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Pretty much every day, someone’s predicting the death of something that was once near and dear to your heart. No more newspapers! No more CDs! No more teddy bears! (We made up that last one.)

But in reality, a lot of things that should be dead are instead just plodding around, creaking under their own weight and sucking out brainpower. In short, there are a lot of zombies lurking around these days.

Let’s get something straight right off the bat. Online advertising isn’t dead. But it sure looks a lot like a dead man walking.

While paying to advertise your business might not be your favorite thing in the world, you actually should feel some nostalgia for the good old days when all it took was a phone book listing and maybe a few radio ads to bring in new business. No one needs to tell you that the marketing game has changed drastically, not only from two decades ago but even in the past 1-2 years.

One of the biggest changes is that the traditional conception of advertising itself is going out the window in a hurry. At their core, ads are about telling potential customers about your product or service and informing them about why they should choose you. “Now with 50% more beef!” “Our windows are guaranteed water tight for 30 years!” These are the types of messages you see in Google ad results, in display ads on the top and sides of websites, and in popup ads.

Seems straightforward enough, but this way of communicating with potential customers just ain’t workin’ anymore. In a 2016 survey of 1,015 adults by ORC International and Mirriad, 76% reported blocking ads online and skipping traditional TV ads. That same study found that 90% of participants reported that they skipped ads that front many YouTube videos, which is a shockingly high number and 20% higher than what a similar study found in 2011. In a recent study published by Rice University, study participants were 36% less likely to notice information contained in banner display than in blocks of text, when directly tasked with finding information on a particular page.

Ad blindness and ad blocking are pervasive. If confronted with an ad on their tablet, phone or computer, most people will just tune out.

So What Still Works?

  • Search Optimization – It still matters – big time – where you rank in search results. And we’re not just talking Google listings anymore. For starters, your local presence on Google Maps, Yelp and other platforms increasingly matters as more users rely on their phones and other portable devices to make buying decisions. But there are many other places where your business may be found, including YouTube, social channels like Facebook and Pinterest, many directory and review sites, and an increasing number of apps. Every site and app has its own algorithm for determining rankings, and to have the best shot at scoring top spots, you need to take a 360 degree marketing approach.
  • Re-Engaging Your Customer Community, part 1 – Email newsletters can be a great way to keep in touch with customers and encourage repeat business. Email itself is starting to feel a bit like its own zombie of modern technology, but the fact is that email marketing campaigns can produce a tremendous ROI. For just a few hundred dollars each (or less), you can reach thousands of prior customers with news, offers and specials. For many of our clients, 30-50% open rates are not uncommon. People may not see banner ads anymore, but they are still checking their email.
  • Re-Engaging Your Customer Community, part 2 – Here we’re talking about retargeting. Yes, retargeting is advertising, but it’s a much smarter way to connect with potential customers, since they’ve interacted with your business in some way before. The best retargeting efforts find a way to add something new to the conversation, and don’t just come across as yet another ad that can be easily ignored. For instance, instead of just displaying a banner ad with the pair of shoes a person was looking at on your site and the price, try a message like “Remember us? We just got some new colors in – check ’em out and save an extra $5 for stopping back in.”
  • Social Proof – We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Reviews, reviews, reviews. They’re the name of the game, and their power is only increasing. Having dozens of positive customer reviews is going to do more for your business than pretty much any fancy ad campaign could. Make sure you have a review monitoring service, and be ready to reach out when you get a bad review and see what you can do to make things right.
  • Product Placement – What better way to advertise than to make it look like you’re not advertising! But in fact, product placement is on the rise. Product placement works as a paid way to earn social cred. Sure, we’ve all seen it done badly in movies, where the hero is making a getaway and you see repeated shots of the Ford Mustang logo, for instance. But those were the times you noticed. When it’s done right, product placement enters your brain subliminally, and the next time you’re buying chips you might not even know why those Doritos seems like an especially tasty choice.
  • Pay-to-Play Social Posts – You’re paying money for these, so why don’t we consider them to be “advertising”? Well, promoted social posts are a much more subtle way to get your message out there in a way that feels natural and organic for the audience. Sure, you could blast a super-special, one-time-only, act-right-now kind of post, but you probably shouldn’t. Don’t talk at your audience, talk to them. Start a conversation, and not necessarily about your product or service. Let your audience make the connection between your brand and an interesting or entertaining thought or question. Then when they’re in need of what you offer, you’ll be top of mind.
  • Advertising – Wait, isn’t this whole blog about how online ads are zombies? Well, there are still places where ads can bring in a strong ROI and not completely suck the life out of your marketing effort. But you have to be smart, and you have to remain vigilant about the return you’re seeing on your ad spend. For years, Google’s AdWords platform has delivered leads at a very affordable price, when managed correctly. And it still can, but in the past 2 years, Facebook has actually offered a much more attractive ROI on their ad platform in many cases, and some very sophisticated ad targeting. And some platforms like Pinterest and Instagram can be quite affordable for people selling very visually-oriented products. So if you are intent on starting an online ad campaign, make sure your marketing firm surveys the landscape and helps you make the best decisions.
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