Do you know where your audience is? In the rapidly evolving online environment, it’s hard to keep in touch with you target audience, even when you know who they are. Fortunately, there is an ever-growing number of ways to reach your audience. The problem is that by the time you’ve figured out how to reach them efficiently, there’s a good chance their behavior has changed.

Customers are becoming more sophisticated Internet users. No longer do just advertising and Web sites get buyers’ attention but rather a broad array of online resources. As consumers, they turn to family, friends, and other consumers for purchase input. To put this in perspective, 90 percent of consumers trust a recommendation from people they know, 70 percent trust consumer opinions posted online, and 70 percent trust branded Web sites, according to Nielsen’s April 2009 Global Online Consumer Survey.

Seven Ways to Reach Your Online Audience More Effectively

What does this mean for marketers? You need to know your customers beyond who they are, what their interests are, and what types of purchase and other behavior they’ve exhibited in the past. Since prospects may make different product choices and tradeoffs during the purchase process, it’s important to consider how consumers spend their time online, which sites they frequent, who they know, and who influences their purchase decisions. Here are seven recommendations to help you reach your audience more effectively:

  • Identify and target customer subsegments separately to ensure your message is presented effectively to meet their needs. This can help you find niches with special or unmet needs that may translate into different marketing approaches, such as packaging, communications, and distribution.
  • Consider the type of communications your segment uses. Develop the means for acquiring permission to engage your audience, including getting their contact information. Among communication options are e-mail, mobile, social media, and IM. For the 18-24 year old demographic, mobile messages and e-mail are used equally, according to Experian’s “The 2009 Digital Marketer: Benchmark and Trends Report.”
  • Provide information consumers want and use advanced product specifications. Depending on your offering, develop content that attracts and engages your audience regarding product use and related topics, including blog postings, photographs, videos, white papers, PDFs, and audio. Remember to add appropriate tags and people- and search-friendly URLs. For example, a local bakery may have aphoto gallery on Flickr linked to its Web site.
  • Make your information and content portable and sharable. Depending on your customer base, include Twitter, Facebook, social bookmarking, IM, and forward-to-a-friend e-mail functionality. Think more broadly about sharing information through social media press releases, blogger outreach, and guest blog posting.
  • Participate in forums relevant to your target audience, such as social media sites, community forums, and blogs. Become an active, contributing member of the community. Don’t make every message into an advertisement for your products! Helpful activities include:
      • Answer customer questions.
      • Provide another conduit for customer service.
      • Add to the community’s knowledge base.
      • Respond to relevant issues.
  • Broaden your approach to search both on your site and off of it. Suggest related products and articles (except on purchase pages) to encourage deeper customer involvement. Since consumers are using more terms in their search queries, including company and brand names, they may use a search engine to search your Web site if your on-site search doesn’t meet their needs.
  • Integrate your message across platforms and communications to ensure consistency. As an alternative, especially if your audience is in its late teens to early 20s, offer a mobile version. While for business markets, consider that messages may be read on BlackBerrys or similar devices.

Measuring Your Customers and Their Activity Online

The more complex your marketing becomes, the more indicators you should be tracking to ensure that you’re on target with your approach. Here are some of the top line metrics to monitor:

  • Assess prospect pool and customer base. Track prospects, customers, and repeat customers by source, purchases, and time on file.
  • Monitor communications across type and campaign. Watch opens, click-throughs, other actions, and purchases. Assess revenues and expenses per contact.
  • Track search results for improved search rankings and expanded term use.
  • Monitor social media performance in terms of participation. In particular, determine consumer sentiments around your product and company. Track tweets, fans, blog posts, RSS feeds, and content.
  • Evaluate revenues by product, category, and customer segment.
  • Track expenses, both direct and indirect, by product, category, and customer segment.

As Internet usage continues to evolve, your marketing must evolve with it. What’s important for marketers is identifying who your prospects and customers are, being where they gather, and engaging with them in a way that they’re comfortable with to meet their needs.