By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

Some of the business concepts now practiced by the largest companies are sound, and others simply do not apply to your online business or the area you occupy. You can quite easily sit in a room with fellow business colleagues and say, “Hey, let’s do what Google does!” or “Let’s take the same approach to this problem as Microsoft does” or “What would Zappos do in a situation like this?”

Although you can easily latch on to a good idea or latest trend, it’s more important to understand why that trend is useful, to see whether you can apply it to your company.

Your business has to offer something unique to distinguish it from your competition. If you practice the same techniques, marketing messages, and focus as everybody else, your message begins to blend with everyone else’s. After you become part of the crowd, determine what motivates your potential customers to shop with you rather than with someone else.

Focusing on your strengths

In the area of competition, you shouldn’t follow other companies’ techniques that highlight your weaknesses. If you provide a high level of service and charge a premium price for your products, following the techniques of Walmart is counterproductive to your business. Its effort to provide the masses with merchandise that matches its slogan, “Always Low Prices — Always,” doesn’t help you if you lower prices only occasionally to compete with Walmart during a sale.

Therefore, to adapt your campaigns, focus on competitors that share a common strength. If you’re a high-service company, perhaps you should study a company such as Nordstrom or Coldwater Creek to see how their marketing messages are reinforcing the service levels they provide.

When you look at competitors, keep the size of your campaign in perspective. Because Nordstrom can appeal to millions of customers in its database, certain campaigns might be profitable because they need only a small percentage of customers to respond. In your case, you might need campaigns that appeal to a larger set to break even.

Emphasizing quality, not quantity

As you’re planning new marketing campaigns and your budget becomes an issue, you have to start asking yourself about the best way to move your message through all the “noise.” You might tend toward trying to reach the largest audience possible and to hammering out the message, in the hope that enough people respond to each effort to be profitable.

As your business and customer set grow, your goal should be to achieve quality, not merely quantity. Suppose that you’re paying for a display or banner ad that receives 50,000 impressions from 50,000 distinct users. If the ad contains an offer so focused that it creates an impulse for a response right away, it’s the right technique.

If your ad requires multiple impressions to wear away at your potential customers’ screening process and convince them gradually to try you out, you should invest in multiple impressions among a smaller, focused group of participants.

Rather than pay for 50,000 random banner-ad impressions, you might pay for 5 targeted placements inside a newsletter that goes to 10,000 enthusiastic group members in your product area. Or, you might use retargeting, which lets you show specific ads to specific people.

Retargeting is a method of tracking visitors to your website who do not convert (they do not click an offer or make a purchase) and then following them as they visit other websites or social media networks (such as Facebook) and showing them a particular display ad.

You follow customers around the Internet with ads, reminding them that they were interested in your site at one point and giving them a specific offer to get them to finally convert.

Some research shows that customers need to hear something a minimum of five times before they remember it. Radio and TV ads continually repeat phone numbers, for example, so that you call in and order.

Increasing your profit, not buzz

In their quest to gain attention, companies routinely shift their marketing strategies by creating advertising campaigns designed to be slick, funny, or appealing. Some large companies can afford this approach to preserve their brand awareness or announce new initiatives. Most companies, however, need a measurable result from their marketing — typically, an increase in orders, customers, or profit.

When you plan a new marketing campaign, always try to include something to differentiate yourself. Make sure that you’re also persuading customers to take some sort of action. Ad campaigns to generate buzz, or a coolness factor, tend to cool off over time and provide no lasting benefit — or increased revenue, which is necessary for the next effort.

Not every campaign you create has to be solely about orders. Maybe you’re launching a new weekly newsletter for your business, and the purpose of your marketing campaign is to increase the number of subscribers. Although you don’t enjoy an immediate bump in orders, a newsletter can bring loyalty and repeat customers and pay off over time.