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The proliferation of technology enabled marketing tools has been one of the most fundamental changes that has occurred within the ad industry. With all the new toys in the box however, it is important to remember not to be clever for clever's sake.  

It’s one thing to provide a product or service, another to market it effectively and quite another to encourage visitors to stay with you.

Two things caught my eye recently. 

The first was the innumerable lists of trends and forecasts for 2011. Now I’m a big fan of lists (and we all know its one of the best SEO tricks in the book), but what struck me as interesting was the immense focus on platforms and technology with little said about the message itself. The second was the release of the 2011 Michelin Guide. More on this shortly.

The proliferation of technology enabled marketing tools has been one of the most fundamental changes that has occurred within the ad industry. With all the new toys in the box however, it is important to remember not to be clever for clever's sake.  

It’s one thing to provide a product or service, another to market it effectively and quite another to encourage visitors to stay with you. At its core, good marketing is about relevancy. You want consumers to want to spend time with you and for that you need to be useful.  

News sites do this on a regular basis but non-content brands have provided effective extensions into the space. Michelin, for example, developed its world renowned restaurant guide as a means of maintaining brand awareness for their tyres. The Michelin Guide is now synonymous with quality.

What the Michelin guide did best was advertise its brand but in such a way as to provide a benefit for consumers. Drivers across Europe would always know where they could get a good meal, and the knowledge within the guide was valuable to the consumer.

Of course you don’t need to provide content as it has been traditionally understood. There are great opportunities available with the enormous growth of data available through GPS, social networking and the increasingly embedded nature of location information.

There is certainly a lot of excitement about location based services, the idea that new apps can tell us who of our friends are at a certain place, or enjoy a certain restaurant.  

This can even be seen as an extension of the content only model used by Michelin. It’s also great for offering benefits or discounts directly to your best customers, as Starbucks did last year with its Foursquare loyalty programme.

Some apps combine the power of crowdsourcing to provide customers with information relevant to them. Expedia has been a great proponent of useful advertising (in fact I may well have first heard them coin the phrase) with their Facebook app, Expedia Trip Companion, which provides relevant content feeds and the collective wisdom of other travellers.  

Not only does it give you exchange rates from Google Finance and weather updates from Yahoo!, but it provides tips from TripAdvisor on what to do once you reach your destination.

The key is to ensure that you choose an approach that is relevant to your audience, and to your product.

Whether you’re an information site/service, or an ecommerce site, in the end you want to sell something to visitors. And that means that the key is to engage them in an evolving, useful and interesting exchange.  

If you want to develop a long term relationship with your customer in 21st century terms, you’d better find some way to be useful

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Published 4 March, 2011 by Michael Steckler

Michael Steckler is Managing Director of Criteo and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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