Not Your Father's Traditional Marketing: Lessons for Word of Mouth and Social Media Marketing

by Karl Walinskas

Here's some advice for making the most of today's nontraditional marketing techniques.

Why Traditional Marketing Fails

Billions are spent each year on marketing campaigns that end up leaving the clients who finance it dissatisfied or, worse yet, broke. A ton of time and resources are spent on pointless brand awareness that doesn’t connect to buying habits of the public (this is not saying that all brand awareness is pointless), humor for humor’s sake, and even targeting too large an audience and diluting the efforts. We’ve all heard stories of startups who spent millions on Super Bowl TV spots that got a good laugh and initial buzz, but didn’t provide sustainable revenues to support the eventual Chapter 11 superstar. Good marketing today is non-traditional marketing, with steps to measure marketing agencies and partners, leverage and create word of mouth marketing opportunities, and tapping traditional tactics as well as the new social media marketing of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others.

Non-Traditional Marketing Drives Sales

Top non-traditional marketer Adair Witmer of The “W” Partners recommends that any marketing activity a small business undertakes must be able to be measured with respect to sales. Sales is the entire reason for marketing in the end, and even for non-sales professionals like engineers who lead firms, sales is an acceptable four letter word to not only say but measure marketing efforts against.

Start with the sales funnel, where all activities engaged in at the top eventually separate the wheat from the chaff and end up trickling sales out the bottom. The better your traceability of activities in, your trickle can turn into a fire hose with higher conversions of opportunities. The best marketing pros interview clients going in and examine actions into the funnel, such as brand awareness activities. How do people connect your brand with buying habits for your product? If you are advertising in print, for instance, how can you ensure that readers end up buying or at a minimum taking actions further down into the sales funnel that start to qualify them as buyers? For traditional media this is usually done with offer codes to track who is responding to a given ad or product placement. For channel sales partners, are they analyzing their individual conversion rates from suspect to prospect to demo-attendee to buyer and providing your firm with reports every month? If not, how on earth would you know with any sort of predictability what is going to happen in any given period? Stepping up these metrics is non-traditional traditional marketing.

Luckily with current technology and the ubiquitous world of the internet playing a larger and larger role in small business marketing, it has become much easier to track effectiveness of funnel activities and measure marketing. Click-thru rates on banner ads and building landing pages that pace browsing prospects through each step of the sales process will demonstrate in your analytics how much falloff there is from initial interest until, in a full e-commerce sale, adding something to the shopping cart. There is still an art in setting it up and it is easier said than done. I use article marketing to promote my company website and get an extraordinary amount of my stuff replicated in cyberspace and linking back, but I still struggle with connecting that action with direct motivation of buying habits. In many cases, I may be providing the world with good free information and tips on small business, but perhaps only a select few will take that next step and want to hire me for the deep dive.

Word of Mouth Marketing Strategies

Traditional word of mouth marketing strategies still work--running special events, providing coupons or bonuses for existing customers to refer you, etc. Social media marketing has taken your father’s word of mouth campaigns and put them on steroids. The non-traditional new marketing via social media like Facebook and Twitter can be tracked and, when the seeds are planted correctly, cross the proverbial tipping point into viral success at a record pace not seen even five years ago. Here’s the challenge: how much can you control events using social media marketing? With 500 million subscribers and growing on Facebook, sometimes you have to plant seeds, wait, and test what the marketplace does with your promotion or brand. With so much competing white noise in the space, that answer could range from nothing to turning your company into an Internet rock star.

Marketing specialists like Adair Witmer use the difficult and time consuming tool of extensive market research to serve up her customers a plate of more up-front control. By speaking directly to target consumers of a client’s products, she finds out what pushes their motivational buttons enough to blog about a brand, tweet and re-tweet to their friends, give it the Facebook thumbs up, or promote it to niche LinkedIn groups. This up-front dialogue before throwing the bank vault at a social media marketing campaign provides small business owners with an affordable fighting chance at capturing existing passion for products that otherwise might be lost. They can then provide current customers with what are the most meaningful ways to get them vocal about products, companies and brands for their word of mouth marketing campaigns.

Virtual Vertical Market Specialists

One benefit of the new world of work, where vertical market specialists can use the tools of virtual technology to be hired guns, literally communicating around the world from anywhere, is that small businesses can now gain much easier and affordable access to world class talent. If your engineering or IT consulting company is struggling in the sales area, you can bring in experts in the sales discovery process to provide virtual training. Don’t know how to set up a company blog that works? There are top guns all over the planet who can set one up, make it fun, and even ghost blog for your CEO. The availability of these niche resources allows small companies to compete with the Fortune 500 and be bigger than ever to capitalize on the necessary dialogue to market and, ultimately, sell in the new world of non-traditional customer engagement.

Find more great non-traditional marketing tips at the Smart Blog. Post your case-studies you might find yourself in the next post. Karl Walinskas runs Smart Company Growth, a management consulting firm for small companies. His books, audio and other cool stuff can be found at the Shop Smart link.

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