IN A very short time, the Internet has become a very powerful platform that has changed the way we live, do business and communicate. The Internet, like no other medium, has given a "globalised" dimension to the world.

The Internet is actually the most democratic of all the mass media available. Almost any business can reach a very large market quickly, directly and economically, no matter what its size or location.

According to Internet World Statistics, there was a global population of 1.25 billion people on the Internet as of September this year.

Any company must systematically evaluate a variety of e-marketing vehicles to integrate their existing marketing mix with the Web to lower marketing costs while building relationships with their customers. These include B2C (business-to-consumer), B2B (business-to-business) and B2E (business-to-employee) audiences.

The Internet provides many opportunities for building your brand that just aren't available offline. It lets you put out your products and publish photographs at a tiny fraction of the cost.

You can increase your interaction with your customers by asking for feedback, answering product questions and inviting them to return to your site. Consumers also use the Internet as a consumer research tool to compare prices and product quality.

There are no time and space limitations for virtual stores either. Your customers can visit your site at midnight in their pyjamas and never encounter a busy signal.

You can reduce geographical limitations by setting up currency converters and international shipping so you can reach a broad audience all over the globe.

Your competitive advantage is that you can identify a niche and position your products as distinctive from the competition just by looking at what they already do.

Viral marketing has always been a highly desirable outcome of brand building. Online businesses don't have to leave this to chance. You can ask your customer directly for his friends' e-mail addresses and send them all discount coupons so they can visit your site. If they have a positive experience, they'll want to tell their friends too. Build a social experience into the online shopping.

Your potential customers may well associate shopping on your site with a social visit too. You can build your brand quickly if you offer something that no one else does. Microsoft built a community of 12 million users in just 18 months when it launched Hotmail, its system of free user e-mail accounts.

Get started

How should your company harness the potential of the Web? First, by analysing where your company is on the Web front and what it has done so far.

Start by putting together an Internet marketing plan that is integrated with your overall marketing plan. It is good to identify key business objectives, online objectives (for example, increase traffic to site and have 1,000 e-mail subscribers by first quarter) and establish key performance indicators, such as increasing online sales by 10 per cent in the third quarter.

Everyone uses the Web to search for products and services, so do not ignore the power of search engines. Ensure that you build in a search strategy that puts your business on the first page of search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN and other directories.

The beauty of digital marketing is that everything can be measured. Hence, campaigns can be improved overnight and performance can be tracked every inch of the way. The data that you collect from Web servers and analytics tools are the intelligence you need to analyse and use for your future marketing efforts.

Take an integrated approach to reaching customers by harnessing the Web, e-mail, mobile applications (this has a huge potential too), any other traditional and outdoor media.

Find out where your customers are gathering online, attract them through search engine optimisation and marketing efforts, acquire them (through acquisition and conversion) and take great efforts to retain them.

Your marketing strategy will then be a strong one, integrating both online and offline marketing tools such as rich media vehicles, e-mail marketing and social marketing.

With all this is place, you can build a stronger customer base and increase sales for your organisation.