Analog Marketing Strategies for a Digital World

Do you remember walking by telephone poles at downtown intersections 10 or 20 years ago and seeing them covered in fliers, placards, and notices? If it was a really popular intersection, there were probably several layers of paper pinned, tacked, taped, and stapled on top of each other.

If the telephone pole was wooden, you could see generations of old staples and tacks still biting deep into the wood, years after the fliers they originally held had been ripped down, blown away, or covered over.

These days there’s a lot less of that. People no longer view busy intersections as part of their marketing strategies, and advertisers of all stripes have found the Internet and social media to be much more fertile ground for their marketing energy.

This does not mean, however, that the strategies underlying past advertising campaigns are irrelevant in the Internet age. In fact, if we look deeper, we can see how many of the old analog marketing approaches are still relevant in a digital world.

Think for a moment about the types of advertisements and notices that once were typically placed on those telephone poles. Notices for yard and garage sales were common; many (though not all) of those have migrated to Craigslist and eBay. Tear-off notices for yoga classes and landscaping services have been replaced by websites for myriad small businesses. Appearances for local and traveling musical groups are now advertised on those groups’ websites and heavily marketed online by the venues hosting them.

The need to get the word out about your product or service is as old as business itself. Only the means to that end have changed.

On What Do You Pin Your Marketing Hopes Today?

Busy intersections have a long history as great marketing sites. After all, for literally hundreds of years, weekly markets (the root of our word “marketing”) were held in the busiest intersection of any town that was home to more than a few dozen inhabitants. It was here that everything from apples to zucchinis, aprons to horseshoes were sold, traded, and bartered among people who grew to know each other well over the course of their lives.

Ultimately, it is the need to build trusting relationships between vendors and customers that is the key to successful marketing, even today. In this digital age, we seldom know our customers personally or live in the same area. Yet the need to establish a relationship — usually with a brand rather than an individual — remains a key component of a successful business transaction.

This is where Pinterest excels. Whereas telephone poles were pinned with posters for movies and bands loved by their fans, Pinterest pages are pinned with just about anything loved by their fans, from classic cars to lemon bars. A memorable or eye-catching image can be repinned by hundreds, even thousands — which is great for getting the images related to your brand flowing across computer and mobile screens, around the country, and across the globe.

Plus, as marketing experts will tell you, it’s not about pinning images of your products (except in infrequent, very specific instances). Instead, it’s about creating a relationship between your product and the lifestyle of your customers. When you do this, you build a relationship with potential customers, who will remember the image — and your brand — when it comes time to make a purchase.

‘Let Your Fingers Do the Walking’

Remember this great telephone book slogan? Earlier generations probably sometimes felt like they were hunting for a needle in a bright yellow haystack when they tried to find what they needed to purchase, and that big book with its yellow pages was a huge help, organized and cross-referenced as it was.

In the digital marketing age, fingers still do the walking, searching for needles in electronic haystacks that now span the globe. The good news is that your customer’s fingers can be much more productive now, flicking and tapping electronic screens and keyboards, than they ever could be flipping through yellow pages.

Complex algorithms have replaced simple cross-referencing, and the search itself has actually been greatly simplified. Say your customer wants to purchase a lightweight cashmere sweater. A dip into those yellow pages required the understanding that sweaters could be purchased at department stores — but with the Internet, customers can search directly for the sweater itself. Not only that, customers can choose the size, design, and color of the sweater, make the purchase, and even have it shipped with a gift tag directly to another recipient — thus creating a marketing relationship with the gift recipient as well as the purchaser. All this with some fancy finger-walking!

Business Cards and Sales Calls

Business cards, Rolodexes, and frequent flier miles were other analog attempts to develop those relationships, which are at the heart of any successful marketing campaign. Traveling salesmen (and sometimes women) have a long and storied history in our culture, and the analog telephone was often critical to the successful attainment of that monthly sales quota.

Today, we still have business cards, but increasingly they are electronic in nature and carry far more information than those cardboard rectangles could ever handle. QR codes have multiplied the volume of information easily transmitted to potential customers, while complex electronic databases of customer purchasing history and preferences have led to the creation of increasingly individualized and targeted marketing campaigns. Such personalized promotions are reinventing the sales pitch while still incorporating the need to develop relationships with customers in order to meet their particular needs and desires.

Meanwhile, videoconferencing has transformed the lifestyle of salesmen and women and probably also enriched — or even rescued — many of their personal relationships in the process. The Internet’s capacity to instantaneously carry complex information around the globe has also led to all sorts of new types of collaborative ventures. While competition is still inevitable in the business environment, the cooperative relationships that form between companies are transforming the marketing landscape with all sorts of fruitful cross-pollination.

‘Relationship’ is the New ‘Location’

Back in the days when marketing meant “going to market,” sales success was also about location: the best street corner for your market stall or the best intersection in town to set up your wares. When marketing transitioned to telephone poles, it was about figuring out which poles were in the prime locations in town.

Now, with many products and services, the entire world is your location. Getting noticed is not about where your company has its business but about how it gets found in Internet searches.

This means having a good relationship, not with the owner of the place where you wish to place your market stall or business flyer, but with the search engine giants who control what your customers’ fingers find when they go walking. Search engine algorithms prefer fresh, original content, and keeping your business website relevant with regular blog updates is an excellent way to nurture relationships with existing customers, casual browsers, and search engines alike.

The fundamentals of relationship development, which drove the analog marketing of prior generations, are the same as those driving the digital revolutions of today. The end is the same; only the telephone poles have changed.

Scott Yates is the CEO and cofounder of BlogMutt, where he "works like a dog to fill up your blog." BlogMutt solves the challenge of limited time and resources for small and mid-sized business owners by providing relevant and affordable blog content for its clients on a weekly basis.

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