Revenues from conventional ink-on-paper advertising have been in rapid decline for the past five years.

In the old days of the 1990s, when trade magazines were king and even the smallest company dabbled with advertising, publishers often gave us "reader enquiry forms".  A reader could request further information simply by circling a number on a reply card. Give it a week or so and the more switched-on advertisers would respond with literature; and possibly even a phone call.

Then something happened. A man named Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet.  In a short space of time we were all communicating across it, and gathering information off the worldwide web. OK, it was clunky and slow and not everyone even had a website, but the writing was on the wall (or possibly the web) for traditional advertising.

In 2007, advertising revenues for consumer and trade magazines, not to mention radio and TV, appeared to be in terminal decline, with more money being spent on Google Adwords than all forms of conventional advertising combined.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, the web gives customers immediate access to an endless variety of products. Chris Anderson, in his book The Long Tail, explains that there is a market for virtually anything. However, before the internet came along the very niche markets could not be properly served through conventional retail models. Floorspace and stock was limited. 

With the emergence of the web, endless products can be offered and the new model for attracting and keeping customers that the web provides makes these niche markets relatively easy to service. Witness the rise of Amazon as probably the best example of providing products to niche buyers.

Business and industrial markets should have been quick to realise that these retail-based models would serve them well. Unfortunately, many companies are still struggling with the idea that the web is their real route to market. Let's take a look at what effective marketing and sales can achieve, if the best attributes of the worldwide web are brought into play.

Target and focus
The key to successful web marketing is not having a good website that delivers information to customers but getting customers onto the site in the first place. This is a key fact that many companies, large and small, often overlook. You need to identify who your target audience is, what information they want to access and how you are going to capture their details.

There's something of a dichotomy here.  On the one hand, the web is populated by millions and millions of surfers. On the other, we are trying to target what is often just a handful of companies or individuals who seek our product or service.

Your website gives you the opportunity to communicate directly, in a dynamic way if you wish, with your potential customers. Emerging streaming video technologies and interactive, intelligent selection of options and information gives the web far more scope than any page advertising could ever offer. With the web, companies can interact with their customers, before they even know them very well.

The key to successful web marketing is not having a good website that delivers information to customers but getting customers onto the site in the first place

The web enables companies to collect information about their potential customers in ways that are simply not possible using passive, printed advertising material. We can tell how long a visitor has spent on particular areas of a site, how frequently they return and what they download. We know how their interest was initially sparked, who they are and what they want. Effective use of the web personalises sales and marketing detail, making it valuable and meaningful.

Action is probably the single most powerful attribute of the web. It's proactive, interactive and ever-changing. Customers can decide what they want to read, which product details they are interested in downloading and even when they want your salespeople to call them. The opportunities to embed calls-to-action in a website are far greater than with conventional advertising.

Many niche players are still cautious about using the web as the primary means of communicating sales and marketing messages. They shouldn't be. Technology is now way ahead of most companies' requirements. Streaming video and interactive functionality that customers would have died for a few months ago can now be delivered without any drama.

Usage statistics can be cut and sliced in any way you want and customer enquiries can be seamlessly woven into your sales department's customer relationship management system. Not only does the web offer far better marketing value than conventional advertising; the results are more easily measured and, therefore, more manageable.

Graham Sprigg is director of IMS New Media. For more information visit