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While using the Web as a marketing tool may be initially exciting, ultimately it's just confusing. Any return on investment is indirect at best, unlikely at worst. In the end, because the Web isn't standardized any campaign on it will end up as too cumbersome and ineffective.
If you were to take the above paragraph, replace the words "Web" with "radio", "television," or "print" and ask any marketing experts if that was all still true, they'd shake their heads and laugh.
Why? Because that initial paragraph is an excuse for failure. A marketing campaign doesn't work because the medium was "wrong." It failed because it wasn't applied properly.
The other mediums have had decades for advertisers to figure out, through much trial-and-error, what works best and what doesn't. The Web as a new vehicle for marketing campaigns is still in its early stages and due to its rapidly changing nature could possibly always be in some new form of "early" stage.
The challenge then isn't to make a website or online-based campaign that works, but to understand what the Web fundamentally is and how it works — then make a campaign that best utilizes it.
The right tool, right time, right place
There are Google ads, Facebook Ads, sponsored Tweets, viral campaigns, and social media efforts. All useful, all necessary towards making an impact on the Web for your brand. But if misused, all equally useless. A Google ad works towards a specific end that a sponsored Tweet does not. A viral campaign is not the same thing as a Facebook advertisement, or even a call for "Likes." There is a time and place for a comments section on a website, and instances where having one would be disastrous.
All ad firms pride themselves on knowing their demographics. The specificity of the audience is key. But online this same narrow focus must be applied to deploying marketing tools as well. Securing a target audience is only half of the battle; knowing which stage of the campaign to show them is the other.
Know your target
Understanding the ebb and flow of the Web, and the why of the people on it, is what separates a successful marketing endeavor from a waste of time and money. The Web is not just a set of audiences divided into demographics. Internally those demographics change based on the priorities of the moment.
Someone looking to book a flight has different needs compared to catching up on their favorite blogs. Reading stocks online is entirely different than searching for recipes. Writing status updates on Facebook is a whole universe away from browsing photographs on Facebook. And this could all be from one person, happening throughout one afternoon of their day.
The Web, and its users, are constantly in flux. Marketing to them with a static and rigid advertising effort will be met with resistance or dismissal. Never before has precision been this crucial, and precision only comes from understanding.