Don’t toss your trusted tools

I have a confession to make, and I freely admit that it’s a symptom of being male: whenever I’m at the home improvement store, I find an excuse to wander through the power tool section and dream of adding the latest gizmo to my crowded workbench.

Of course, when I bring that shiny new toy — er, tool — home, I don’t toss all my older tools in the trash. While that new laser-equipped radial cross-cutting veeblefetzer may be great for handling certain tasks, there are many times when the trusty claw hammer I bought as a teenager is the perfect choice for the job.

That’s why I’m puzzled when I see how companies and organizations react to new marketing opportunities and channels. Presented with a shiny new toy — er, tool — they’re quick to devote most of their resources to it, and to discard the time-honored tactics they’ve been using.

Even in these days of YouTube and Facebook (and whatever the kids are using and the adults are weeks away from discovering), what many business owners and managers see as old-fashioned strategies and tactics still work quite well. In fact, as your competitors make those lemming-like moves to abandon or dramatically reduce their presence in those other channels, sticking with “traditional” tactics may be even more powerful.

The key is to look at each new tool as an enhancement to your toolbox, not as a replacement for something you’ve already been using. That Facebook fan page may be a great way to connect with customers on an informal basis, but you may still need a presence in magazines that reach the decision-makers in your industry. A viral video may create a huge sensation that drives 50,000 people to your website in a single week, but it may be that 90 percent of your sales still happen because of conversations at trade shows.

By adding those new tools, you broaden your reach, and may actually connect with the same audiences in more ways. That’s a lesson that savvy bankers have learned. Way back when ATMs first emerged on the scene, many bankers saw them as a way to reduce the number of tellers. But they discovered that customers who used ATMs still liked to come to teller windows at times. The same is true for online banking and the ability to check transactions with smart phones. The smart bankers in the crowd recognize that customers appreciate those multiple avenues of contact, and that very few customers limit themselves to just one.

You can also use lessons learned and knowledge acquired from “traditional” media to add power and effectiveness to newer media channels. For example, it always amazes me when people dismiss anything related to direct-response advertising as archaic and useless. The folks who truly understand direct response are the most consistently successful marketers. They have tested and verified every message and variable, and are remarkably accurate at projecting rates of return on projects. They know what kind of language turns prospects off, and which words stop them in their tracks. It comes as no surprise that companies who have been longtime leaders in direct-response channels have successfully migrated their strategies into newer media.

Why do I mention that? Because I’ve received so many marketing emails from companies and organizations who seem to be ignorant of everything the direct-response folks have taught us. Yes, there’s a huge physical difference between a three-paragraph email and a four-page direct mail letter, but both have the same goal: connecting with the reader and motivating him or her to a specific action. Companies ignore that hard-earned wisdom at their peril.
“All-or-nothing” approaches rarely work well in marketing. Instead, the most successful marketers employ multiple channels to present their messages, tailoring their messages and tactics to the nature of each channel, and connecting them effectively. By weaving those channels together, they allow each individual contact to lead to others, and ensure that every touchpoint supports the message and overall objectives.

Don’t make the mistake of discarding strategies that performed five, ten or twenty years ago as obsolete or useless. Instead, consider them as familiar tools that have a place in your marketing efforts. After all, there’s a big difference between making a one-time splash and delivering successful long-term performance.