Many people who run businesses for a long time get into ruts or habits which may not be the best way to decide the most effective or productive strategies when it comes to marketing. What worked in 1980 or 1990 or even 2000, may not work today.
As we all realize, times have changed and along with them, consumer shopping and buying preferences. Whether your customer is an everyday person or another business, decisions about what to purchase, how much to pay, where to get it and how to pay for it have been greatly affected by the Internet.
Years ago, if you wanted to buy a used car, you would probably have picked up the classified section of the newspaper and scanned the appropriate listings. The same held true for real estate. If you were hunting for a job, where did you look? Of course, the want ads in the paper.
How about clothing, gifts, jewelry, golf clubs, books or even shoes? Well, you’d probably hit the mall for a tiring day of browsing, asking questions of a salesperson, trying things on, and lugging bags of purchases to your car.
How about tax services, medical consultation, planning a night out at good restaurant or pet grooming? Entertainment equipment, car insurance, office supplies or finding a local plumber? We used to pick up the yellow pages for all kinds of things we needed – you must remember those huge books filled with tiny type listing everything under the sun?
But we live in a brave new world. Today, practically everyone shops for everything online. Not only that, we use our credit cards to pay and have everything delivered to our homes or businesses for the ultimate in convenience.
So, how has that impacted how we reach our markets? Enormously! If you are still placing classified ads in the paper or buying expensive display ads in the yellow pages, you need to step back and reassess your decisions, which may be a little out-of-date.
Instead you should be capitalizing on all the free “yellow page” listing directories available online. This may take you some time to set up, requiring you to do some writing of short blurbs (otherwise known as paragraphs or “sound bites”) about your business, but are well worth the trouble for a couple of reasons. First, most people now use the Internet to find contact information for whomever or whatever they want to reach. And it is impossible to know which yellow pages they will use, so you need to be listed in all of them. But even more importantly, if you have a website, which you should, all those listings which usually include free links to your website, will help you with your SEO or search engine optimization. (That means that the time you invest in placing free listings will pay off handsomely by pushing your Google search rankings higher in search results if anyone is seeking your products or services online.)
I’m sure all the yellow page sales representatives will not appreciate my suggestions here. But, they are not the only ones whose printed products have fallen out of favor. I am still predicting the coming demise of the printed newspaper and many magazines, as much as I continue to enjoy sitting down to pour over the printed page when I get a few minutes. It’s probably just an old habit that I’ll need to break before it breaks me. First of all, as we age, our eyesight takes a turn for the worse, and seeing that tiny type in the paper is a lot harder than it used to be twenty years ago. Since I spend most of my days staring at my computer monitor, I take advantage of the enlarged type feature which makes it much easier to read. And although I consider the little time I spend reading actual magazines and newspapers as rare moments of luxury, to continue to do so in the future will probably only take place online or via electronic tablets or e-reading devices.
This means that if you run a business, your means of advertising must change as well. While you may feel you still reach the target audience you seek via a printed newspaper ad, which admittedly has become a lot more affordable when compared with rates charged in the past, you may change your tune once you explore the logic behind advertising on the Internet. Online text ads, in addition to banner ads (display “billboards” on the Internet) both of which appear in appropriately planned subject searches you control with pre-placement keyword decisions, are the modern, and perhaps, superlative method of target marketing. In much the same way we used to buy mailing lists to reach a certain segment of the demographic to which we were appealing via direct mail, today we can reach the markets we want by appearing within the subject matter of Internet searches. Granted, this is still quite new, but is evolving further as each day passes, clearly as the future of marketing.
Call me old-fashioned but I must say that direct mail can still be a lot more successful in its ability to land in a prospective customer’s hands compared with trying to elicit the click of a mouse from your customer’s scattered attention on the busy Google search results page! The advantage here is that the direct mailer if designed effectively has the power to keep the recipient interested with graphic influences of color, visual imagery and font size and selection. In comparison, the online text ad is just that, merely text, and looks like every other text ad on the Google page, giving you no greater edge to attract a click than anyone else. Whether the direct mail piece gets opened, read and responded to or whether it is immediately discarded without a glance continues to be the challenging factor to marketers everywhere. As with investing, there is no magic formula. To give a little guidance, if you are marketing to everyone anywhere, perhaps online text ads can make sense because of the large numbers of individuals which may possibly see your ad. That is provided your placement choices are in a popular area of interest. If your target is too small, then those numbers may dwindle considerably. While it is also possible to appeal to a small market in a small geographic area via online text ads, doing so successfully may require some diversification and support from other types of traditional marketing. At least until the Internet is the one and only means of marketing, or until Google is knocked off its Internet throne of infallibility.
With the proliferation of ways to enjoy the vast entertainment industry which includes radio, TV, movies, videos, games, and more, to name a few, investing marketing dollars into the right singular medium in a targeted market has become a lot more difficult. Trying to stretch your budget to appeal to the audience you want to reach can be frustrating with all the choices, distractions and short attention spans of most seekers of entertainment. From a marketing standpoint, and a 35-year history of experience, my advice would be to guard those dollars very carefully before making a rash decision about where to spend.
While I admit new venues have replaced old, some of the old choices still reach certain holdouts who refuse to accept today’s new technologies. Although few and far between, there are some markets still responsive to traditional yellow page, newspaper, magazine and other forms of advertising, which may justify maintaining a judicious presence within such media. It is hard to argue the merits of buying the back cover of the phone directories when thousands upon thousands will be delivered to countless homes even if viewed only that one time all year. The sheer numbers of that marketing reach are staggering. But to do so blindly into the future would be irresponsible if not totally wasteful, when there is now talk of “do not deliver” lists being added to the “do not call” rosters.
And when newspaper ads of huge proportion are sold for a fraction of the cost they once were, temptation sometimes trumps better judgment just for the momentary thrill of dominating the newspaper page for mere pennies. Any response is considered gravy.
This leads me to conclude that we are in a period of marketing limbo: some strategies are on their way out but the door has not quite yet slammed shut. The new strategies are a little intimidating but the old ones are much less effective. If you can bridge a balance between the two until time sorts out the survival of the fittest, marketing budgets will be preserved a bit longer and perhaps maintain a semblance of success despite the need to navigate seas of confusion, trepidation and obsolescence.