By Steven Van Yoder
(originally published in Costco Connection Magazine, October 2015)
As the digital economy becomes a fact of life, many businesses have come to rely on their website and social media efforts to drive sales. Seeking free exposure and greater access to buyers, they’ve abandoned traditional marketing in favor of blogging, email marketing, social media and other online channels as a means of generating leads and sales.
Unfortunately, online-only marketing is not delivering for many businesses. As more companies vie for attention online, reaching buyers is more challenging. According to a study by DoubleClick (a subsidiary of Google that develops and provides Internet ad services), online advertising yields only a 0.06percent click-through rate. Another survey from small-business consultant Manta reveals that more than half of small-business owners (59 percent) don’t see a return on investment from their social media efforts.
These statistics show that small businesses can’t afford to invest everything in a single marketing tactic that may or may not bring results. This also explains why some companies are revisiting online-only marketing in favor of a more diverse marketing strategy that integrates traditional offline tactics, either on their own or in combination with online approaches, to more effectively reach prospects and produce better results.
A case study
Canadian-based Rip n Go (ripngo.ca) sells waterproof, washable absorbent pads and sheets for people suffering from incontinence. When the company launched in 2013, with a limited marketing budget and no concrete marketing plan, they turned to social media and search engine advertising, hoping to reach parents, senior citizens and people with limited mobility.
After a few months, their online marketing was not producing results. “Online shoppers weren’t searching for products like ours because they didn’t know it existed, and people weren’t talking about incontinence on social media because it’s taboo,” says Tarique Khan, head of business development at Rip n Go. “We changed course and shifted our efforts toward partnering with nonprofits that advocated for incontinence sufferers.”
Rip n Go forged a cross-promotional alliance with the Canadian Continence Foundation (CCF) and included the nonprofit in Rip n Go’s public relations efforts. “I called media outlets, but instead of pitching our products I cited statistics from the CCF showing that 10 percent of the Canadian population suffered from bladder control,” says Khan. “That got editors’ attention.”
The company’s efforts led to feature stories on the Superior Morning show on CBC Radio in Thunder Bay, Daytime Ottawa and The Globe and Mail, which boosted sales and garnered inquiries from retailers about carrying the company’s products, while raising awareness for incontinence. “Our relationship with Rip n Go has been invaluable,” says Jacqueline Cahill, executive director of the CCF. “We’re now working together to form a hub of like-minded Canadian companies that can help us promote continence awareness.”
Know your market. Marketing programs must be based on how targeted customers find, evaluate and ultimately purchase your products and services. Ask your existing customers, read trade publications or contact professional associations comprising your prospects. This type of basic market research, besides being easy and affordable, will tell you how you can most effectively reach your prospects and persuade them to buy from you.
Target “unexpecting” consumers. Online marketing tends to attract buyers who are already shopping. However, you can often achieve better results by marketing to potential customers who are not actively seeking your particular products and services.
“Sometimes you find what you’re looking for when you’re not looking for it, and that’s certainly true for consumers,” says Costco member Mitch Dowell, founder of Baltimore–based Brand Experiences. “Whether it’s signage at a bus stop or train station, or a simple postcard mailing, offline marketing can reach and convert buyers when they aren’t expecting it.”
Pick up the phone. An old-fashioned phone call can humanize your marketing while providing cost-effective opportunities to reach potential buyers (rather than waiting for buyers to contact you). In a survey by DiscoverOrg (which provides data to marketing and sales professionals), 60 percent of respondents said a phone call led to a vendor’s offering being evaluated, and 75 percent said they decided to attend an event or make an appointment after receiving a cold call.
The key is creating a valuable offering. Before you dial, prepare a brief script to help you maintain a confident, conversational tone. Offer free samples, reports, discounts or consultations that show your call is about the customer, not just the sale.
Promote locally. Consumers increasingly buy local, which provides opportunities for building personal relationships and long-term loyalty. Cross-promote your business with other local businesses, take part in local fundraisers or host customer education or appreciation events that can give you an edge over online-only competitors.
Local media is still an effective way to reach your customer base and become known as a local expert. “We write a weekly column in The Arizona Republic about legal issues facing the elderly,” says Costco member Lauren Witte, associate director of marketing at JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law in Mesa, Arizona. “Not only have we received direct business as a result of this column, we have gained great brand awareness locally within our industry.
The personal touch. Face-to-face interactions build trust. Sometimes connecting with prospects in live settings, events and conferences, where they already congregate, is more affordable than trying to build your own audience online. If you have a physical product, face-to-face marketing allows consumers to actually touch and feel it, drawing them closer to making a purchasing decision.
“By attending industry trade shows, we’ve moved our business from a niche product to one that’s experiencing widespread adoption across multiple industries,” says Dan Wade, director of marketing at Minneapolis -based LifeFloor (lifefloor.com).“Many customers initially find us online, but never pull the trigger until they feel the flooring for themselves and see how good it looks.”
Anti-aging expert Lorraine Maita of Short Hills, New Jersey, built her business by regularly speaking to groups. “Public speaking predictably attracts new clients and invitations to speak for other organizations,” says Maita. “For example, a woman at one of my talks referred her husband for one of my Elite Executive Physical programs. Some people who’ve heard me speak keep my business card for years, waiting for the right time to see me.”
Combine The Best Tools
The key to combining online and offline marketing is building your strategy around your customers’ buying preferences. “We don’t ignore online marketing, but we realize that it’s only a tool,” says Khan of Rip n Go. “Our ultimate aim is having our product carried by baby and home health stores across Canada and eventually the U.S., where consumers are already shopping. When compared to online marketing, traditional PR has proven the most effective way to achieve our business goals.”