The entrepreneurial edge. We've seen it in action and we know what it represents. The ability to respond quickly to opportunity. To see trends before they leap into front page fodder. To seize and run with new technology before large and lumbering competitors wake up and smell the skim decaf latte.

It's an instinct and behavior that's true most of the time. But puzzlingly, I don't see it happening in the hot and buzzy area of Internet marketing --specifically, as it relates to two distinct areas: search marketing and rich media.

Search marketing, of course, is the practice of using keywords and other terms to drive Web surfers and Web seekers to your site. It's the phenomenon behind Google's monumental market cap and the holy grail of one-to-one communication: Someone raises their hand and says, "I am interested in learning more about this subject, or this product category, or this service area." No more qualified, valuable prospect exists on the face of this ozone-depleted, fossil-fuel dependent earth.

So why aren't enough small and mid-size businesses getting into the game? Of course, there are cost factors involved; it's often a bidding situation, and the price of the paid search listing has to make ROI-sense. But I don't think cost is the issue, but rather a lack of familiarity. A quick scan of the current Inc. 500 reveals very different levels of search marketing sophistication. The number one and number two companies, American Biophysics and Under Armour Performance apparel, rank in the top five listings on Google. Proflowers also does well.

But they appear to be the exception. Aegis - number three -- an assisted living provider, doesn't appear when you enter "assisted living" as a keyword on the search engine. Cross Match, number five -- a company involved in the hot security area of biometrics, is invisible when both biometrics and fingerprints - is not entered into Google. Floorgraphics, number eleven, also doesn't pop up under the logical search term "floor advertising," and, finally, Tesoro, a metal detector business listed at number twenty-four, is undetected when "metal detector" is Googled. I could go on.

All businesses need to register words related to their names on Google, especially small businesses, as Google offers a trusted environment to cut through the clutter. And with the emergence of geo-targeting, companies who compete on a local or regional basis can still use search engine marketing effectively.

Securing a pre-eminent search position isn't all that complicated. We do it at our company (shameless plug department), but we're not alone. Jason Heller at Mass Transit interactive is one company that handles search engine marketing for clients.

The second online marketing opportunity that entrepreneurs need to grab is rich media. While traditional banners are declining in use as an advertising vehicle -- they're boring and uninspiring -- rich media is booming. "Rich media" describes a range of more sophisticated and involved online advertising formats - messages enhanced by sound and motion, by interactivity, by pull-down menus, or other multimedia options. Sometimes, rich media units float or "take over" a page, as with the industry-leading, innovative messages made available from PointRoll.

These kinds of advertising units are the future of the medium. All the research I've seen says that they capture attention, are persuasive, and can be potent brand-building tools -- as well as capable of generating clicks and conversion. In a world of multi-tasking and fragmented attention spans, rich media is what it takes to glue consumers to your message.

Rich media is growing by a factor or more than 20 percent per year, and it's the big boys who are driving it: HP, Pfizer, Ford, Pepsi. As with search marketing, entrepreneurial, growing companies seem to be lagging. Time is a-wasting for them to get really smart, really fast about building their brands and generating leads online.

I'm not sure why the traditionally slow-to-react big companies have grabbed the lead here. Perhaps smaller companies are still allergic to online marketing as a delayed reaction to the Internet bubble. Perhaps they don't recognize that there is no more efficient and effective to target customers in niche markets. Used strategically, it's a way to wield the same old entrepreneurial edge, in a whole new medium.


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