As online marketing budgets continue to rise this year and with prospects to increase for the future, there’s good sign that more businesses are taking the potential and necessity of the web seriously. It also means a few others things; your number of competitors are increasing daily; tactics that once produced high conversion rates are now diluted and less effective and you will need to invest more in making your mark and selling online. An increase in competition or the threat of saturation should never scare you, however, since throughout the history of commerce, there has always been a time when the economy and opportunities seem to have plateaued; yet there are always innovators to do things differently and change the game. Therefore, as you set your sight on crushing it online, keep studying the audiences and trends to determine your path.Image sourceAs the online marketplace continues to evolve at rapid pace, there are certain tried and true principles and activities that form the foundation of winning marketing campaigns and delivering products and services that sell.Here are a few of those pillars as well as the appropriate approach for dominating and being relevant in the years to come.Develop for Mobile FirstImage sourceJust about 60% of American adults have smartphones and 45% own a tablet, 83% of US smartphone owners use their smartphone in-store for research and are usually ready to make a purchase within the hour of searching. Cyber Monday in 2013 saw retail sales via mobile devices hit $400 Million in the US alone. Mobile is booming and adoption is expected to increase until we have phones and tablets coming out of our ears. It’s an integral part of our daily lives and as we move further in the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), where everything from our refrigerator and alarm clocks are integrated into our mobile devices, the expectation of the consumer is that products, services and everything they need will be immediately accessible on all their devices with a smooth and seamless experience.This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to develop a mobile app for your business (and you should if it enhances your service delivery) but all ventures and web assets you manage and market online should cater to consumers at the mobile level and the experience needs to impeccable. If you cannot guarantee even an OK user experience, you’ve lost your chance at winning a customer.At least having a mobile responsive website / blog is mandatory and every piece of content created for engaging users should be optimized for mobile.Email is Old But it still Rocks!Email is still killing it for marketers and is the preferred medium for permission-based promotion and is rapid growing in use among mobile users. This means that in the midst of the war against spam and the reducing attention span of the global population, email as communication is still convincing and meaningful for consumers.Here are some quick tips for a winning email marketing campaign:Be ethical – Always give users what they actually subscribed for vs pushing everything you think they want (or what you want). Ensure that options for unsubscribing are clearly accessibleDon’t market via purchased lists – There’s no sense in marketing to unqualified leads. It’s a waste of effort and is the easiest way to get blacklisted as you push content to people who didn’t give permission.Clear subject line & call to action – Convincing and relevant subject lines mean the difference between your email being opened or trashed. Keep it simple, no nonsense.Don’t used poorly coded templates – Use official templates provided by a designer or email marketing provider. Poorly coded templates go straight to junk.Use a premium email marketing service – A high quality provider like GetResponse, for instance, will provide lots of tools like A/B testing, conversion tracking, auto-responders, design and form creation tools and access to research and metrics necessary to help you understand your subscribers.The common mistake email marketers make:Remember, people check their emails on mobile devices more now than ever. Ensure that your emails are mobile friendly and are viewed beautifully on these devices. In 2013 mobile email open rates were at 48%, almost more than desktop open rates. Therefore, delivering an intuitive email user experience for mobile can only improve conversions and eventually improve sales.Mobile email open rates from 2010 – SourceEmbrace Publishing & Content CreationEvery company is now a publishing company, we’re all creating content and distributing to wide and varied channels. If your business is not using its full potential, telling stories that win the hearts of users online in your niche, you’re missing out on large cross section of the market that will only get larger as more people look to the internet for all their needs. Traditional outbound marketing is dead.Sure, it may be challenging initially, especially if you think your brand is boring. However, there’s always a story to be told with the power to educate and entertain. Consumers feel better about companies that produce high value custom content that helps solve their problems. Telling a compelling story is as simple as sharing good experiences you’ve had with your customers, demonstrating how their lives have changed because of your product or posting images of rarely seen processes in your factory on the intricacies of the manufacturing process of your product or by just sharing common interests with real users on social networks. Just get into the habit of communicating, appoint a team who is accountable for it and let it flow. It’s about showing the human side of your business and building relationships that lead to greater trust and eventual sales.Hosting webinars is powerfulAnother way to embrace content creation to build relationships is by hosting webinars. Webinars are not only cheaper than hosting traditional in-person events and conferences but also present the opportunity to interact with users in a more intimate and one-on-one basis.Using a premium webinar service like ClickWebinar, for example, gives you a great deal of control over how your content is presented and provides useful tools for interacting with your audience such as screen sharing, questions and answers utilities, language translation and private chats. Webinars are particularly powerful since majority of the attendees are qualified and usually in buying mode; so you’ll have their attention and it’s now up to you to form that bond and convert.Video is Catering to the New GenerationPut simply, people are lazy and prefer to watch vs. read; in addition, it’s just more entertaining. Video content will increase the length of time people spend on your page, giving your brand’s message a longer time to sink in and better chance to convert. Find ways not to just push and sell your stuff but provide real value through video content. Consumers shopping for gadgets, for instance, find in-depth video reviews of products particularly helpful since it’s almost like trying the product before buying in the comfort of their home.Video caters to our shortened attention spans, which scientists now say is on average less than goldfish, and taps into a channel where more users are spending a vast majority of their time. That’s where your focus should be.In addition, by featuring yourself or company employees in the videos you publish, the trust factor is raised significantly; which means more sales and access to a growing audience at relatively minimal cost.Source imageUnderstanding Your Target Audience & NetworksMaybe the most crucial pillar of them all is understanding your customer. Regardless of how awesome your content is or how beautifully your website is designed, it won’t convert unless it’s targeting the right people with the correct messages. You wouldn’t spend your marketing budget trying to sell a Playstation console to a 90 year-old or selling snow skiing gear to a surfer, right? Investing the time and other resources into learning who your target audience is, identifying their likes and dislikes, the causes they feel most passionate about or even their birth date are all essential for determining which messages suit whom.In addition, every social network evokes different activities and attracts a different audience. For example, Pinterest consists primarily of women while reddit seems to have vastly more men using the network. Therefore, if your service is targeted for women then it will be worthwhile learning how to use the network to its maximum potential versus spending time where users may not be inclined to find any appeal for your company. It’s all about planning and researching before launching head first.Tools such as Cyfe, Nimble and Oktopost will prove very useful as you strive to keep track of users, their activities and your interactions with them. They’ll help you to organize the thousands of social data points that will be coming to you, with right presentations to sort and act on that data for more successful campaigns based on real feedback and information.These pillars are certainly not all you need but provide a good starting point for laying the foundation and taking your brand to higher heights online, serving your audience and customers while maintaining relevance into the future.