Online Promotions Will Not Kill Advertising

In “The Extinction of Dinosaur Marketers,” I discussed the problems of bringing the old school of hardcore sales and pushy advertising into the new online marketplace. We are starting to see a new trend blooming that is showing exactly this problem.

This morning I read an article by Neal Levitt, who is discussing the shift from online advertising to online promotions; Coupons, Contests, Giveaways etc. and we can see clearly that fear and lack of understanding is the driving force behind this change.

In the article, Rob Enderle states the problem very clearly. “Promotions are typically tied to actual sales; advertising is vastly harder to measure. You may never know for sure whether an advertising program is truly successful, but a promotion’s success or failure tends to be rather obvious,”

Microwave Marketing

So we are back to what I was discussing in the Extinction Series. It’s not about the actual results, it’s about being able to squeeze the results in to an easy to understand and immediately available metric. Instant gratification rules the show still. It’s the microwave society thinking I’ve been warning about.

Problem is, you aren’t dealing with the same ballgame anymore, now that customers are forcing us to accept that they are individuals with which you need to create a functioning and lasting relationship. You can’t measure the single sale result as a measure of success. The easy to understand metric may be a comfortable and familiar feeling. But to rely on single sale as measure of success is suicide in the age of customer interaction.

Thought Exercise

Which would you mention as the top three websites right now?

Yahoo – Google – Youtube – Myspace – Facebook.. You should have had at least one or two of those In your top threes. Now, what do all of these have in common?

They are user driven – and – none of them are focused on you. Yahoo and Google, provides searches, where your customers can find you at their leisure. Youtube, Myspace, and Facebook are communities where your customers can talk about you when they want to. Although you can buy advertising on Google and Yahoo, your ad will only get seen or clicked on when that is what the customer did a search for.

Any and all attempts to circumvent this, and create an artificial ingress point into your customers interactions with eachother will be considered spam.

Experiment

Create a page with a great sales promotion. Something extremely good, and submit it to Digg or any other voter driven system. Then watch how fast you get slammed with negative feedback and your submission gets buried.

If you think this is irrelevant. Maybe you are thinking that this is a problem with the nature of Digg more than a problem with the approach. Think again. Guess who just got annoyed with you? It was a cross section of your customers. And they just let you know what they think about direct advertising and promotional pushes invading their space.

All these networks are nothing without the users. These users are showing you exactly what they think of the way you are trying to talk to them, and these users are your customers when they leave that particular site. So to think that this is not a great way to check your customers’ reaction to your particular approach is short-sighted at best.

Advertising or Promoting?

It’s funny how the old school thinkers are turning these against each other, when in the new marketplace, they are completely interdependent. They are doing this because the harder to measure metric of online advertising is branding. And branding just doesn’t translate well into an excel sheet.

You can, and SHOULD offer your customers great value, which can be done with measurable systems like giveaways, coupons etc. And you can use contextual online advertising to drive them to the place where they can see it. But you can’t do either without the other. Advertising without having a conversion in mind is fairly brainless. But to do a sales promotion without driving targeted traffic to it is even worse. Now, the reason advertising works for this is because advertising online (when done right) is contextual.

Lets go Viral – Nope… too late

What the thinking behind online promotions is, is that it hopes to drive a viral market. The promotion is intended to create a buzz on its own and make people talk about it. This is actually not a bad idea at all.. Have you started yet? Oops. You missed it!

Once this becomes the standard way of squeezing the square peg into the round hole, people will stop doing it. Once these promotions become the mainstay of every online venture, no one will want to hear a word about a promotion anymore.

Just by writing this post I’ve educated a couple of bloggers that may stop writing about promotions as a result. So you are either ready to go now, or you are probably too late.

The intermediary step is to try and fake it, With undisclosed pay per post articles for instance. But that time has passed too, the social networks have educated each other and undisclosed promotions are getting a lot of negative feedback now. If you at any point make the mistake of thinking that the customer can’t recognize a sales pitch a mile away, you missed out on the real opportunity. To build a relationship based on their expectations, not your need to make a quick buck.

Natural Recommendation Is the Only Lasting Approach

Your customers will talk about you, when you simply meet their needs and requirements, and do it with their end satisfaction in mind. Satisfaction will drive discussion and recommendations naturally. Honest opinions and reviews from trusted sources will never be out of date.

The forced discussion started dying as soon as it became a marketing idea.

Whatever your thinking is for using promotional activities, interactive systems or contextual advertising online, you have to always step back and consider the value to the customer of not only the promotion, but the way you are advertising the promotion.

When you meet their needs, they will meet yours. If you do it well enough, they will come back to do it over and over again.

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