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    THE END OF ADVERTISING

    The revolution is now in high gear. Advertisers are fleeing traditional media for the hot new world of the Internet, but as they run towards that bright light, most are also looking back over their shoulders and asking themselves, “what’s going on here.”

    Pundits and analysts have declared traditional media dead. They say newspapers, radio and television are not just passé, but clinically, actually and permanently headed to that great media afterlife in the sky.

    Is traditional media, as an effective advertising medium, really dead? Probably not, but the methods marketers have used to advertise their products and services on traditional media have certainly met their maker.

    Mass marketing is based on one-way communication: we talk, you listen; we sell, you buy; we dictate, you decide. Advertising messages were squeezed between the programming or information content consumers were tuning in to watch, listen or read.

    According to the most recent Yankelovich research on consumer attitudes about advertising, a majority of Americans say they like traditional media just fine. And, in general, they really don’t mind advertising. In fact, most people say they like it. What they hate is the way advertising information is presented. They dislike the hype, the confusion and the lack of control. They want and need advertising information, but they want it to be more relevant to their lives. They want it to be easier to use. And, especially, they want to have control over how, when and where they use it.

    And, with the birth of the Internet, that’s exactly what consumers finally got. Their rush to the worldwide web was on and in their wake, traditional media has been capsized.

    But, marketers who took their traditional advertising off traditional media and moved it the un-traditional Internet have been rudely surprised to find those messages to be far less effective than anticipated.

    It’s not the media that’s the problem. Maybe it’s the advertising.

    Ad Age magazine recently spoke of a “post-advertising age; a not-too-distant future where consumers will no longer be treated as subjects to be brainwashed with endless repetitions of whatever messaging some focus group liked. That world isn't about hidden persuasion, but about transparency and dialogue and at its center is that supreme force of consumer empowerment, the Internet.”

    According to Trevor Kaufman, CEO of Schematic, marketers have to think about advertising differently. He says it must become functional, because the customer is now in control of the marketing process.

    But many marketers have been slow to change their tactics, even on the Internet. Companies who use the worldwide web as an electronic billboard, placing banner ads and counting clicks, are missing the point, as well as missing a lot of potential customers, through what experts already refer to as “banner blindness.”

    Smart marketers are discovering the best way to advertise online is by using simple, text only search ads, like the kind sold by Google. No graphics. No hype. And, especially, no control, because it’s entirely up to the consumer to decide whether or not to view the information based on what they’re searching for. According to eMarketer, paid search ads now account for 42 percent of all online ad spending, compared to 21 percent for banner and other display ads.

    Jakob Nielsen, one of Internet’s earliest designers, says it isn’t really a selling medium; it’s a buying medium. The most successful online marketers, like eBay and Amazon, make buying easy and fun, putting the user in complete control to shop whenever and however they want. And this trend will continue to grow, according to the consumer research group Retail Forward. They predict customers will continue to put even more pressure on businesses to deliver customized products and services, presenting both a threat and an opportunity to local companies.

    More than shifting the center of control from the seller to the buyer, the Internet has exposed consumers’ strong preference for marketing information that’s customized for their lifestyles and habits, regardless of which media they use to get it.

    Here are four things you can do to make your traditional marketing more relevant and user-friendly for your customers and prospects:

    Learn more about your customer’s lifestyle habits and preferences. Most of the time, your customers are doing something other than buying from you. A better understanding what their lives are like and how your products and services fit in can translate into a more effective marketing message customers will recognize and respond to.

    Create different messages for different types of customers. One size fits all marketing doesn’t work in the new world. Your customers are not monolithic. If you’re like most businesses, you have anywhere from three to seven distinct types of people who prefer doing business with you. Those differences might be quite subtle. One group of active older adults might still be working while another consists mostly of retirees. They may look the same to you, but their lifestyles are very different.

    Eliminate the ad hype and replace it with information. All the clichés, like “you owe it to yourself” and “save like never before” are killing the credibility of marketing messages. The Internet shows how people like doing their homework before they buy. They want to know everything, or at least know they can know everything if they choose. Marketing containing real information, without hype, builds the company’s credibility and the customer’s confidence.

    Build a strong, content-rich website and drive customers to it using traditional media. It’s not enough to just say, “If I build it, they will come.” In addition to doing paid search advertising (referred to in the trade as SEM, or Search Engine Marketing) and search engine optimization (SEO), use traditional advertising to push people to your site. An informational print ad in the newspaper or via direct mail can peak a reader’s curiosity. Give them a reason to read more online: a free report on the energy savings of replacement windows, a chance to win $500 in free gas or free concert tickets. Online and traditional marketing both work better when they work together.

    Customers aren’t searching for better media. They’re looking for better marketing. Consumers are already primed to buy. If you’re selling what they want, the chances of buying from you improve greatly if you give them what they’re searching for: the information they need to make a decision.