There's no denying that we live in the digital age - and with the unstoppable growth of smartphones and tablets, more and more advertisers are focusing their efforts online. It's true that digital marketing can pay off, but it's not a magic bullet. In fact, a 2016 survey by Econsultancy reported that just 22% of businesses are satisfied with the conversion rates they get from their online marketing.
So, what's a business to do? Well, if you're looking to reach out to customers, it would be a huge mistake to ignore the non-digital world. The more time we spend online, the more accustomed we become to digital marketing - and the easier it is to ignore it altogether. Brands may feel encouraged by the ads that go viral, but sadly these are few and far between.
It's still now, far easier to make a memorable impact by taking your marketing tactics offline and into the real world. These old-school marketing tactics still see excellent results, even in the 21st century.
#1 - Flyers/Handouts
Be honest: how often do you click on an online ad? Most of us see thousands every day - so many that we tend to ignore them. But it's much harder to ignore a smiling, friendly, real live person in front of you with a colourful flyer.
If your business operates in a local area, then flyers are the perfect choice to immediately raise awareness of special offers, promotions, sales and events. They're cost-effective, quickly distributed, and much harder to dismiss than online ads.
Choose a location and time of day with high footfall and consider who you're going to be targeting - if you want to focus on parents, then distribute handouts near the school gates.
If you're after commuters, it's easy enough to set up a position near the train station. While it's true that some flyers will end up in the bin, customers will still pay them more attention than an online banner ad.
#2 - Branded Items and Promos
One of the easiest ways to get your brand out there is by using people who have already become customers to promote for free. Branded items range from pens to tote bags and are a great way of quietly increasing name recognition. They can be particularly effective if you want to target a student market: at the start of the academic year, student clubs and societies love to gather as many branded items as possible for their giveaway goodie bags. Your key fob, USB key or ballpoint pen could soon be in the hands of thousands of young people.
This is a strategy that works at all levels of the market. From high-end Harrods shopping bags, Starbucks branded items to those oversized Sports Direct mugs, branded items can pay off. In some cases, branded promos can even become desirable items in and of themselves (think of the Bloomingdales brown bag, for example). Also, if that doesn't happen to your business, it's an easy, efficient way to spread the word.
#3 - Postal Offers
Every brand seems to have at least one mailing list these days, sending thousands of emails every week...and seeing them disappear into a black hole. We've all been there: you buy something online, or you harmlessly sign up for an email service that seems relevant at the time, only to be bombarded with messages that never get read.
In this day and age, you could have more success in an old-fashioned way: through the post. How can you monitor the success of this tactic? Set up a virtual number through services like eVoice which is specific to your postal offers. The virtual phone system will monitor the calls that come through that number.
Catalogues and mail-outs are more likely to catch potential customers' eyes than yet another email. This is particularly true if you are targeting older customers, who may still be reluctant to make online purchases.
#4 - Coupons
Coupons are another great way that the post can pay off for your business. Again, this works particularly well if you are interested in targeting a specific area, so coupons are an excellent choice for the locally-focused business. There's no denying the power of coupons: Statistica reports that in 2016, 45 percent of surveyed shoppers used coupons 'very often' or 'always' when visiting the supermarket. Everyone loves a discount. This is one of these old-school marketing tactics that will never go out of fashion.
While signing up for online coupon websites can be an option, the fees can be crippling for small businesses, and in the end, it might be more trouble than it's worth. What's more, by giving potential customers a coupon in the form of a physical object, you remove additional hurdles like downloading and printing, and therefore increase the chances that they'll use it.
#5 - Product Demonstrations
Real-time product demonstrations are a great way to engage with customers, answer questions, and let them get to know you and your business on a personal level. Food products are a natural choice for this: nothing attracts footfall like the smell of some sausages sizzling away. But more specialist products can find success here, too. Try booking space at an expo or conference where you're likely to encounter plenty of potential clients.
If your product demo draws a crowd, it'll be memorable and make an impact. After customers have the chance to experience your product hands-on, they'll feel more comfortable making purchasing decisions in the future. Plus, they'll have an opportunity to engage with you, and see the human face behind the business - something that's not exactly easy to achieve with online methods.
#6 - Loyalty Cards
It's human nature to want to complete something once you've started it. That's what turned Pokemon into a global phenomenon: the feeling that you had to catch 'em all. And this strategy can be applied to your business, too. Creating loyalty cards is definitely an old-school marketing tactic but that works!
These simple cards, stamped with each use, offer a discount or freebie after a certain amount of money is spent or a number of visits are made.
They're a great way to get customers to keep coming back to your establishment. While they're most commonly associated with food and drink products - think cafes, sandwich shops and ice cream parlours - they can also work in other contexts. Hairdressers, beauty salons, cleaning services and garages have all seen success from using these schemes.
#7 - Signs
Yes, this is seriously old-school marketing! Signs have existed as long as businesses have existed - and there's a reason for that. Don't underestimate the power of the sign. People are driving or walking past will be reminded of your business every day. It may not pay off immediately, but as time goes by, you will build significant brand recognition in the area and should see an increase in footfall.
A good sign can be a dangerous investment. For most customers, your sign will be the first time they see your business, so you need it to attract their attention for all the right reasons. Plus, you probably won't change your sign regularly, as your goal here is to encourage brand recognition and make sure people remember you. Take your time and put some thought into exactly how you want it to look.
#8 - Sign Spinners and On-Street Promos
Dressing up as a hotdog and directing people to a local cafe may not be many people's dream job, but it can certainly help get attention for your business. It's easy to find and hire friendly students who are willing to do these part-time jobs, and you'll generally find it to be a cost-effective option to raise brand awareness.
Again, this is all about getting potential customers to notice your business. Costumes are a bit of a gimmick, but they will undoubtedly get some attention, and they're hard to ignore. Of course, it all depends on who you're targeting. If you're looking to hit the higher end of the market, then you probably don't want someone in a lion costume outside your front door, but for many brands, this type of marketing can pay off.
That's particularly true if you want to build a reputation for being family-friendly - kids love wacky sign spinners, and never underestimate the almighty pester power that may result.
#9 - Radio Spots
TV advertising may not always be a wise investment, as more and more consumers turn to Netflix and other streaming services, or just TiVo their way through the ad break. Some online courses still tell us radio can still be a powerful medium. Most of us listen to the radio while we're in the car, so this is a great way to target commuters on their way to or from work. As a bonus, it's easy to target customers in your local area, or to focus on stations or shows which attract a particular age group.
Radio ads offer a blank canvas for creative copywriters. Jingles can be particularly useful here. We've all felt the power of a jingle that's got stuck in our head all day. Radio ads aren't used by startups and SMBs as much as before but this is really one of the old-school marketing tactics that give results when executed well. Now harness that power and build your customer base.
#10 - Word of Mouth
Is there anything that beats word of mouth when you're trying to build a customer base? Your potential clients may not trust a business that they don't know, but they certainly believe their friends and family members. Online reviews are undoubtedly useful and shouldn't be ignored by any means - but let's face it: if we're looking for a restaurant, hotel, or other service or product, we'll probably ask around our real-life contacts before getting onto Google to check out what strangers are saying.
How can you use your satisfied customers to create more customers? There's no easy answer to this. Building a good reputation depends on YOU: if you keep your customers happy, they'll help you in the future. You may want to experiment with an affiliate programme, where customers who refer newcomers receive some monetary compensation or gift.
This doesn't have to be large - even a small discount or token gift card is enough to make consumers feel appreciated. Your loyal existing customers will usually be happily converted to word-of-mouth marketers. The result? Everybody wins. A great way to create a word-of-mouth campaign at scale is by doing referral marketing. Get inspired by these referral marketing examples to know more about it.
How old-school marketing tactics can be a great complement to your digital marketing strategy?
There's nothing wrong with exploring the world of online advertising. It's fun, it's new, it's exciting, and it offers opportunities to experiment and try new things. But remember: don't put all your eggs in one basket.
If you focus exclusively on digital marketing, you're missing out on a whole world of opportunities. The fact remains that, even though we spend more and more time online and are rarely far away from our smartphones, customers want to engage with people in the real world. The all-important personal touch is tough to achieve from purely online strategies.
By neglecting the "real world", you run the risk of neglecting potential customers. Remember, these old-school marketing tactics have become classic for a reason: they are tried and tested and have resulted in success for thousands of businesses all over the world.
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