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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Online Marketing Strategy and Your Target Persona

Whether you are planning a natural search targeting campaign, a paid search marketing strategy or a social media strategy it’s always best to know who you are targeting before implementing any of your campaign or strategy. But how do you know who you are targeting and how to target them?
The www.savethebreakfastsandwich.com (STBS) website was originally developed as a fun site after speaking with a colleague in February 2008 in finding out that Howard Schultz was planning on discontinuing them in October of 2008. The goal was to develop a website where breakfast sandwich lovers could join in support of keeping them with a discussion board with stories and discussions supporting the sandwiches.
In this website’s case my main goal was to encourage people to sign up and possibly join in on the discussions. The site isn’t a money maker, but rather a site that was to generate buzz and enough members to hopefully convince Starbucks that the Breakfast Sandwich is worth keeping. In order to determine who I would be targeting in my strategies I had to go back to the type of person that enjoys walking into Starbucks and ordering a breakfast sandwich, and then narrow it down to the type of person that would be upset enough to rally in support. From there this person had to be technically savvy and one who is involved in the internet (i.e. active in sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, etc.).
As I dug deeper into the personality of the STBS Persona I narrowed it down to a male between the age of 20-30 who is very active in the online community having Facebook profiles so that he would talk about the site and the story of the Breakfast Sandwich being discontinued creating awareness. He also has his own websites and/or Blog in which he would post a blurb about the story and link back to the website (generating awareness and linking credit for SEO). He is a very sarcastic individual and loves to mock the large corporations (what I like to call the conforming non-conformist). He also enjoys a good controversy (but only the obscure ones). Let’s call him Brian…
Now that I know I am targeting Brian, where he enjoys hanging out on the web, and what he does, as well as what will spark his interest it was time to determine a strategy. Every online marketing plan should have a basic strategy of 4 channels.
1) Search Engine Optimization – natural rankings on Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, and more
2) Paid Search Marketing – paid placements starting with bidding on key words and showing up in search results on the top sponsored or right side placements up to placements on other sites (per keyword bidding and/or placement targeting) to even banner ad placements(per keyword bidding and/or placement targeting)
3) Social Media Marketing – generating brand awareness and/or buzz about a website, company or product through social sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and more
4) Traditional Banners – with sites such as Adready in which your ads can appear across a network of sites generating awareness.
Depending on your budget and man power you should have a clear plan established before ever beginning any work or hiring of agencies to help you.
In the case of the STBS site I had no budget whatsoever, with limited amount of manpower since I was already marketing full time for Concur Technologies.
With a budget of nothing and limited manpower I set a plan that solely relied on the controversy of the Breakfast Sandwich being discontinued to trigger Brian to start talking immediately. I developed the site in 3 days keeping all search engine optimization in play with each page and across the entire site, and focused on promoting it as much as I could through social media sites.

Natural SEO

My main target was to rank for “Starbucks” of course, but second would be to show up naturally for “Breakfast Sandwich”, “Starbucks Breakfast”, “Starbucks breakfast sandwiches”, etc.
When targeting a persona and optimizing a website for that persona it’s always important to pay attention to the following 4 optimization techniques:
1) Landing Pages – focus on obscure terms (long tailed key phrases) that are 3-5 words in length that your persona might specifically be searching for and provide them with a landing page or 2-4 page microsite that gives them exactly what they are looking for.
2) Meta Tags – each landing page and page of your website should keep your persona in mind as you write the title and description. If a persona is looking for the “Starbucks breakfast sandwich” the result should explain what the site is about. Especially in the case of the STBS site. We don’t want a user searching for the actual sandwich to click the result and close out the website because they didn’t see the sandwiches. If they saw a result that talks about the demise and saving the sandwich and they choose to click the result then they are already aware of what the site is about and less likely to close out.
3) Internal Linking – when it comes to the persona the links pointing to other pages is very important. If you have a page seeded with links within the content the person might be compelled to click through to irrelevant pages and get lost within the site. Focus on the links that would be most important to them as they land on the pages that rank with clear calls to action (graphical buttons, banners, etc) and keep the linking to other pages in the sitemap or on pages that are more relevant.
4) External Linking – external linking is a great source for SEO credit. Encourage users to link to stories, landing pages, posts, etc. by adding “bookmark us” with the more popular bookmarking sites (Google, Digg, del.icio.us, etc) and encourage them to add links to their blogs or websites to specific pages with quick html they can copy and paste and talk about on their blog.
Of course this is all in addition to the standard SEO such as xml sitemaps, robots.txt, etc.

Social Media

Keeping my persona Brian in mind as I looked to other sites to talk about the STBS site and spark controversy I started with other blogs that discussed Starbucks either by fans or had Starbucks coffee drinkers talking to one another. I particularly started with a comment to a blog post that was a few days old on the Starbucks Gossip Blog - http://starbucksgossip.typepad.com/_/2008/01/starbucks-to-ge.html
The comment was quickly picked up and blogged about http://starbucksgossip.typepad.com/_/2008/02/seven-people-ha.html. The site immediately took off from there with blog postings from local obscure publications such as Seattle’s own Stranger http://slog.thestranger.com/2008/02/save_the_starbucks_breakfast_sandwich , to the New York Times http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/25/blogtalk-burgled-in-the-burg/
From there the site took off for the first few weeks it was launched. People were buzzing about it faster than I could keep track. Knowing that this groundswell wouldn’t last long (as most controversies die off within weeks or even days) I had to keep the momentum going as well as implement an SEO strategy that would keep the awareness of the site prominent in the internet culture.
With regards to the social media I kept commenting on blogs and sending out emails to members that would be interesting enough for them to forward on. I also setup a Facebook page and occasionally promoted it through my profile, twitter tweet, etc.
The SEO strategy was focused on local targeting. I developed a database of every city in every state across the US and created a page for each state and then the city targeting individuals that would be searching for a Starbucks in their area. The beauty of SEO is that you don’t have to be as specific to the user since you aren’t paying for the ad. The goal with these pages was to mention the demise of the breakfast sandwich in the snippet itself. The user would be searching for Starbucks close to their home, work, hotel, etc (for example starbucks felton, CA) then see the result and read “Find the Starbucks in FELTON - CA for your favorite breakfast sandwich before they are discontinued.” The user would click the result out of curiosity (not a highly qualified referral – but SEO has next to $0 cost per click so it has room for less qualified click throughs) the user then sees a landing page that educates them more about the decision to discontinue the breakfast sandwich and encourages them to sign up to help support it. Signup is free and easy which makes that decision fairly easy (with a 40% conversion rate from those pages from natural traffic).
Of course if I had an ad placed the messaging, and landing page would be much different, but again, this is SEO so we have a bid of legroom to convince rather than just presenting as we would with paid advertising so that our return on investment would be higher.
Always remember your user with any marketing strategy - a banner ad should spark curiosity and educate before the user clicks so that it is not only noticed but the user knows what to expect before clicking through, whereas a PPC ad should be specific to the term you are bidding on with the ad and landing page giving the user exactly what they are looking for. Pay attention to who your user is, what they are looking for and where you are grabbing them from and you will be successful in your marketing.