To Advertise or Not to Advertise

Clients often ask me about advertising. It's a marketing activity I've rarely recommended in the past for many reasons: It's expensive. It's hard to gauge results. It's difficult to determine the best media. Its mass-market approach is inappropriate for most B2B companies.

However, since the Internet's arrival, advertising has become intertwined with other marketing vehicles. Direct mailers instantly link to an advertiser's Web site for online orders. Electronic press releases instantly send editors to Web pages for more information. And Web affiliate and viral marketing, or friend-gets-a-friend promotions, are forms of advertising indistinguishable from email or mail campaigns.

Technological innovations are playing a big role in blurring the distinction between advertising and other marketing media. There's Digimarc 's MediaBridge technology that links printed mailers to the Internet, with an embedded electronic watermark that whisks readers and recipients to an advertiser's Web site. Rich-media emails are advertising and direct marketing crossbreeds. Even the innocuous cursor on your screen is considered prime advertising real estate, at least according to a couple of dot-commers.

Internet Advertising

The Internet shoots down every one of my past objections to advertising. Cost is less on the Internet than it is for TV and print, and it's becoming more reasonable all the time as the focus shifts from market reach to click-through rates. Yahoo is a good example of the changing attitude of advertisers. One of the first commercially viable Internet companies, Yahoo used to demand top dollar from advertisers because they could deliver a huge number of "eyeballs." However, Yahoo is having an increasingly tough time selling those hefty ad rates because advertisers are demanding more than just eyeballs, turning their attention back to return on investment.

The Internet enables advertisers' messages and markets to be highly targeted. While there's still a lot of debate regarding list brokering and privacy issues, the fact remains that database-driven Internet marketing opens the door to finely honed niche marketing, sometimes referred to as critical-mass marketing. Web-based database programs, personalization software, and a plethora of customer relationship management (CRM) e-commerce solutions ensure further refinement of prospect information gathering.

Internet advertising results can be monitored 24/7 in real time, enabling marketers to continuously test, update and improve their campaigns. In the past, ad campaigns were "launched" and executed on a cyclical basis, typically once year. At the end of the campaign, results were tallied. The Internet allows campaigns to be serially executed, giving advertisers the ability to make them immediately relevant to buyers.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the most common Internet advertising tools:

  • Banner ads. While falling off in popularity, these are the best-known type of online advertising. While many marketers are utilizing rich media and interactivity to attract attention, many people still find banner ads offensive.
  • E-mail marketing. While primarily an Internet Direct Marketing (IDM) tool, e-mail campaigns are increasingly being designed and "produced" much the same way as an ad, with a company's logo for brand recognition as well as a promotional message that typically links to the sender's Web site.
  • E-newsletter ads. As anyone with e-mail knows, short, text-based advertising messages are gaining in popularity. A variant to this type of advertising is placement of banner ads on widely read, niche-targeted e-newsletters.
  • Interstitial ads. Also referred to as "pop-up" ads, these commonly appear unbidden when a visitor to a Web site clicks on an offer or request.
  • Affiliate ads. Business partners link to each other's Web sites and share in commissions for leads and sales that come via the affiliate's site.
  • Sponsorships. Much like radio news sponsorships, advertisers "sponsor" relevant Web sites to promote products, conduct contests or to heighten brand awareness.

Before you decide to put all your marketing dollars into an Internet advertising blitz, stop to consider the following: How many of your customers and prospects will actually be reached? Business-to-business marketing needs to be approached quite differently than consumer marketing. While use of the Internet may be on the rise across the board, the people using it during work hours are likely to be using it for research and communications, not surfing to shop.

This means a lot more attention needs to be paid to the message you're delivering and to whom.

Buyers Are In Control And All Over The Map

The remarkable shift from the marketer to the buyer means we have to be constantly in tune with buyers' needs and wishes. This is not an easy or one-time task. It's an ongoing effort requiring multiple avenues for buyer feedback. (I've discussed feedback programs in earlier columns.) Today's buyers expect personalized messaging, offers specific to their business needs, and vendor/partners who can deliver and serve them well.

There are a number of other issues to consider as well before deciding upon an Internet ad campaign.

Reaching our highest-potential buyers is made difficult because each buyer has his/her own specific needs and hot buttons. Each market has its own issues. For instance, ad agencies and design firms may be more concerned with art production issues and, therefore, would likely be receptive to information about new proofing systems or file transfer capabilities. Corporate marcom clients, on the other hand, may be more interested in information about repurposing to multiple media. Marketing to marcom folks is further complicated by the fact that they can't be readily defined by industry. Financial marcom pros have very different problems than retailers.

To make matters worse, time is at a premium for all buyers. They can't find the time to squeeze in lunch, much less a sales call. That's why it's essential to make every second and media hit count. Here are some guidelines:

Mix your media. Rather than putting all your dollars into one marketing activity, include some direct mail, on-hold phone messages, fax or e-newsletters, publicity as well as advertising. On-hold messages should mix promo and informational copy.

Match media to buying patterns. While this is certainly easier said than done, it again stresses the necessity of knowing as much as you can about every market you serve and the individuals in those markets.

Match the message to the media. E-Newsletters should be informational, not sales copy. Direct mail should be clever and attention grabbing. Advertisements should

Apply creativity. Successful marketing entails making your brand and products and services stand out from the competition. Thinking outside-the-box and mixing and matching marketing tools in creative ways will go along way to making your company stand out from the crowd.

Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte

© 2000 Charlotte Mills Seligman

September 21, 2000
Print & Graphics
Col#18, 9/00
Printing Journal
Col #18, 9/00
To Advertise or Not to Advertise
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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