“If you’re not online, you’re behind the times.”
This is what most small businesses are led to believe as they retool their marketing efforts to stay relevant to today’s digital economy.
But does “behind the times” equate to “out of business?”
Alex Changho disagrees.
“It’s amazing to me that there are businesses that have managed to survive without a proper website, without an email list, or utilizing social media. However, they don’t only exist, but some are thriving.”
Changho, who helps small business owners market their products and services offline to local customers, has employed grassroots and guerrilla marketing tactics for his business and his clients since the late 1990s. But technology has led to many businesses letting these tactics go.
“Technology has made it much easier to reach customers in a leveraged way. While fifteen years ago, it might take a day of phone calls to reach all of your clients, today we can do it with a click of a mouse button, and send out 2,000 emails.”
This is paired with trends of phone usage versus email or text messaging. With 97% of sales calls going unanswered or to voicemail, businesses must change their communication methods to reach their prospects.
“But what is happening, as a trend, is a full shift over to using technology, replacing offline methods. So email and SMS are being used instead of the phone. Which can be great…as long as we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Many businesses now rely solely on their website and social media efforts to bring traffic to their doors. For example, one local business in Raleigh, NC had over 2000 customers come to its doors using discount website Groupon, during an 18-month period between 2013-2014.
“Businesses may have so much traffic coming in that they don’t need to do anything other than their online efforts. And in the moment, there really is no need. The problem comes with the changing nature of technology.”
Groupon was one of those changing technology. In 2014, the company saw a 40% drop in share prices, due to losses from competing companies, and a shift in consumer buying habits. The result was companies that were dependent on Groupon for new traffic were scrambling to find sources of customers.
“The most successful businesses today are using technology not ‘instead of’ but ‘in addition to.’ They utilize technology in the ways that serve them best, especially when it comes to reaching a wide number of people in a short amount of time.”
Changho also explains the advantage of offline marketing.
“Any business that requires that you meet face to face to exchange service or product would be smart to continue to employ offline tactics. And the reason why this is so vital, especially in small business, is that you develop a relationship. You can try to develop a relationship online through your website, email or even Facebook chat. But what may take days or weeks online can be had in a single conversation face to face.”
So what offline tactics are still relevant in an age of iPhones, Facebook, and Instagram?
“Some of the most effective methods include: meeting people at booths, fairs, or expos; giving presentations in front of your target market, like health talks, school show and tells, or lunch-and-learns; or simply going out and ‘beating the streets.’ ”
“Until people stop meeting each other face to face and talking to one another, this type of marketing, relationship building, will always have a place. Today’s websites are nothing more than the 21st century phone books. They will go away. And until they do, businesses should utilize them. Talking to people will never be obsolete.”
So does offline marketing trump online?
“That isn’t the case at all,” says Changho. “In fact, they can enhance each other.”
A recent iProspect study found that 41% of web traffic was due to word of mouth and offline marketing. Consumers are visiting a businesses website after they are influenced in person.
There are other methods to combine offline and online marketing:
- Owners can go door-to-door to other businesses and give them a flyer, inviting them to an educational webinar. People love free services, and that helps to build trust and authority.
- Using brochures, rack cards and postcards in places where people shop can lead a customer to a businesses website.
- A business can exhibit an a local fair or expo, and use an autoresponder to confirm their visit to a business, or deliver content or discounts over email.
“A business owner can’t afford to be completely dependent on any one type of marketing, especially digital. With technology changing every year, month, and even week, businesses need to mix up their methods to ensure they have a consistent flow of customers from many sources.”
Alex Changho is based out of Apex, NC and helps business owners nationwide develop the local offline presence and integrate them with technology. You can connect with him on Facebook at http://www.alexchangho.com.