Promoting On and Off the Grid

by Nick Staroba

Web advertising, Social Media and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are great tools that have become more accessible to the less tech-savvy in recent years and can be very effective. There is a lot to see and hear about these tools when researching how to promote and market a small business.

The advertising cost benefit is great. An ad can be shown thousands of times for very little cost. Campaigns can be replicated and tweaked over and over to home in on a target audience. Impressions can hit millions in very short periods and traffic to a Web site can be boosted enough to bring down servers.

On the Social Media side, it’s much more personal. An individual within a company can interact directly with customers or the general public. This can result in giving the stereotypical “faceless corporation” a human touch or, if done early enough, prevent the stereotype from happening altogether.

The benefits of SEO can seem to be trickier to attain but there is a definite plus in designing a company Web site to maximize SEO. Now that “google” is more than just a company and is an official addition to the English language dictionary, does one really want to risk going without some form of SEO strategy? Not likely.

As all of these Internet promotion and marketing tools continue to innovate and improve as time goes on, one can overlook the more traditional method of getting the word out: print. That’s right, good ol’ ink and paper.

At Stout, we are utilizing the benefits of electronic marketing as we boost our online presence and our geographic reach. It’s much easier to reach out to somewhere like California with the click of a button than it is to find an actual mailing list—cheaper, too. But, print is still a force of its own.

If you’re like me, you find that a postcard that crosses your desk often gets more attention than an email in your inbox or an advertisement on the sidebar of a Web page. Something about a striking design or an interesting picture in print will get more of my time than a collection of pixels on a screen. Don’t get me wrong, I spend a lot of time on my computer and I see a lot of things that intrigue me there. It’s just not the same.

I know that many of you delete marketing emails without opening them. It’s too easily done, especially when one is in a hurry. You can set up a filter to “skip the inbox and delete” (thank you Google) and then never even see it in your spam box. It’s not that easy when it comes to something printed. It may seem obvious, but with a postcard or flier, I have to hold it my hand to do anything with it all. I cannot simply toss out the whole stack or set it up on automatic. What if there is a check in there somewhere? Oh, the horror…

My point is not to discourage anyone from taking advantage of “soft” promotion and marketing. The point is that one should be diverse in one’s method of communication. While personal computers have become a necessity in our lives and work, not everyone wants to spend their entire day glued to an Internet-enabled device. Even in the software industry this holds true. There are many different roles in this business that require one to be untethered from a monitor and a desk.

Neither medium is particularly cheap or easy, and one may be better for a given situation than another. In our case it’s a lot simpler to create a variety of promotional pieces and mail them out than it is for us to decide on a group of keywords for all of our current and potential Web ads. In my research into the subject of keywords, especially in the area of SEO, there seems to be a lot of deliberate obfuscation and “mysticism” that baffles me at times.

Frankly, I’ve gotten such good response directly and indirectly from printed materials that I often prefer to use them. The numbers reflect it. X thousand pieces of promotion go out—postcards, fliers, newsletters, etc.—Y amount of business comes in. It’s not a ratio that’s set in stone but it’s proven successful.

As one looks at one’s marketing activity as a whole, it has to be evaluated what mix of soft and hard promotion best communicates the company’s message. The hype that surrounds Web ads, Social Media and SEO is sometimes true, but how many people really know how to use those tools effectively? So don’t rule out the traditional means of promotion which can be just as, if not more, effective than any electronic medium.
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