The Next Wave of Digital Marketing Trends
Tuesday, May 4, 2010; 12:00 AM

Sometimes the most important small business marketing tools and technologies start out as expensive enterprise solutions exclusive to big brands and agencies; only much later do they become affordable and accessible to small businesses.

During a recent trip to San Francisco, I stopped by the tradeshow floor atAd:Techand found myself staring into the not-too-distant future of small business marketing. I didn't have a chance to see everything Ad:Tech had to offer, but I did have time to talk with a few innovative companies offering solutions that are sure to influence the way small businesses approach marketing.

Here's what I found that's worth sharing along with some tips for getting ready to adjust to new trends.

Innovation No. 1: Online Display AdvertisingBanner ads may sound like an antiquated way to get noticed, but actually display advertising is becoming much more interesting due to two important trends.

One such trend is better local ad targeting. Several companies, such,LinkedInandFacebook,have announced that they're getting into the local targeting game by offering geography-based advertising along with the standard demographic or keyword targeting you'd expect. Local targeting is already prevalent in search engine marketing and it's good to know that display ads are heading in the same direction.

The other noticeable trend to get excited about is the movement toward ad pricing based on cost-per-action rather than cost-per-click. Paying for ads based on CPA means that you don't pay the publisher until you get the action you want from the ad. For example, if you want your online display ad to drive someone to an online store to buy the advertised product, you won't have to pay until someone actually clicks the ad and completes the purchase. Several companies--such asHydra--have announced an emphasis on CPA tracking and billing.

How to get readyGet to know your acquisition costs on an intimate level. If cost-per-action advertising sounds attractive, you'll need to have a firm understanding of what you're willing to pay for each new customer or action your advertising obtains in order to know how to bid. If you're interested in the possibilities of targeted display advertising (and you're interested in getting sophisticated with your targeting) start building a profile of your best prospects and customers--including geography, demographic information and typical buying behavior. If you need help figuring out how to analyze your customers to get that information, online advertising companyAd Buyeroffers a set of free audience profiling tools.

Innovation No. 2: Online Retail PromotionsSelling physical goods has long been about driving traffic to your e-commerce store so prospective customers can see and buy your products. That trend seems destined for a giant turn in the opposite direction, because it won't be long before smaller retailers have the ability to sell more of their products on other highly targeted consumer websites. One such website,where theCEO announced the company's intention to enable anyone to search real-time availability and local product information on every product, on every shelf, in every local business in America.

Another outstanding innovation for online retail comes fromPixazza.Pixazza is changing the way consumers shop by allowing people to browse and buy products that appear in any photos. For example, let's say you're reading an article in an online entertainment magazine and you see a photo of Jennifer Lopez wearing earrings that are to-die-for. Getting yourself a similar pair is easier than ever; as you hover over the photo Pixazza recommends earrings at suggested prices far below what Jennifer Lopez probably paid for hers.

How to get readyIt's time to get your inventory database in shape. Selling products on websites owned by other companies will likely require you to conform to their database and information technology standards. There's no need to get overly sophisticated here. If your company has the ability to publish real time inventory and product information to your own website, you probably already have enough technology to quickly enable a feed of that information to other online databases.

Innovation No. 3: Social Media AdvertisingSocial media is arguably the most innovative internet tool to emerge since, well, the internet. There are definitely good reasons to advertise on social media sites (this includes your own fan pages and networks). The challenge for a small business is the same challenge facing any business: How do you get enough people to pay attention to your ads while they are busy uploading photos or conversing with friends?

There are a number of companies working to make social media advertising more engaging and even fun, and it won't be long before there are a plethora of choices for small budgets. At the show,NTB Mediaannounced an interesting video advertising product with built-in games and quizzes to get people to pay attention and remember the content in the videos, andFan Appzannounced access to an integrated suite of social media applications designed to attract attention and engagement in exchange for a subscription of just $50 per month.

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