When the informational society replaced the industrial one, the computerization of all spheres of life has occurred. The Internet and other web-based tools, such as social media, became the driving force in the given developmental process. As a result, it has drastically changed marketing and advertising, where analog and print media were utilized as the primary means of communication for decades. The core feature of the Internet as a virtual and limitless space − the capacity for immediate access to and reproduction of information − has led to the development of new knowledge base and creation of a new informational worldview. Moreover, the Internet space is interactive in nature. Thus, the World Wide Web became one of the most efficient means of communication, providing a large number of opportunities for marketers to interact with potential consumers.
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Evolution of Marketing Paradigms
Before 1990, the major marketing models employed by organizations included strategic marketing (1960’s-1970’s), and relationship marketing (1980’s-1990’s). While the major goal of the former is the increase of the company’s competitiveness and reduction of rivals’ market share, the latter aims to turn customers into long-term partners and develop a relationship portfolio (Maxim, 2009). Technological advancements that took place in the middle of the 1990’s have triggered the shift towards a new marketing paradigm, integrated marketing communications (IMC). According to Peltier, Schibrowsy, and Schultz (2003), “IMC is a concept of marketing communication planning that recognizes the added value of using a comprehensive plan to evaluate the strategic roles of a variety of communication disciplines” (p. 93). Its emergence was directly related to progressing independence of the Internet and information technologies as such, their rapid development and integration in businesses during the mid-1990’s, and separation of informational flows from the physical ones. It is worth noticing that IMC is in many ways similar to relationship marketing as customer relations constitute its conceptual basis. At the same time, it captures new dimensions provided by the virtual sphere of Internet marketing, as well as general changes in the world economy, where branding became central to consumer behavior, yet the number of brands and substitutes has drastically grown.
In the context of brands’ similarity, communications became the center of all marketing activities (Schultz & Kitchen, 2000). As Peltier et al. (2003) observe, “IMC is the result of a natural evolution from the use of mass-market advertising to more targeted message strategies” (p. 94). The given paradigm is associated with an interactive mode of communication, as well as greater synergy between such marketing activities as advertising, planning, and production. To understand how these marketing purposes became fulfilled, it is essential to review the role of new technologies in marketing processes. Evaluation of major web-based marketing tools will be provided in the following section of the paper.
New Marketing Tools
Online Marketing Research as Key to Planning Activities
According to Luo (2009), “to be successful in the fiercer and fiercer competitive market, precise marketing researches are the basic and critical element” (p. 196). Before the onset of the Internet age, marketers had a standard set of data collection tools including focus groups, personal interviews, print surveys, and questionnaires, etc. All of the mentioned instruments are characterized by limited access to consumers, which means that it was extremely burdensome to make a large-scope market analysis before the 1990’s.
Online media help eliminate the given barrier and provide new opportunities for data collection. New data collection tools that became available for the marketers after the Internet grew widespread are e-mail surveys, web-moderated interviewing, online custom-programmed surveys, HTLM form questionnaires, and so on (Luo, 2009). Compared to traditional methods, the major advantages of the given instruments include greater cost-efficiency faster turnaround, and greater potential to make surveys interesting and attractive to respondents (Luo, 2009). However, web-based data collection means also have a few cons. For instance, they are usually associated with lower response rate than traditional methods. Additionally, it may be harder to collect data from older respondents through the Internet as web sources are primarily used by younger populations (Luo, 2009). In this way, online research may lead to results, which are not representative of the population in general. However, by using it along with newly developed data-mining software programs, marketers can reveal previously unknown links between various data sets and, in this way, create more innovative and successful marketing strategies than before.
Nowadays, social media are among the most popular means of online communication, which allow reaching large and diverse audiences across the globe. According to Ahmad, Musa, and Harun (2016), organizations often use them to promote brands through continuous engagement with consumers and stimulation of active interactions among them. Through posting high-quality content, brands can gain new followers, i.e., potential consumers, and develop brand loyalty in them. An example of an enterprise that extensively uses social media content marketing is Nestlé.
Founded in 1987, the corporation underwent a significant shift in its marketing strategies, which were always encouraged by newest technologies in the market. As stated byKöse (2007), initially, Nestlé primarily used press advertising, then moved towards the use of enamel plates, brochures, and samples, which gained popularity by the 1890’s, as well as outdoor billboards advertising, which first appeared approximately at the same time. Throughout over a century of its existence, the company used picturesque content containing the brand’s signature attributes and embedding them in the context of local cultures to “address oneself to the attention of the masses, to attract and to arrest their attention” (Köse, 2007, p. 79). Nowadays, Nestlé effectively embraces the Internet technologies as well and uses a great variety of social media to communicate with consumers directly and add brand values. For instance, by visiting the company’s Instagram page, one may learn about the corporate life and work processes as they are presented by Nestlé’s international employees. It is possible to say that the “Employee Takeover” weekly posts depicting the life of real people working for the company help it get away from a depersonalized image of a huge corporation and eventually change consumer’ perception of products.
The example of Nestlé demonstrates that social media content marketing is essential to the development of brand awareness. However, one of the most important features of social media is that it creates a platform for active engagement of users in the process of information dissemination. Social media foster such a phenomenon as the “word of mouth communication:” its core feature is the attraction of individuals towards transferring of advertising messages to others (Thackeray, Neiger, & Keller, 2012, p. 166). In other words, recipients of messages serve as the major distributors of those messages as well.
An example of a company that became successful by using social media, such as Facebook, to stimulate sales and to promote products is a large US online T-shirt seller, SunFrog. As stated by Henderson (2017) the company collaborates with designers who can create t-shirt designs and then market them on any social media of their choice. Overall, the success of advertising products via social media largely depends on marketers’ ability to encourage to “like” and share the information about a brand with friends. SunFrog managed to do it by using designers as the major advocates for the brand. Since designers receive up to 65 percent from the company’s gross sales (Henderson, 2017), it is in their interests to make significant efforts to influence the audience and stimulate purchases. In this way, designers also contribute to SunFrog’s growth.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Along with social media, which provide multiple benefits in brand promotion, marketers commonly use SEO for the promotion of websites. As stated by Sais (2010), SEO can be defined as “an organic way of ensuring that a website comes out on top when someone searches for a particular product or a particular keyword” (p. 7). Additionally, Lee, Jang, Lee, and Oh (2016) observe that SEO is meant to “fill organizations’ strategic needs to maximize the Internet users’ exposure to their web content and services” (p. 198). It means that a website placed at a high position within the search list is perceived by users as reliable and, in this way, is associated with greater chances for the long-term attraction of potential consumers.
Considering that the largest number of all users’ transfers to companies’ websites originates from search engines, such as Google, SEO is usually regarded one of the most effective promotion techniques existing nowadays. However, new trends for personalization of marketing activities including browsing creates challenges in keyword ranking. The use of advanced ranking algorithms may be associated with less clear keyword search terms than before (Newlands, 2014). Thus, marketers should understand the major factors defining personalization in browsing, namely, users’ locality and search history, and so on, and adjust their ranking strategies accordingly.
Further Development Trends
Overall, as it may be clear from the review of new online technologies provided above, marketing moves away from the creation of mass messages towards the more personalized ones. According to Peltier et al. (2003), such older-generation online media as e-mails and HTML form-based surveys do not necessarily imply a two-way mode of communication and may not be interactive in their nature. Thus, they do not always help marketers gather sufficient information about consumers and develop “interactive personalised relationships” with them (Peltier et al., 2003, p. 98). Even social media, a traditional media in IMC, which proved to be effective in “creating a consistent theme and/or creative platform for the communication campaign” usually fail to establish truly individualized and ongoing communication with consumers (Peltier et al., 2003, p. 108). At the same time, marketers acknowledge the increasing importance of making current IMC practices more interactive.
It is possible to say that the utilization of various bots including chatbots can become an appropriate solution for resolving the mentioned issues, which marketers face nowadays. According to Kurilchik (2017), “the chatbot is a computer program that has an ability to communicate with people by providing answers to questions and holding the conversation using Natural Language Processing” (p. 13). Since chatbots do not require the implementation of the human workforce, except for the program support and development activities, they provide a cost-efficient opportunity for the establishment of continuous communication with consumers. It is worth noticing that as a form of artificial intelligence technologies, modern bots have a capacity for self-education. The use of bots and other algorithm-based programs in marketing thus creates multiple implications for organizations and specialists making it clear that the face of marketing is going to change.
Conclusion: The Future of Marketing
The progressiveness of IMC paradigm is verified by the fact that products and services offered by different organizations become more standardized and less unique. In the given situation, the only method to make consumers return and repeat purchases is the individualization of relationships and development of long-term interactions. Thus, new technologies that allow sustaining organization-customer partnerships become an essential marketing resource.
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It is possible to say that in the near future, marketing will undergo significant changes. Technological advancements, more widespread use of artificial intelligence instruments and greater need for the establishment of a more interactive and personalized communication with consumers will eventually lead to the creation of new professional roles and new specialty groups in marketing. First of all, marketers in the future will need to know how to support artificial intelligence models and make them more “human-like” through the development of analytical tasks and algorithms for them. Thus, it is possible to say that marketing will be more interrelated with programming as bot’s self-education capacity largely depends on the efficacy of implemented scripts. At the same time, social media and web content will likely remain as important as nowadays. For this reason, marketers who will be able to work with consumer insights and create meaningful and creative contents will be particularly valuable. The major challenge in this will be the translation of tasks between web content marketers and analytics, as it will define the effectiveness of efforts aimed at the establishment of more interactive IMC models.
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