Pro-active Marketing on the Internet
by Tom Vassos

So you're trying to sell something on the Internet? What is it? A book? An airline ticket? A web page creation service? A consulting service? A jar of spaghetti sauce?

Before designing your Internet marketing plan, let's try to explore what you must really sell prior to that first book, newspaper, Internet service or jar of sauce.

Everyone that's selling on the Internet must first be successful at selling (or more accurately, "capturing") two things: "Personal Bandwidth" and "Visual Real Estate(sm)". Let me explain.

Every prospective buyer of our products and services has a finite amount of personal bandwidth available to hear your marketing message. Since they must eat, drink, sleep and work for a living, this will be some amount of time less than 24 hours per day. Let's say that the average user is online for 10 hours per week.

The more of this bandwidth that you can "capture", the higher the probability that you will be able to sell them something (or at least positively influence your brand image in their mind). If you can capture their attention for several minutes or several hours, your chances of selling them something will be much greater than if they simply browsed your Web site for a few seconds.

The next item you must capture to be successful is their "visual real estate". Each user chooses the content (Web pages, discussion group notes, etc.) that will appear on their 15 inches of real estate - the display screen sitting on their desk (or in my case, lap). The more of this real estate that you can capture, the better your chance of selling this person something.

The reason I am viewing this as real estate is to try to get you to break away from the misconception that you must only use techniques to try to capture 100% of their real estate. Yes, it is nice when someone visits your Web site, because for that moment, your content fills 100% of their display screen. In a moment, however, I'll review advances that may allow you to capture 5 or 10% of this real estate, on an ongoing basis throughout the day, week or month.

Real estate can also refer to content you're able to convince the user to print out on their printer, or to receive on their fax machine. The concepts of bandwidth and real estate are closely tied together. The more paper real estate you capture, the more likely you will capture a higher percentage of their bandwidth (regardless of whether they're online or not).

Well now that we've covered this theoretical aspect of marketing on the Internet, let's review several specific strategies for maximizing the bandwidth and real estate that you can capture.

The first step taken by most companies to sell goods on the Internet is the creation of a Web site. In fact, this is often the only strategy the company will take. They wait for visitors to find the site and then hope that they'll find the content so compelling that they'll voluntarily come back to the site on a regular basis. I call this approach an "Inbound Marketing Strategy(sm)".

Advice that is often given to Web site creators is that they must constantly update their content to encourage users to visit frequently. But how does the user know that your content has been updated? What is in place to trigger the user to even think of coming back to your site?

Think about the quicklist/bookmark list you have created on your Web browser. I personally have about 150 sites bookmarked, but I have never once returned to 95% of those sites.

If you base your entire Internet marketing strategy around the creation of your Web site, you will not maximize your share of users' bandwidth and real estate. To do this, you must have a pro-active "Internet Outbound Strategy" in place.

An outbound marketing strategy refers to any technique on the Internet that is pro-active and takes you to the consumer, rather than being inactive, waiting for the consumer to come to you.

Good examples of "Outbound Marketing Strategies" include the use of e-mailed Newsletters/E-zines, "Reminder Notices", "Profiled Information Streams(sm)", Discussion Lists, and getting "WebWired(sm)" (i.e., registering your Web site at hundreds of directories, search engines, cybermalls, etc.).


Reminder notices (via e-mail) typically highlight activities about the company, new announcements, highlights of additions to their Web site, specific URLs where detailed information can be found, etc.

For example, C|Net and HotWired both use reminder notices to maintain visibility with their readers. C|Net has over 600,000 people on their mailing list, and HotWired has over 150,000 people on their distribution list. I personally subscribe to both lists, but never visit the Web site unless there is something specific in their reminder notice that is of interest to me. These reminder notices have a major impact on driving traffic to their respective Web sites.


"Profiled information streams" refers to customized information which is sent to each subscriber, based on their own personal information needs. Each customer creates a "profile" requesting specific types of information. Then, on an ongoing basis, they receive any information which meets the needs of their specific profile.

This approach is most relevant when a company has a wide range of offerings, and customers require timely information on an ongoing basis. At IBM we have implemented this type of profiling capability (iSource) where customers can subscribe to receive announcement letters regarding specific products, services and technologies.


Newsletters/E-zines can also have an impact, acting as an extension to the Web site with the objectives of strengthening the brand image, increasing sales, and creating a sense of community with readers.

For example, almost a year ago, I found a Web site that sells lobster called "Lobster Direct". Since it was an interesting site, I added it to my quickList/bookmark list. However, I have never been back to the site. Who has the time? While at the site however, I subscribed to their free newsletter.

I have now received several issues of their newsletter, and although I have not yet placed an order, I have been positively influenced by the company, and will likely place an order soon.

The newsletter has kept my interest for a number of reasons. They have a "Jokes of the Month" section where they poke fun at themselves (i.e., Canadian Maritimers). They have a draw every month for free lobster (which keeps me from unsubscribing). They try to interact with their customers through lobster-related fun-filled surveys. They provide lobster recipes, and of course they try to sell me some lobster.


Participation in relevant discussion groups (lists) is also important. For this technique to be successful, the list members must be part of your target market. You must add value to the list through direct participation with the group. Your signature file must be compelling, and relevant to the type of group you are participating in.

This approach will keep your name and your company name in front of your target market on a regular basis. This can be a powerful tool for building your brand image.

Something else that you may also want to consider is the creation of a new USENET or e-mail discussion group. This discussion could be unmoderated or moderated, meaning that you can control the content the list members see. Through your own discussion group, you can support your customers, market to customers and prospects, or simply research the marketplace by staying close to your customers.

One strategy for leveraging this type of exposure is to assign an individual(s) in your company or department to become the Internet Communications Specialist. This person could maintain your presence on certain appropriate lists, create new lists where appropriate, or use USENET search tools to locate and respond to relevant posts across several lists.


A common myth about the creation of Web pages is that "if you build it, they will come." I can tell you, they won't.

To build traffic to your site, one of the things you must do is register your site in several places. You must register in the Internet directories and search engines that are used as jump sites by users to find Web pages. You can also register in several online cybermalls and other Web sites for free.

Altogether there are over 200 places where you can register your site to get fully "WebWired". To help you sort through this process, I have identified several resources that will help:


One major advantage of outbound strategies via e-mail is that almost 100% of Internet users have e-mail access. However, probably only about 60% of users have access to the Web, which is the backbone to most Internet inbound strategies.

Of course, the key to a viable outbound strategy is that it must be totally based on the customer's desire to receive your information. The rules of marketing "netiquette" must be followed.

It's unfortunate that most companies base their total Internet strategy on inbound approaches without considering the use of outbound approaches. An Internet outbound marketing strategy is an ideal way to pro-actively build relationships with customers, rather than hoping they'll come back to your Web site one day.

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Tom has been with IBM since 1979 in various marketing and management positions. He is currently the Internet Strategies Manager for IBM Canada.

Tom is the author of the book "Strategic Internet Marketing" which is also being translated into Japanese, Polish and Spanish (Estrategias de Mercadotecnia en Internet).

He has written articles about the Internet that have been distributed to over 55 countries. He has taught marketing and technology courses at the University of Toronto since 1983. He is currently teaching "Strategic Internet Marketing" in the MBA program and in the Strategic Leadership program.

Tom has spoken at Internet conferences and events in several countries and continents around the world, and is a business ambassador for the Ontario Government.

Visit his home page at

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