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3 old-school marketing activities that still work

3 old-school marketing activities that still work Jeff Ferguson

I was born on the cusp of two distinct marketing generations.

Having graduated college in 1995 with degrees in Communications and Computer Science, one would think that I carefully planned my time at school to be completely prepared for the coming digital age of marketing. But to be perfectly honest, I had absolutely no idea what was coming.

My marketing and advertising classes focused more on the classic strategies and activities. You know, things like target audience determination, setting communication goals, media mix decisions, and so on. There were no discussions of keywords, bounce rates, or click-through rates -- heck, the only real mention of any form of digital media was that America Online or CompuServe might be something we could eventually include in our efforts.

During my first job interviews, my potential employers feverishly inquired just what I knew about this whole new "internet thing" that was happening. While I had heard of and even used the internet in school, I could in no way answer with any confidence that I was anywhere near prepared to take on the roles of what would become the modern marketer. That is, until my first student loan invoice arrived.

Suddenly, I began to change my tune. I started answering that I was a dyed-in-the-wool internet marketing expert.

Because of this interesting mix of traditional and digital media, I approached digital media not as a separate marketing discipline, but as a new opportunity within the confines of marketing strategy. Unfortunately, I was one of a very few who looked at things this way -- and as digital media grew, it was always segregated from the rest of the marketing and advertising teams.

However, marketing and advertising best practices will simply not be ignored, even in the digital age. This is why we see time-tested marketing tactics presented as something new and different over and over again, like that special friend who just somehow discovered Led Zeppelin yesterday. This is also how we've ended up with "new" strategies like "inbound marketing," "content marketing," "growth hacking," and, dare I say it, "search engine optimization."

Then again, we've also lost as much as we've gained along this long strange road. Certain marketing and advertising activities are getting pushed to the side or even discarded as "old hat" -- when in fact, their disciplines are desperately needed and could make these digital media tools even more powerful.

With that in mind, I present three "old-school" marketing activities that are in desperate need of a successful comeback tour.

That's no keyword; it's your target audience

One of the horrendously bad habits of some of your less experienced search engine marketers is to jump right to keyword research before determining the target audience of the product or service that is being sold. When performing audits of existing paid search accounts or websites for organic search issues, this mistake stands out like the one guy who decides to dress up as Jar Jar at a sci-fi convention.

For instance, it would be really easy to just slap the name of the product, its product category, and some other quick thoughts into a keyword research tool, then run off and start buying those terms simply because "people are searching for them."

The problem is, while people may in fact be searching for and even clicking on those keywords, it doesn't mean they're the kind of terms that bring in people who have a strong chance of actually purchasing the product.

Here's a great example of some additional research that we pulled together for one client:

And this leads to even deeper data like this:

From here, you can start making some smart decisions on your keywords based on the type of activities your target audience is actually interested in. This also allows you to add in some really smart negative keywords based on everything that they are not. These terms usually present themselves during that keyword research phase, but without the proper determination of the target audience, you could waste thousands of dollars of the client's limited budget on terms that never should have been considered in the first place.

Usually, when I hear a client start a conversation about search engine marketing with something like, "We're ranking well for these terms, but we're just not making any money!" the absence of a proper understanding of the target audience is usually the cause.

Your media mix shouldn't be based on what you think is cool

One of my favorite jokes from this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner came from Joel McHale when he said, "Thanks to Obamacare…millions of newly insured young Americans can visit the doctor's office and see what a print magazine actually looks like."

While you can't help but laugh, it also reminds you that print advertising, something that was once a keystone of most media plans, is now a mere shadow of itself. The sadder thing is that this lack of use as an advertising medium has very little to do with readership and everything to do with a rush to use the new, shiny object in the room -- digital media. Although it's hard to argue its reach now, even in its infancy, before it had the reach it does today, digital media started stealing ad dollars from print and other "traditional media" without so much as a hint of research to discover if a product's target audience was even there.

This is a failing of an aspect of media planning called media mix or media usage analysis. This old-school marketing activity basically uses a collection of different data sources to determine, first and foremost, the types of media, including the internet, that your target uses on a regular basis.

For instance, here's some data that was part of a recent pitch that demonstrates this particular client's target audience is a heavy user of not only the internet (woo!), but also magazines, outdoor, and radio.

Without this type of research, the client may have jumped right into doing TV or newspapers, where their media buying activities would be the least cost-efficient.

Once you have this data in hand, media planners would usually work with other data sources to determine specific publications or websites. For instance, you may utilize comScore to determine a list of websites and programmatic ad networks that make for great candidates to become a part of the final media plan. Additionally, you can work with Google to determine other specific media usage habits, such as their propensity for mobile and tablet usage.

After you have all this data in hand, you can finally start the process of determining how much of your budget should be allocated to specific media tactics like paid search, display, mobile, and so on.

Don't have access to MRI, comScore, and a direct line to Google data? Trust me, with enough research, you can find out plenty of information about your target audience via sites like MarketingCharts.com, Compete, and countless others. But let me assure you, having the good data close by makes those arguments that the entire campaign should be TV-based a lot shorter.

So, the next time your boss/client bursts in and says they want to "own mobile," remind them that you're not even sure if you target is using the internet, much less doing so on mobile devices.

Your public relations team makes the best link builders

I have a confession to make: While my agency does a lot of work in the area of search engine optimization (SEO), I really don't believe that SEO as a profession should have ever come into existence. And while this belief doesn't stop me from taking on new SEO clients each year, it has influenced the way that we do business.

To me, SEO is really a collection of marketing and site development best practices that any self-respecting website owner should be doing anyway, even if Google and the other search engines didn't exist. Basically, with a rare exception (that I won't go into here), everything that has been claimed as an SEO activity these days was probably much better off in the hands of an assortment of other functions within an organization.

One of these functions in particular is "link building," the practice of creating links back to a website purely in the name of improving organic search ranking for specific keywords. This is one of those aspects of Google's page ranking algorithm that I really wish they had kept to themselves because, as with every other aspect that has been revealed, the first thought that seems to cross the SEO's mind is, "How can I exploit this newfound knowledge?" -- rather than realizing that a lack of links to a website may be the cause for poor organic search performance.

Over the past few years, Google has made considerable efforts to update its algorithm to catch those that have wielded link building as an unfair weapon in the battle for expanded reach in organic search. With each update, you can hear the cries of some SEOs who somehow felt they were being singled out as some sort of monster for doing what is basically cheating. As a response, Matt Cutts and many other Google representatives have done their best to explain what a more naturally occurring link to a website might look like; however, most SEOs are still at a loss as to how these links could actually come about.

Those of us who have even the most basic knowledge of the old-school marketing activity called public relations recognized this sage advice almost immediately -- it's called "getting coverage," and PR professionals have been doing it for years.

While SEOs have been sliding links into comments on various websites, using deep crawl data to discover old links that lead to bad links, and creating networks of thin content purely for the sake of linking to deep content, public relations professionals have been building relationships, working the phones, and working with members of the press to get the word out about their clients' products and services. And in this day and age of digital media, that coverage usually has a really great link back to the website -- and Google and the other search engines eat it up like digital candy to a digital baby.

We don't need more "tips and tricks"

If you search the web for advice on how to improve the amount of traffic to your website or how to better promote your business, you will no doubt come across blog post after blog post pushing a myriad number of tips, tricks, hacks, or other tom foolery. You know, stuff that "the big websites don't want you to know." Basically, you're being sold "marketing best practices" the same way that shysters sell snake oil on late night television.

What we need now is more marketing professionals who use digital media as one of their tools instead of button pushers who don't understand how the button works -- or why they're even pushing it in the first place.

So the next time your boss or client asks, "How can we turn things up a notch here?" tell them you want to go old school and actually do some real marketing.

Jeff Ferguson is the CEO of Fang Digital Marketing.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Jeff Ferguson is the CEO of Fang Digital Marketing (www.fangdigital.com), an advertising media agency specializing in internet marketing, including search engine marketing, display, social, and mobile. With almost 20 years of online marketing...

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Commenter: Justin Belmont

2014, May 30

Fascinating article, Jeff! A lot of articles about marketing in the digital age completely write off old-school marketing, but there are still valuable approaches from the old-school style. On our blog, we have a post about the challenge of developing a marketing strategy that will make an impact (http://blog.prosemedia.com/the-challenges-to-formulating-a-marketing-strategy-that-makes-an-impact/), and one of the things we mention is that you have to learn and react to data. This article has a well-put together argument as to why that's so important. Great job!