By Rich Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
To attract new customers, you have go where they can find you. Advertisements in the Yellow Pages and local newspapers used to hit the sweet spot squarely, but the landscape has changed. Companies need to rebalance their marketing efforts to stay abreast of changing consumer behavior.
The decline of Yellow Pages advertising is particularly significant for local companies. With the emergence of Internet search engines like Google and Yahoo, the Yellow Pages are no longer the primary resource for consumers seeking a local business like yours. A 2010 survey by comScore and TMP Directional Marketing indicated that 70 percent of consumers go online first when seeking local business information, compared to 23 percent who turn to the Yellow Pages first.
Local companies can still attract new business in The Yellow Pages, but you’re better off minimizing that investment and making online marketing the top priority.
Newspaper advertising is also losing some of its reach, with circulation falling to its lowest levels in seven decades, according to a 2009 report by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Metro newspapers are hardest hit, and company owners should expect diminished returns on advertising in those venues. Local newspapers that cover a very limited geographic area still have a place in your media mix, but be aware that readership is down, particularly among young adults.
So Where Is the Audience?
As these traditional media decline, the Internet audience grows. A 2009 study by Pew Internet showed that 74 percent of Americans over the age of 18 use the Internet. When you want to connect, the Internet is the safest bet by far.
The most important place to start is with a company website that (a) makes you look great and (b) provides excellent reach. To make a strong impression, create a seamless site that has a professional look and clean and has authoritative writing. Provide a wealth of information so that customers can easily determine what products and services you offer while learning what distinguishes your company from the competition.
Building a convincing site is just the beginning, because your site can’t help you grow if your prospects don’t see it. The site must be built with behind-the-scenes enhancements that are known collectively as search engine optimization (SEO).
Search engines like Google and Yahoo perform searches based on what the user types into the search line. If a prospect searches for services like yours, the search engine will provide a collection of links arranged by relevance – as determined by the search engine itself. The sites that seem most relevant will be listed on top, with others beneath them. To make your company site relevant to the search engine – and secure a listing near the top – you have to optimize it with a combination of visible and invisible content. Otherwise, it might not even appear in the top pages of search results, and your best prospects would choose someone else – probably without even seeing your site.
Topical Content Raises Your Profile
Proper optimization will improve your search ranking and place you near the top of the listings when a user searches for services and products like yours. You can further improve your rankings by building out the site with relevant content. For example, when your site includes a well-optimized page that lists the cities and town where you deliver, your ranking improves in local searches, and you might even get a second listing high in the search results.
Topical videos perform a similar function. When you stream them from your site and optimize them, users can find your video – and your website. You can extend your site’s reach even farther by posting the video on YouTube with a link to the company site.
Adding topical content to your site is doubly beneficial because it improves the site’s search performance, and it makes the company look like an industry leader. If you’re looking for a marketing initiative with a high likelihood of bringing in new business, your company’s web presence is the first place to invest.
Another great tool for getting found on the Internet is pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Google Adwords is the best service, because it gives you high visibility on the most popular search engine. A PPC ad provides a high-profile impression in the form of a three-line text advertisement, and it costs you nothing unless the user clicks on the ad.
Each time your ad is clicked, your account is charged. You have granular control over cost, because you can specify a limit on your budget and set your own price per click on each search term you use. When you offer the highest payment per click for a particular term, your ad appears at the top of the column. You can also customize your campaigns to make your ads visible only to Web surfers in your service area.
Social media sites like Facebook also raise your profile and provide a forum for you to demonstrate your company’s good nature. Consumers want to trust a company before making a commitment, and social media sites help by serving as a public forum where a consumer can read what your customers are saying. Facebook probably won’t convert leads into customers, but it will improve your chances of attracting prospects who are using the Internet to evaluate competing companies.
Online business directories provide another opportunity for companies to be discovered and vetted. It’s a good idea to visit sites like Google Places, Yahoo Local, Bing Local and City Search and claim the listing for your company. You may find your company auto-listed with data you did not provide, but you can replace the boilerplate with accurate information – and add some marketing flair.
Customer reviews are an important ingredient of these sites, and you can promote positive reviews by prompting your satisfied customers to post on those sites. Prepare materials that you can mail, e-mail or read over the phone that explain online reviews. When you sense that a customer is very satisfied with your work, you can pass the information on and explain how their online review could help the company.
Let Them Skip the Phone Call
Another strong lure for prospects is online convenience. Consumers who shop on the Internet expect to take decisive action and execute transactions on the spot at a company website. Bring true e-commerce capabilities to your site and promote them on the home page, so prospects can see at a glance that you are their kind of company.
Provide a customer signup page where customers can specify what services they want and enroll with the click of a mouse. Allow them to place an order and pay for it with a credit card. Many of today’s consumers want to handle their household business after hours, and they are more likely to choose a company that allows them to do so without a phone call.
The Internet has become the dominant media venue, but there is still great value in advertising through periodicals, radio, television, billboards and other traditional outlets. Advertising can be very expensive, though, and the key is to use outlets that align well with your target audience. Companies that serve a large area and/or offer a diverse range of services can use radio, television and billboards more cost effectively than smaller, more specialized companies can. Be sure to invest up front in message development so that your ads truly improve your image and make your company a compelling choice.
The Direct Mail Option
One solution that fits companies of all sizes is direct mail. Postcards are relatively inexpensive to create, and when you create good ones, they inspire action and make a strong impression. As with advertising, companies should be very attentive to message development: Imagine a customer giving your card a fleeting glance, and make sure your proposition is clear and that the card delivers an immediate positive impression.
Lastly, make sure you have a strong referral program and publicize it well within your customer base. Word of mouth remains powerful, and you want to give your customers a good incentive to advocate for you with their friends and family.
Attracting new business is a tremendous challenge in these days of shrinking market share and economic uncertainty. Companies need to come to terms with change, abandon outdated strategies, and connect with customers where they are shopping in the future.
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full-service Advertising/Integrated Marketing Communications/New Media firm with offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.
This article was originally published in Indoor Comfort Magazine in December 2010.