5 simple ways to unplug your marketing strategy

Let’s face it: social media marketing isn’t what it used to be.

In just a few years, we’ve gone from placing full-page ads in magazines and relying on email and direct mail pieces, to placing banners on blogs and interrupting every possible aspect of life. The phones don’t stop ringing. Those full-page ads, most magazines are sill full of them. My Facebook feed is a hot mess of sponsored posts, recommended content, and videos that play automatically. It’s harder and harder to tell if my Google search results are organic.

And yet, mobile ad spending is at an all-time high, with Facebook and Google leading the pack. How do small businesses compete – or even budget – in such a constantly changing marketing landscape?

Small business marketing – unplugged

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 5.01.27 PMThe answer for small businesses is to remember unplugged marketing as well. Consider the difference between browsing through LinkedIn for connections and attending a business conference. When you are in the same room with a group of like-minded people, you’re bound to share the story of your business, not just in an effort to increase sales, but because you never know when this new relationship may lead to a business partnership. The same is true with marketing. Here are some tips for unplugging your marketing strategy:

  • Greet people. Whether online or in-person, I’m always impressed when someone takes a minute to introduce themselves and tell me about their businesses. Saying “hello” is the first step, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in the grocery store line. If someone likes or favorites you, saying thank you will go a long way!
  • Listen. You’re in line at the neighborhood Starbucks and you overhear the people behind you discussing a business issue, their kids, or a sporting event. Whether you are a nanny, a consultant, or a landscaper, chances are you have something to contribute here. The same holds true in regard to Twitter conversations. Sometimes brands have the opportunity to jump in and contribute to trending conversations, and promote their brands in the process. But, if you’re not listening, you are deaf to the opportunities around you.
  • It’s not all about you.  If all you do is talk about how great you are, people will tune you out. If you talk about how great they are, suddenly you have an audience. For every 2 Tweets, Facebook updates, or sales pitches you give, you should be posting or pitching 8 interesting, informative, entertaining and/or educational information.
  • Do your due diligence. You wouldn’t go to a book discussion without at least reading the book jacket. Regardless of how busy you are, before you attend a webinar, a banquet, or networking event, do a little research. Find out what the topic will be, and be prepared with relevant questions. Use Twitter and LinkedIn to find out who’s going to be there, and even introduce yourself weeks before the event begins.
  • Be human. Smile. Make eye contact. If we apply Pareto’s 80/20 principle to business, 80% of our sales come from 20% of our customers. We should know those customers, and foster real, mutually beneficial relationships with them to secure their business for years to come.

Dear 20-Year-Old Me…

I met a group of college interns on the campus of my alma mater this afternoon. It didn’t take long for me to feel the distance of more than a decade away from campus. First, there is newness everywhere, restaurants, grocery stores, residence halls, apartment buildings, and brand spanking new, sleek computer labs that make the scary bowels that once housed the HUGE computers we fought over when I was in college seem more than a little gross.

Then, the strange realization that I didn’t even have a cell phone when I was in college, and these kids might not remember a time without theirs. But, more than anything, I realized how – as consumers of content – these writing students have very little idea how content is produced for the Internet, who puts it there, who pays for it, or why. Like other teachers of millennial students, I had to fight to keep their attention. If there was a lull in conversation, out came the smartphones.

I remember when DVRs first came out, and it was such a thrill to fast forward through commercials. I remember when we paid for our email service (AOL anyone?), and still had to put up with ads. I remember being plagued by pop-up ads, feeling interested and then annoyed when animated banner ads began to make it harder and harder to focus online.

Online ads have learned the art of camouflage. Does this mean that information consumers will become smarter? Surely they’ll eventually realize that content is sponsored. Here’s where my own bias about sponsored vs. unsponsored journalism gets me in trouble. I’m a brand journalist. A content marketer. I write quality content for brands all day. I always try to give readers something to walk away with besides just promoting the brands. Yet, I just skipped over all the promoted content on Mashable, turning up my nose because it was sponsored.

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 3.56.58 PM The thing is, I’m not an English major anymore. I have to make money. As writers, we all do. Next time I see sponsored content, I’m going to give it a try, just for kicks. If it’s bad, I’ll pitch the company with my services. If it’s good, then I’ll walk away reminded what good brand journalism is.

We’re all fighting for attention, all the time. We’re all trying to get paid for the work we do, to support our families.

Dear 20-year-old me: You will end up selling out more than once. Get over yourself. Then, find a way to make it art. Loosen up!