Digital marketing: Walk, then run

August 24, 2010

Editor’s note: This is John Reinan’s weekly marketing column for MinnPost.

The array of communication options available to businesses has never been so broad, deep, rapidly changing– and potentially confusing.

Direct mail and e-mail programs have largely maintained their effectiveness. Traditional print and broadcast advertising, while clearly in decline, nevertheless retain a great deal of power.

But the real action, of course, is in the digital world– even though digital advertising still only commands about 25 percent of the worldwide ad spend. We long ago reached the point where connectedness is the expected default mode, and each week brings word of new sites and services offering marketers the ability to engage and communicate with potential customers online and on mobile devices.

Yet some are starting to question the notion of automatically chasing the newest bright, shiny thing tossed out by the Internet.

My colleague Cydney Wuerffel recently sat on a panel for i612, a local marketing group. One piece of the discussion focused on paid search advertising, a workaday, unglamorous corner of the advertising world. Paid search ads are the ones that pop up as a result of a search engine query: If you do a Google search for golf clubs in Eden Prairie, for example, you’ll see ads for golf equipment or other products linked to the game.

It turns out that those utilitarian paid search ads actually work. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the global consulting firm, expects paid search ads to become the dominant category of Internet advertising within the next couple of years. Advertisers that ignore this workhorse are potentially missing sales.

I recently ran across an insightful blog post by Andrew Eklund, CEO of the Minneapolis digital marketing firm Ciceron, that made much the same point.

“Most people don’t care about Flash coming to the Android; they could care less about Hootsuite, Mashable, Foursquare, or Gowalla combined,” Eklund writes. “Most people– the people who pay your paychecks in marketing– don’t know about or care about these things right now.

“Is it responsible of us to start scheming all the cool ways clients could launch this’n’that app when they still aren’t even using email or search properly?”

I’m not saying businesses should ignore these new options (and neither is Eklund, as his post makes clear). But you’ve got to walk before you can run. If a business isn’t properly using the foundational tools of digital marketing– a great website, an e-mail program, a Facebook presence, a blog, a media room– then there’s little to be gained by putting resources toward whatever application has caught the fancy of the digerati this week.