6 Reasons Why Print Marketing Is Thriving

A few years ago, you might have heard marketers claiming we were facing the end of an era for print. Online marketing is cheap, available to almost any business owner, and capable of reaching a global audience, so it seemed like the natural order of things for print marketing to die out. But this isn’t the case at all.

A few years ago, you might have heard marketers claiming we were facing the end of an era for print. Online marketing is cheap, available to almost any business owner, and capable of reaching a global audience, so it seemed like the natural order of things for print marketing to die out. But this isn’t the case at all.

Print advertising spending has dropped only slightly in the past several years, and is projected to remain stable at roughly $24 billion per year in 2021 and beyond. Business owners are still relying on print marketing to spread word about their businesses, despite the advantages of digital marketing strategies. But why is this the case?

Lower Costs

First, the cost of printing has dramatically decreased over the past couple of decades, thanks in part to the availability of online services. Printing a brochure online, for example, is much cheaper than printing one at your local office supply shop. That’s because printing companies have invested in new equipment that can operate much more efficiently, and rely on digital files and tools to facilitate more efficient production. This is especially true of higher-run orders, where businesses can decrease their per-unit price to absurdly low levels. Ultimately, this keeps printed advertising strategies in line with digital marketing strategies in terms of cost.

Higher Accessibility

Printed materials also are more accessible than they’ve ever been in the past, again thanks to the prevalence of online tools. Most major printing companies offer online platforms where business owners can create an account, log in, manage their ongoing materials, lay out exactly how they want their items to look, and order something new with the click of a button. Rather than dealing with a salesperson or trying to navigate the complex world of technical printing requirements, they can navigate thousands of options in a simple, consolidated interface. This makes print more appealing than ever.

Mutual Existence

Traditional advertising and online marketing aren’t mutually exclusive. Naysayers proclaiming the end of traditional marketing tactics tended to assume that if a business was spending $60,000 a year on print marketing materials, they would soon shift to spend $60,000 a year on online marketing strategies. But this hasn’t been the case; instead, businesses would often split their budgets, spending $40,000 on print marketing and $20,000 on new online strategies. In some cases, businesses would simply increase their total budget, retaining their $60,000 traditional spending and experimenting with an additional $20,000 for online techniques. The success of online marketing in no way overrules or negates the power of printed materials.

Consumer Preferences

It’s also important to note that not everyone prefers consuming material in a digital format. About 10% of the U.S. population doesn’t use the Internet, basically rendering them unreachable through digital means. In addition to that, some people either prefer or are more easily persuaded by material that comes to them in a printed format; for example, they may like flipping through the pages of a physical booklet rather than browsing through online pages.

This factor is somewhat dependent on your target demographics. If your audience strongly prefers printed materials, or is better influenced by them, there’s no reason to switch to digital marketing.

Local Visibility

Printed ads tend to be more approachable for local businesses; it’s easier to distribute printed flyers and booklets around a neighborhood than it is to climb the search engine rankings for keyword terms related to your city (though this may also be possible). Accordingly, new businesses trying to cater to a local population tend to favor traditional, print-based advertising methods.

New Techniques and Integrations

It should also be known that the world of print marketing today is very different than it was 20 years ago. New techniques, and new integrations with other marketing technologies make it much more versatile—and powerful. For example, thanks to digital lists and inventive printing techniques, you can customize your printed ads with the individual names of your intended recipients. You can also use QR codes or other tactics to send your printed ad recipients to an online or digital destination.

The Caveats

Of course, this isn’t to say that print marketing is a perfect strategy in the modern era, or that it should be favored over online marketing. There are a wide range of tactics available, in both digital and printed formats, and how your business performs depends not only on which tactics you choose, but how well you execute them. A good high-level strategy, backed with research and grounded in creativity, will always succeed more than a poorly planned one, regardless of the specific tactics used to execute them. Keep that in mind as you plan your next strategy—and how your campaigns might evolve in the future.

Have We Ruined 1:1 Marketing? How the Corner Grocer Became a Creepy Intruder

When Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote “The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time” in 1993, the Internet was a mere twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. But direct marketers felt excited about 1:1 marketing, and even vindicated.

When Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote “The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time” in 1993, the Internet was a mere twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. But direct marketers felt excited, and even vindicated, about the promise of a future where data-driven personalization would deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time.

But now that it’s here, are consumers happy with it?

Recently, I had the students in my direct marketing course at Rutgers School of Business read the introduction to “The Complete Database Marketer” by Arthur Hughes, which was published in 1996 when only 22% of people in the U.S. had Internet access. In the intro entitled “The Corner Grocer,” Hughes explains how database marketing can connect marketers with their customers with the same personal touch that the corner grocer had by knowing all of his customers’ names, family members, and usual purchases.

The students then had to compare the 1996 version of database marketing, as described by Hughes, with the current state of online direct/database marketing, where data collection has been enabled by e-commerce, social media, and search engine marketing.

  • What marketing innovations has technology enabled that didn’t exist before?
  • How has online marketing enhanced the concept of database marketing?
  • How have new marketing techniques and technologies changed consumer behavior?
  • How has social media affected direct/data-driven marketing for the marketer and the consumer?
  • What are some of the fundamental differences between the challenges and opportunities that today’s online marketers face vs. those that the 1996 database marketer faced?

Most of these digital natives were born after Hughes’s book was published. The students experience digital marketing every day, and they’ve seen it evolve over their lifetimes. While they concede that the targeted ads they experience are usually relevant, several of them noted that they don’t feel they have been marketed to as individuals; but rather, as a member of a group that was assigned to receive a specific digital advertisement by an algorithm. They felt that the idealized world of database marketing that Hughes described in 1996 was actually more personal than the advanced algorithmic targeting that delivers ads to their social media feeds. Hughes told the tale of Sally Warner and her relationship with the St. Paul’s Luggage Company that started with returning a warranty card and progressed with a series of direct mail and telemarketing. For example, knowing that Sally Warner had a college-bound son, St. Paul’s sent a letter suggesting luggage as a graduation gift. Hughes describes the concept of database marketing:

“Every contact with the customer will be an opportunity to collect more data about the customer. This data will be used to build knowledge about the customer. The knowledge will be used to drive strategy leading to practical, directly personal, long-term relationships, which produce sales. The sales, in turn, will yield more data which will start the process all over again.”

But Arthur couldn’t foresee the data collection capabilities of Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Amazon. Instead of the friendly corner grocer, database marketers have become a creepy intruder. How else could an ad for a product my wife had searched for at Amazon on her laptop generate an ad for the same product in my Instagram feed? (Alright, I will concede that we use the same Amazon Prime membership, but really?) We don’t have a smart speaker in the house, and I dread to think about how much creepier it could become if we did.

Recently, while visiting someone who has a Google Home assistant, I asked about the level of spying they experienced in exchange for the convenience of having voice-activated control over their household lights and appliances. They responded by asking, “Google, are you spying on us?”

The smart speaker replied, “I don’t know how to answer that question.”

Have we ruined 1:1 marketing?

Do you know how to answer that question? Tell me.

SEOs: Should You Seek Continuing Education or Certification, Teach Yourself, or Hire Someone?

SEO is an integral part of online marketing and is now included in most marketing curricula offered at colleges. Additionally, there are numerous certification courses offered by tool vendors and various organizations. There is also many SEOs who either learned on the job or are self-taught.

SEO is an integral part of online marketing and is now included in most marketing curricula offered at colleges. Additionally, there are numerous certification courses offered by tool vendors and various organizations. There is also many SEOs who either learned on the job or are self-taught.

Because almost every resume for an online marketer includes a reference to SEO proficiency, the question remains how to evaluate the depth of learning and level of competency of these candidates. Many very experienced SEOs have never studied SEO as part of a curriculum of study.

When I first started working in search, there were just a few online guides and some excellent forums for those wanting to discuss and solve problems. The entire industry was new and evolving. Most SEOs learned through the proverbial school of hard knocks — success, failure. Their colleagues/peers were the teachers, conferences provided extremely valuable learning opportunities.

In today’s business environment, I would not want to trust a key portion of my marketing to an amateur using trial and error. But that was the way it was. Schools are reopening, so I’d like to use this opportunity to provide a few tips for those who are hiring SEOs for their projects.

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Technical SEO is a mixture of both left and right brain skills. A single semester course, certification course, or module will not provide the depth of skill needed to helm a large SEO project.

Not everyone learns SEO through official training. Many SEOs with technical/marketing experience will not have the academic coursework, but they often have learned SEO on the job.

On the other hand, coursework can provide a new hire the necessary knowledge to execute tactical steps on even a very large project.

A marketer who does not have a passing knowledge of code (can read and understand what the code instructions say) and how sites are architected must rely on programmers and other more technically proficient personnel. This is not ideal, for the technical team. The SEO must work collaboratively and in tandem to solve problems and achieve business results. It has been years since I personally wrote code, but I have found it a valuable skill to be able to read, understand and critique what the programmers have created.

Tools Are Just Tools

SEO is the home of the online tool junkie. There are literally dozens of toolsets available for almost every task — from keyword selection to analyzing the finished product. Some of the tools have a steep learning curve, others are very easy to learn and are almost intuitive. If your business has an already defined toolset used for SEO, then it makes sense to search for a candidate who is familiar with your chosen toolset.

To help deal with the need for measuring proficiency, some tool providers offer certifications (for example, Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics). A certified candidate offers the hiring managers a measure of confidence in the candidates’ competency.

However, tools are just tools. A candidate with lots of valuable skills, and who’s maybe even certified on a different toolset, but unfamiliar with your toolset, may still be the best candidate.

Tools are constantly changing, and SEOs must adapt to a fluid tool environment.

Hire the Lifelong Learner

The candidate, whether for an in-house SEO job or from an agency pitching for your business, who claims to know everything about SEO is waving a bright red flag. If a candidate does not have a bottomless curiosity and a rich set of sources of information to consult for continuous learning, their skills will quickly stale and become outdated and obsolete.

Hire the lifelong learner with a broad portfolio of skills for your technical SEO, and you will not go wrong.

In a Digital Era, Trade Show Interactions Still Matter

In today’s digital-first ecosystem, it’s easy for businesses and their clients to build high-value connections without ever meeting face-to-face, yet many industries continue to present at trade shows. What motivates these efforts?

In today’s digital-first ecosystem, it’s easy for businesses and their clients to build high-value connections without ever meeting face-to-face, yet many industries continue to present at trade shows. What motivates these efforts?

Unlike online marketing and networking, trade shows offer opportunities for businesses to perform recon on their competitors, track industry trends, and build supplier and distributor relationships. From a competitive perspective, then, trade shows are a must-attend event — but that doesn’t mean technology hasn’t changed how these shows operate.

Pre-Show Assessments

Trade shows last a few days, but anyone who’s spent time on the circuit knows that the majority of the work takes place before you arrive.

Businesses need to build pre-show media connections to boost publicity, perform research to determine the best shows to attend, and plan their presentation, from giveaways to booth display. Luckily, technology is helping businesses reduce the costs associated with participating in trade shows, particularly through the use of AI to select shows.

One option is using the program SummitSync. Companies can map past conference and trade show participation against internal CRM data to determine whether attending a given event will be beneficial to them. This allows the company to estimate their ROI on a given conference and only attend those that are the best use of their time and resources.

The B2B Advantage for Trade Shows

Unlike many digital marketing efforts, attendance at trade shows isn’t typically focused on building connections with individual customers. Instead, trade shows lean heavily on the B2B angle, connecting companies with each other and, in the case of manufacturers, providing opportunities for one-on-one interactions with distributors.

Since it’s much harder to target distributors via online marketing campaigns, trade shows are a powerful setting for promotion, negotiation, and product demonstration. Shows also offer companies a chance to solidify previously digital relationships and consolidate brand loyalty.

Certain industries place a special emphasis on trade shows and consider them an essential element in their marketing practices. The specialty foods market, for example, which is projected to control 20% of market share in the next few years, has always relied heavily on trade shows as part of their distribution and sales model.

Using aggressive educational campaigns and an appeal to health, fresh food, and interest in local eating, specialty food brands have long used trade shows to get their products on shelves around the country. Other niche brands can learn a lot from food companies’ practices.

Industries in Transition

Ultimately, trade shows provide valuable insight into changing market trends, and this is the greatest motivation for companies to attend.

At this year’s L.A. Textile Show, brands demonstrated how they’re embracing sustainable fashion, integrating technology and textiles, and centering activism in their work. Though the show isn’t one of the largest yet, the producers are focused on becoming a must-attend show for the industry. That means promoting the show online, demonstrating the quality of past events, and encouraging attendees to act as boosters, advertising their planned attendance at the 2019 event.

Business relationships today take place largely online, but it’s time to rethink this kind of digitization. Though online networking can form the foundation for professional connections, email will never replace a handshake and one-on-one demo. That’s where the trade show comes in: to roll data and direct connection into one powerful event.

Why Your Next CEO Might Be Your CDO

The primary job of a CDO is to help a company become more fluent in digital channels and infuse a digital DNA into the culture of a company. The end goal is to have all departments feel as comfortable in the digital medium as with print and events.

I’ve been a Senior VP of Digital, Executive VP of Digital, and Chief Digital Officer (CDO) the bulk of my 25-year career. I’ve served in this role for B2B, enthusiast, and book publishers … and in privately-owned, private-equity-backed, and publicly-traded companies. I have always said that the “Chief Digital Officer” is merely a temporary role, so a recent article from FIPP discussing CDOs becoming CEOs caught my eye.

In a media company, I believe the primary job of a CDO is to help a company become more fluent in digital channels and infuse a digital DNA into the culture of a company … from content and production, to audience development, marketing and sales. You might even have a fully separate digital department during this transition time to help execute the strategy while the rest of the company is learning and still focused on the traditional parts of the business.

The end goal of a CDO is to have all departments and personnel feel just as comfortable in the digital medium as with print and events, and to look across all potential channels options for the best ways to serve their readers and advertisers. A company has turned the corner when the digital innovation no longer comes from the CDO and the digital department, but from the “traditional” editors, sales, production and audience development teams. If this culture transformation is successful, the responsibilities for digital will be re-integrated into their rightful departments within the company.

When this transition happens, a CDO is no longer really needed to lead digital innovation or execution. Instead, the role of the digital team changes to more of an IT function focused on customer-facing technology: hosting, web / app development, systems integration, data management, and internal user support and training. The CDO either must shift to more of an CTO/CIO role overseeing digital technology and operations or find another CDO opportunity elsewhere.

There is one other option, however … the CDO could transition into the CEO role.

If you have been a truly successful Chief Digital Officer, you have a unique perspective on the entire media company. Typically you have worked closely with the CEO and CFO and been involved with C-suite and board-level strategy, decision-making, and communication. You understand the financial and business dynamics of the company, not just for digital, but for the legacy parts of the business as well. You have a clear picture of your customer base, what drives revenue, the cost factors, the competitive landscape, and your key business partners and vendors.

You have also interacted closely with all departments of the company. You’ve learned how editorial, production, ad sales, ad operations, marketing, and audience development all work, understand how they fit together, speak the language of each department, and have heard their needs and ideas. You’ve had to communicate a vision that they understand, believe in, and can rally behind. Leadership and communication skills are critical.

But a good CDO is also so much more than just a digital technology advocate. They realize that, while digital is critically important to the future of any media company, it is only part of the picture and must fit with the rest of the business. The goal isn’t so much to drive digital specifically as it is to grow the entire business.

Given all of this, the Chief Digital Officer is perhaps more uniquely equipped to take on the role of CEO than any other person within the organization. Certainly there is even more that a CDO would need to learn to successfully make the transition. But I believe that what happened at Hearst with Troy Young taking over as CEO and Jeff Litvack taking over as CEO of AdWeek are bell-weather moments for the publishing industry. Personally, I expect to see even more examples of CDOs becoming CEOs in the coming years.

The Facebook Tornado and Other Threats to a Static Plan

The world of online marketing is in perpetual flux. Anticipating change and being ready to adjust for it is the only way for marketers to thrive in this environment. And this month’s challenge to the digital marketing equilibrium has been the announcement of Facebook’s algorithmic update.

The world of online marketing is in perpetual flux. This constant vertigo is caused by many things, including technological progress, competitive or market pressures, and new consumer expectations. Anticipating change and being ready to adjust for it is the only way for marketers to thrive in this environment. Easier said, than done. And this month’s challenge to the digital marketing equilibrium has been the announcement of the algorithmic update to Facebook.

Facebook is a priority investment for many brands. Marketers have been wooed with flexible and effective consumer access in an interactive environment, with the added appeal that it only partly feels like an ad environment. Because of these benefits, brands have come to invest and rely heavily on this platform they neither own nor can control.

The pros and cons, tweaks and modifications in response to the Facebook changes have been covered fully by many experts by now and should not be a huge obstacle for marketers. Assuming you are on top of the changes and have created an agile team and approach, this latest disruption represents only a tactical change — one in a long line of continuing adjustments to strategy, execution, budgeting and reporting wrought by outside influences.

The interruption of carefully prepared strategies and programs only highlights the value found in a nimble mindset. How do online marketing folks prepare for success?

  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify your marketing plans to include many touchpoints across your customers’ journey.
  • Don’t overinvest in any platform or environment that you don’t control. If you are going to play in the walled gardens of Facebook or Amazon or other environments where you have little control, be sure do so with purpose and not exclusively. Make sure you build direct relationships outside of those walled gardens. Capture customer or other critical data in your own environments and use appropriate CRM or other touchpoints to maintain a direct relationship.
  • Continue to test. Use the information return that digital provides to fuel constant optimization.
  • Budget and plan by quarter, if you can. If not, create a process that is change friendly. You can’t predict or plan too far ahead if the short to mid term horizon is shifting.
  • Make sure your brand stays relevant. Even the smartest marketing plan won’t overcome a poorly conceived offering or product. Keep in touch with consumers via research and influencer or advocate relationships to understand your brand’s current place in their (also) shifting lives. Checking in frequently will provide you with an early warning system for any dissatisfaction or shift in interest.
  • Use all your levers. You have more variables to test and change then just where to advertise or how to advertise. Think about sales distribution channels, pricing, product bundling, product variations like packaging, size, flavors, colors, etc…
  • Use each environment for one or several particular purposes creating a portfolio approach that covers all your needs. Measure each according to the particular objectives and the whole of your portfolio of marketing investments according to your overall goals.
  • Track competitor spending, messaging, activity and trends. See what they are testing and watch their progress. Social environments offer an open lab rich with insights.
  • Stay in touch with the broader world trends that are siphoning consumer attention. Choose your opportunities to either compete with world news and events or sit on the sidelines to avoid wasting money or connecting the brand to unrelated or unwelcome events.
  • Look for efficient media forms. Being able to choose CPA or bid pricing models gives you some certainty that will help your budget. However, the media cost is a meaningless metric without the cost per conversion or other performance measures that tell you the true cost of your effort.
  • Don’t jump into long term media contracts without aggressive out clauses or performance guarantees. Things change too fast to make that a good bet. This is putting the premiums of sponsorships and other time-based visibility options in question.
  • Look for opportunities to test out new stuff and stay ahead of changes that will impact your business. Dedicate resources or create a lab environment that rewards internal innovation.
  • Find great partners. With so much to know and keep up with it is helpful to have talents outside of your own team’s expertise. Great partners will help educate you and your team and extend your value.

For Millennials, Direct Marketing Books Aren’t Catching Up

Lucy and Ethel on the Chocolate Factory conveyor belt faced a daunting task. That’s what it must like to try to create a current direct response marketing book.

direct marketing books
Direct marketing books | Credit: Chuck McLeester

Lucy and Ethel on the Chocolate Factory conveyor belt faced a daunting task. That’s what it must like to try to create a current direct response marketing book.

I’ve been teaching as an adjunct for more than 10 years — mostly advertising research and marketing courses. But only recently have I had the opportunity to teach a class devoted entirely to direct response. When I began to put the course together for Rowan University, I was looking for a general direct marketing book that students could acquire inexpensively (used on Amazon or another used book site) that I would supplement with additional resources. I came up empty.

The available direct marketing books rely heavily on mail as a medium with a lot of content about lists and crafting direct mail letters. I could only imagine the eye-rolls I’d be looking at standing in front of a group of Millennials talking about direct mail lists.

The standards I’ve relied on for years, Ed Nash’s “Direct Marketing” and Bob Stone’s “Successful Direct Marketing Methods” (updated by Ron Jacobs) haven’t been revised since 2000 and 2007, respectively. Lisa Spiller and Martin Baier had published a textbook for Pearson, but the third and most recent edition from 2010 is out of print. Some books, like Dave Shepherd’s “The New Direct Marketing” (1999) and Arthur Hughes’s “The Complete Database Marketer” are focused on database and response modeling, the precursors to algorithmic targeting. Richard Tooker’s “The Business of Database Marketing” is very practitioner-focused, and other titles are specific to subsets of direct marketing, like “Managing Customer Relationships” by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers (2011).

The newer online marketing books focus on driving clicks, web analytics and retargeting, but they don’t address the fundamental principles of allowable acquisition cost and customer lifetime value.

There’s nothing that brings together online marketing with traditional direct response principles.

I combed through my library of DR books, reached out to publishers and even purchased a few things on Amazon.

For a moment, and just a moment, I considered writing one. Then I realized that with the amount of new information coming at marketers every day, I would be stuffing chocolates in my mouth and under my hat — like Lucy and Ethel.

Advice for the Digital Marketing Industry, Perhaps Too Late

I was recently asked what advice I would give my younger self to succeed in the digital marketing industry. The question, of course, is nonsense: No one has a time machine or could recreate the unique circumstances of these past decades.

I was recently asked what advice I would give my younger self to succeed in the digital marketing industry. The question, of course is nonsense: No one has a time machine or could recreate the unique circumstances of these past decades.

We now possess almost perfect information about the technology, business environment and leaps of faith and brilliance that created our digital world and a brand new industry — but we did not have that guidance back then. Still, after over 20 years in this “new” industry of online marketing it might be time to reflect on some of the challenges and choices that have shaped our current state.

Advice for the Industry: 20 Years Too Late

Stop being so defensive. It’s hard to imagine now but in the mid 90’s many were still calling the Internet a fad and were waiting for it to go away so they could return to “business as usual.” At that point many (even large) companies were still busy debating whether they even needed a website, some agencies and marketers were slow to learn or adopt digital skills and our educational institutions lagged behind in teaching students what they sorely needed to succeed. Much of this was pure defensiveness and a stubborn refusal to accept that the world was changing.

Stop creating buzzwords. We lacked the language or imagination to describe new concepts and capabilities effectively and the new buzzwords did nothing to add to our credibility. Buzzily named products, companies or approaches quickly became synonymous with something fleeting. They didn’t earn a place of respect even if the product deserved it.

Focus on the stuff that matters. Early technologies and efforts were often about what we could do and not what we should do. As the better technologists matured into businessmen and women who valued the metrics and results that mattered to a sustainable business and industry our bubbles were replaced with platforms and channels that have rewritten our world. Still, we suffered through too many shiny objects and useless toys that didn’t help the early credibility of the Internet as a business environment.

Make inclusiveness a priority. Make sure everybody and especially every young person in every neighborhood has access to the tools and training that will help them succeed. Expensive technology and slow moving infrastructure unfairly handicapped some populations in joining the web revolution. That slowed us down and limited our success as a whole.

Help industries and professions to evolve. Many found their jobs changing or disappearing (hello travel agents?) with no idea how to pivot their skills and services to stay relevant and effective. Disintermediation was a real thing. Some jobs and vocations became irrelevant or unrecognizable overnight and those affected were left to fend for themselves. We should be better than that.

Commit to standards that help everyone. Put a premium on cooperation over competition to set and keep common standards in data, ads and other elements. That consistency would have reduced a lot of the pain points and smoothed the learning and success curves for users all along the spectrum. Monopoly or first-to-market businesses, governing bodies and associations of professionals with vested interests kept us in chaos for far too long.

There are also a few things I wish I personally had known way back when that could have informed my own choices.

Advice for Myself: 20 Years Too Late

Get comfortable with change. Our industry is relentlessly dynamic. Get used to change as a constant and get prepared by committing early on to frameworks and processes that can absorb and integrate new approaches and opportunities without sacrificing the strategic core.

Get data smart. Marketers who understand how to collect and apply data are miles ahead of those who don’t in this day and age.

Write — a lot. Communications skills, especially written words, are at a premium as every person and business requires thoughtful content regularly generated in many formats. Strong and strategic writers, designers and communicators are critical in the digital economy.

And, just for good measure … find an exercise you love, stick to your diet, travel more and buy Apple stock.

Perhaps we can learn from our past to help us enrich our collective future.

What good advice would you give your past self?

Your Website Is a Conversation, Not a Presentation

Is your website a conversation with your clients and prospects? Or is it a presentation?
This can be a tough distinction to make because, of course, your website is a proxy for you. You’re not actually sitting face-to-face with your prospects. But even without the back-and-forth of an actual conversation, you can get better Web results by striving to create a dialogue by encouraging engagement with your audience.

Social conversationIs your website a conversation with your clients and prospects? Or is it a presentation?

This can be a tough distinction to make because, of course, your website is a proxy for you. You’re not actually sitting face-to-face with your prospects. But even without the back-and-forth of an actual conversation, you can get better Web results by striving to create a dialogue by encouraging engagement with your audience.

In Other Words, You Want to Control the Narrative, Not Dominate It

Of course, you can’t control where your site visitors are going to click next. That’s the beauty and the curse of the Web’s non-linear nature. You can’t even control whether they start at “the beginning”. (If your social media, SEO and email marketing are relevant players, your website home page isn’t always going to be their entry point.)

But You Can Encourage Them to Take the Action You Desire

Strong copy, intelligent presentation, and a little bit of coding savvy can work wonders for your site — but for starters, you’ll want to define a solid set of goals. You have to know the action you ultimately want your site visitors to take. And you have to know, as the conversation moves along, what you want your audience to be thinking about. The thoughts your website provokes in consumers will be the best determinant of their course of action.

Recognizing that your audience has more options than “previous” and “next” has the added benefit of forcing you to stay tightly focused on your topic and think in terms of your audience’s interests, not your own agenda.

This is where many marketers go wrong. Staying focused does not necessarily mean diving into the minutiae of a topic. Nor does it mean forcing prospects to move forward with no destination possible other than your conversion point.

Because, of Course, There’s Always Other Options

But not options you want pursued: the browser’s close button, or your competitor’s website. Instead, you must guide them toward the action you ultimately want them to take by offering a range of possible paths. They may feel it’s time to reach out and contact you by phone. Or if their need is less pressing, they might want to subscribe to your newsletter and learn more over time. Or a trip to your “related materials” section might be in order, so they can dive into a topic in more detail.

You have to offer these options because there’s no way of knowing where a prospect is in the buying process when they arrive at your site.

There’s a fine line to be walked here: Just as droning on and on about a topic is likely to turn off prospective clients, so too can offering them every option under the sun.

With the exception of certain pages of your website — the home page, most notably — most of your digital marketing should be focused enough to appeal to just a select segment of your audience. They should be reading your email newsletter because it is likely to be of interest to them. That newsletter should contain links to the pages of your site that will be most relevant to their needs. And the calls to action embedded in that page should lead them to the next piece of content that addresses their needs and creates your case as the best solution for them.

The more audience segments you are trying to appeal to, the more difficult this can be, so it is important to craft your online marketing with specific segments in mind. Next time, we’ll talk a bit more about effective audience segmentation.

Calling All College Students

We need the ideas and passion of college students interested in online marketing to keep our industry energized and growing. But judging by the many smart and capable students and grads we have been privileged to connect with over the years, your coursework has failed to adequately prepare you for the future you envision.

college studentIf you are considering a career in online marketing,  I applaud you.

We need your ideas and passion to keep our industry energized and growing. But judging by the many smart and capable students and grads we have been privileged to connect with over the years, your coursework has failed to adequately prepare you for the future you envision. And the industry is poorer for it.

Our educational institutions are starting to catch up with dedicated, digitally focused coursework and industry practitioners to help keep it real, but the ivory tower alone won’t sufficiently groom you for success. You will need to take your future into your own hands and look outside your required classes to set the stage for your professional trajectory.

In many ways, an entrepreneurial approach is excellent preparation for a digital career. Digital marketers are, of necessity, multi-faceted and in a constant state of change that favors the nimble and prepared. A solid set of core skills, a deep understanding of consumer behaviors online, demonstrated passion for this industry and the right attitude are infinitely more valuable than even specific experience that may soon be obsolete and can help prepare you to chart your own future and that of this industry.

Core Skills

In addition to learning the marketing basics be sure to come to your first job with the following hard, soft (and somewhere in-between) skill sets.

Data Acuity. The days of math-challenged or tech-avoidance students in marketing careers are long, long gone. As a start, get comfortable in spread sheets including more advanced skills like pivot tables and macros. Learn to read and manipulate data tables but use statistics and other analytics skills and programs to extract meaning that can be used for decision making. Know the difference between data and information.

Programming. You don’t need to be a professional coder but you do need to understand how bits and bytes work. Experiment with your own simple site to learn the basics of HTML.

Writing. Communicating in all channels and modes is a critical skill set for any professional and great communicators have a substantial advantage in any marketplace at any level. This extends to public speaking so work on your confident presentation by offering to deliver class projects or results in front of both small and larger audiences.

Perspective

Broaden your horizons with disciplines that will give you insights into human behavior and psyche. Behavioral economics, psychology and literature, among other disciplines, will advance your understanding of human decision making and make you a stronger marketer.

Go global. Our world is shrinking so understanding how others view and interact with the world beyond documented, aggregated buying behaviors is a plus. If you have the opportunity to study or travel abroad don’t pass it up. Foreign language skills will also differentiate you.

It’s also important that you don’t believe that your current set of college age, college educated friends represents the totality of even the US population. Get out of your bubble and get to know the broader population through travel, hobbies, activism or other means.

Entrepreneurism

Entrepreneurs seem to have the right DNA to succeed in the online marketing industry amid the demands of constant reinvention. Regardless of the type of business, show us that you have the desire and capacity to try to build something. Even better if you had to team with others as this will demonstrate your ability to collaborate and problem solve. If you have not built a business on any scale, show how you have responded quickly and successfully to changing circumstance.

Industry Passion

For online marketing, learning is about participating — not just hearing or reading — so you need to be a student of the industry. Demonstrate your interest by finding industry internships, following industry publications and staying current with major news, trends and releases. Use your social channels, personal site or other online avenues to present your POV or participate in the industry discussion.

Jump at opportunities like the Google Online Marketing Challenge or other student competitions to get some hands on experience in building plans and launching, optimizing and measuring campaigns.

Ask for student discounted or even free admittance to industry events when they come to your town and use the time to steep yourself in the industry and also network for contacts. Local ad clubs or the like often have student memberships or events that provide access to local professionals for industry mentorship.

To succeed in a digital marketing career you need more than what your school offers and a fair amount of personal commitment. Layer academic theory with some practical exposure and the right combination of skills and attitude to become a sought-after addition to any online marketing team. And should you decide to take a different career track you will still be empowered with an impressive and marketable skill set that most any employer would covet. Good luck!