The land of opportunity seems pretty, well, barren these days. As the country reels from our stock market roller-coaster ride and our government scrambles to make a $700 billion financial sector bailout plan work, small business owners everywhere are wondering if they stand a chance of surviving (to say nothing of thriving). Michael Masterson and MaryEllen Tribby say that you can run a successful business in today’s tough economy—but you’ve got to resist the fear-driven urge to chop your marketing budget down to the bone.
With their new book, Tribby and Masterson set out to teach owners and employees of businesses of all shapes and sizes how to cultivate the 21st century marketing landscape. The trick? Multi-channel marketing—combining new concepts, such as search engine marketing and social media, with tried and true methods such as direct space advertising and public relations—to reach a wider customer base, build customer loyalty, and increase sales.
Unfortunately, say the authors, many businesses just aren’t taking advantage of all of the marketing channels that have opened up for them, which is an especially deadly mistake in a slow economy.
The key, say the authors, is direct marketing. This method offers many advantages: low cost of entry, plenty of niche markets, and the ability to accurately measure the impact of your marketing efforts on sales. It includes radio, television, magazine, newspaper ads, catalogs, and sales letters sent through the mail, and now, advertising via the Internet. As its name suggests, sales are made by evoking a direct response from the customer: making a purchase, returning a free-trial postcard, making a phone call, providing information on the advertiser’s website, and so forth.
“Once you strike the proper balance between old and new marketing methods, your business will flourish,” promises Tribby. “Multi-channel marketing offers customers more than one way to buy from you.”
Here are a few seeds of knowledge from Changing the Channel that will help you cultivate your business in today’s economy and future economies:
“Remember that integrity is key,” says Tribby. “Never promise anything that you aren’t going to be able to deliver. In fact, you should always be over-delivering on the promises you make in your marketing copy.”
Create strong customer relationships through your marketing efforts. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of multi-channel marketing is that it provides great customer relationship-building opportunities. Direct mail and direct e-mail allow you to stay in front of your customers. Telemarketing allows you to provide, via the telephone, additional services and benefits that they may be very interested in buying. And event marketing provides you with an opportunity tocreate a great, fun experience for your clients.
Some forms of marketing don’t cost you a dime. We’ve already covered the affordability and ease of e-mail marketing. But there are other cheap marketing channels out there, too! For instance, you can create online buzz about your product through social media advertising. This can take many forms, from online forums to message boards to blogs to video-, photo-, and music-sharing sites to social networks and comment sections on websites.
Use social media methods to stimulate conversation about you, your business, and/or your products by publishing special reports or covering news or sending out surveys or questionnaires. The secret is to be genuine. To ensure that the “buzz” is positive, you have to promote yourself gradually and organically by developing genuine relationships with the social media sites on which you would like to focus.
Find customers looking for you through search engine marketing (SEM). By getting your site to the top of the results page on one of the major search engines, you can count on specific traffic that is looking for what you have to offer. Such visitors are likely to sign up for your e-newsletter, buy your products, and keep coming back for more. Not only is SEM inexpensive and sometimes even free, it’s invaluable in helping you find your ideal customers.
“Instead of attracting a crowd of web surfers who may or may not care about what you have to offer, you’re reaching out to people who are already interested,” Tribby says.
Want to drum up great PR? Get to know the media. Of the many channels of marketing, public relations is one that every business should embrace. That’s because it is nearly free. If you have a decent writer on staff, your only cost will be the event you’re publicizing and the miniscule amount it takes to mail or e-mail out your press releases. Furthermore, when it works, it can work like wildfire, going from local to regional to national—and even to international—audiences faster than it takes to write up a marketing plan for a conventional advertising campaign. The trick is creating successful stories. In order to do that, you must know the media you want to reach and understand what kind of stories their consumers delight in.
Learn the art of the pay-per-click ad. Pay-per-click ads are typically small. On Google, they are usually limited to four lines of text—a headline, two lines of body copy, and your URL. Because this is a very technical channel and marketing tactic, many business owners and even marketing directors leave it up to their “techies” to put together their PPC campaign. This is a big, big mistake. Think of it this way: Would you have your computer guy write your direct e-mail advertising? Of course not. You’d hire a professional copywriter to write the ad. And that’s exactly who should create your PPC ad.
To save big bucks on print and radio ads, take the leftovers. Whenever possible, try to purchase remnant ad space. This is ad space that has not been sold to advertisers in time for deadline in print media or air-time in radio. It is also referred to as remainder advertising or last-minute advertising space. Buying remnant space can be a huge money saver for you. Here’s how it works: Make sure you are aware of the publication’s deadline; then call right before that deadline and start your negotiations.
Test, test, test. In multi-channel marketing, what you think means nothing; it’s what you know that counts. To determine if your prospective customers will buy what you are selling, test the waters. If you are torn between two products, test a couple of pay-per-click ads to see which one gets more clicks. The one with the most is probably the most viable option for an online business.