How the Internet is changing the local marketing game

Hours in front of the television have moved to YouTube, Facebook and computer games. People still watch television; however, technology such as PVR ensures that most viewers only see commercials when they go by at full speed.

This shift in consumer behavior has turned the fourth ‘P’ of the marketing mix (Product, Price, Place, and Promotion) upside down. In the old days, promotion was pretty easy. A good ad in the phone book or a catchy radio ad when driving meant the phone kept ringing and customers found it. For additional exposure, try a direct mail campaign or place a coupon in your local business directory. Who cares what message it is that pushes your campaign to ‘critical mass’ with your target group? Each media option was like an invisible puzzle piece that triggered purchasing behavior. This ‘marketing mix’ is the reason for the old adage “I know I’m wasting half my advertising budget, but I don’t know which half.” We understood that repetition is the key to gaining that essential ‘mind share’ with customers. Exposure equals business.

My clients report that what used to work just fine no longer works. One recently shared with me that he tracks his ad spending ‘like a man possessed’ and has seen his ROI in the phone books go from 7:1 to barely breaking even. If you are a small business owner, this probably sounds familiar to you.

Consumers just aren’t using old media like they used to. Recent statistics on Internet usage back this up. According to the Atlanta-based Media Research Group, The Kelsey Group:

– 70% of North American households use the Internet as a source of information when purchasing products and services locally.

– 31% of all business buyers first turn to a search engine when looking for a local product or service.

– 25% of all business searches on the Internet are made by users looking for local merchants.

– 43% of all Google searches include a geographic identifier.

– 86% of those people follow up with a phone call.

– 61% of callers make a purchase offline.

For marketers, relevance and relationships have replaced the “shotgun” approach. Customers turn to Google and social networks. Google cares about relevance; Social media is all about attention. In other words, customers find you with Google and then stay connected with you through Facebook. Relationships replace repetition.

Most business owners have heard that social media is essential. What does that mean? A customer may come across it while researching a purchase, but isn’t ready to buy yet. Facebook keeps them connected if you give them a reason to like you. National TV ads ask for Facebook likes without giving customers any compelling reason to do so. This seems eerily familiar to the dot-com debacle of the late 90s, when too many dumb decisions were made in a hurry and billions of dollars wasted before it was properly understood. Many so-called “experts” emerged and preyed on the not yet Internet savvy, draining the resources of Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike. History has a habit of repeating itself…

Businesses need to understand how important it is to become relevant to Google. Page rank is not for sale. There is a process to classify well. Companies need to learn this. As in the early days of the dot-com boom, some opportunists have emerged. Many businesses receive multiple offers each week from SEO (search engine optimization) companies that promise incredible results and charge outrage fees. SEO is definitely an important part of a successful web presence; however, it is only one piece of the ‘new’ puzzle. There are plenty of other things to consider, like backlinks, autoresponders, lead capture pages, mini-sites, and social media campaigns, just for starters. It is important to educate yourself to understand exactly what is offered, how it works, in order to properly value these services.

The playing field has been leveled and local businesses can compete like never before. Campaigns can be tried, tested and improved at very low cost. There are no magic bullets with internet marketing. It’s still about finding the message that is most effective and then getting that message across to the right people.

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