use the Web to share their message,” Seda says.

One more thing: Make sure your clients’ (and their clients’) information is kept strictly confidential. A lot of professionals will be very nervous about sharing their clients’ personal information — such as birthdates and hobbies — with you, even for a purpose as benign as this. If someone steals your laptop and puts your birthday cards up on the Internet (with clients’ names and links to pornography sites), you’re toast.

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