Marketing mistake #6: Failure to Change...Despite Clear Signs of Ineffectiveness

BtoB business magazine recently published the following statistics in an article titled, "Newspaper ad Revenue Declines for 20th Straight Quarter." Aggregate newspaper ad revenue has not posted an increase since the second quarter of 2006. Overall ad revenue declined 6.9% in the second quarter compared with that time last year. Print revenue fell 8.9% in the same time frame. A glimmer of light was provided by online ad revenue, which increased 8% in the second quarter.”This is another article in a long chronicle of the downward trend of the newspaper business. No surprise. And yet, I was struck by the reference to “a bright spot provided by online ad revenue” (which is clearly not the print newspaper business). It’s like hoping for someone on their death bed with a terminal condition to revive, check out the hospital and go home to a normal life.

My point is not the fate of the newspaper industry, but rather the marketplace and advertiser behavior in choosing effective marketing channels.

The challenge.

It’s critical to soberly review the effectiveness of newspaper advertising as a marketing channel. It's just that this media channel doesn’t draw the exposure it once did, but that it doesn’t fit the buyer process: doing research, evaluating resources, then choosing the product or service to purchase.

Part of the problem are the advertising techniques used. Newspapers are filled with “brand awareness” advertising, meant to generate awareness rather than a particular buyer response.

And what about readers: who reads newspapers today and why? Arguably, with so many other resources available, fewer people use print newspapers.

Push media in an earned attention marketplace.

Advertising noise is high. We have all developed an ability to block it out, to the point where we often don't even see the advertising anymore. Advertising is push media, trying to sell. People hate to be sold. However, people love to buy—and business buyers have a responsibility to do so. But they are looking for resources and relevant, useful content, not advertising.

So why do so many people still advertise? Why hasn’t the revenue fallen off even more sharply? Perhaps these are old habits, or simply lack of creativity or knowledge about strategies that can replace advertising. Perhaps some of these advertisers are acting magnanimously to sponsor this venerable institution. I certainly value investigative journalism and the right for citizens to understand what’s happening in the world. I optimistically anticipate journalism’s finding the right sponsors and formats in this evolutionary time. But there is still more pain ahead.

Mass media advertising is a huge chapter in the history of marketing. Ad agencies historically served as a connection between the makers of things wishing to advertise, and those who controlled mass media. At its peak, virtually everyone consumed the same media, and most markets were underserved. Advertisers could expect to sell their product as fast as they produced it. That all begin to turn in the 1980s. Today many markets are highly saturated and competitive.

“I get the news when I want to be informed. I do research when I want to buy.”

This is a simple concept, particularly relevant for expensive or important purchases. Marketers will do well to keep this in mind, as they consider how to attract and keep the attention of prospects.

Connecting with customers: Six alternatives to print advertising.

B2B content compels.

Is your product or service complex and expensive? Then your customers are doing a considerable amount of research to make a decision. Align with the buyer process of doing research, evaluating resources and then choosing the product or service. That means providing content for website, blog and live presentations, including articles, projected presentations, books and other content formats. It’s a long process, and not one that can rush the sales process. But with patience and consistency, content can compel, and with the right investments clients will come your way.

Awareness is fleeting.

Mass media advertising cannot generate awareness without concerted media presence over time. In effect, it is the use of financial muscle to stay on top of the heap. That can be a lot of money spent. But what does the actual ad usually do? Create awareness. However, awareness is fleeting in our fast-paced world, and hard to connect with outcomes...unless you buy Nielsen rating reports to track market share, which is usually only relevant if you are a big player in your category.

Activation: advertising with a mission.

On the other hand, Groupon has put the idea of promotion in the spotlight, as a successful way to bring in customers (my judgment on the ultimate success of the Groupon model is still out, but the principle is indisputable). The mission of activation is to generate a response, using a call to action, a limited time offer and immediately perceivable value. Activation uses time-honored direct response techniques and is immediately measurable. Read more on The Activation Imperative 

PR: the grandfather of earned media.

Yes, this is a discussion about alternatives to advertising, not PR. However, the spirit of PR is more relevant than ever to marketing today. We need to earn the attention of our audiences, not force ourselves upon them. The notion of “newsworthiness” applies here, and refers to a marketer developing information that clearly demonstrates the value of what they offer.

A press release is an advertising device, originally designed to pitch journalists. But press releases, like all other forms of marketing, have evolved. Now, the best use of a press release isn’t to persuade a journalist to write an article, but to provide customers factually written information about a company’s product or service—rather than sales-y marketing copy. (To connect with journalists, call directly...and be sure your story is a game-changer, not company news that is only of interest to your organization.)

Journalism is still a venue for marketing.

Today’s public relations programs also include reaching out to opinion leaders, bloggers and journalists publishing in a variety of media and topics. Journalists writing on issues relevant to the nature of a company’s product offering can be a good opportunity for ad placement. Product reviews are an example of embedding marketing into the editorial content. These journalists are increasingly specialists, experts with narrow audiences rather than the mass media of print newspapers. The rules of engagement are different.

Sponsorship still works.

Advertising is a form of sponsorship (and as the opening article suggests, advertisers are losing interest in sponsoring newspapers). Sponsorship can be highly relevant to customers in the right venues, when the advertiser’s content is closely tied to the topic of the venue. It becomes especially effective at events and other venues where the content is interactive and sponsors have an active role in adding value to the knowledge and education of the attendees.

SEO and keyword advertising.

In this increasingly “pull” and earned attention marketplace, organic search engine optimization trumps keyword advertising. Buyers prefer clicking on links in the body of a Google search screen than those in the paid listings. The perception is that these are more relevant, whereas paid links are advertising. Either way, both search optimization and keyword advertising are far more relevant and aligned to buyer interest than print, banner and broadcast advertising, due to relevance to the keywords being searched. What about buying keywords of competitors? More manipulation, another interruption strategy.

Nurture over time.

Do these techniques take more time to convert your customers? Absolutely. This is the consequence of saturated media and competitive markets. Transparency, consistency, value and relevance are the kings of courting customers today.

The last bastion of brand awareness advertising: the big boys.

Will advertising disappear completely? Absolutely not. The leading publications, as well as specialty journals will thrive. And there are plenty of advertisers who reap value from newspaper advertising investments. These are the big brands, who can both afford to and must stay in front of broad national or regional audiences. The key for small and midmarket business is not to become confused with companies that have deep mass media budgets, and the sophistication to integrate those advertising campaigns with all of the above techniques (and more) to retain and attract new customers.