Are You Marketing Your Store Like It’s 1987?

Back in 1987 when I was a young “pup” my father opened a retail store. Having recently been laid off and unable to find work in the oil and gas industry (can you believe a barrel of oil was $15 back then?), I decided to join him.


Though I’d worked in a couple retail businesses while going to school, I quickly discovered I didn’t have a clue how to market a retail store.


A family friend who owned an established retail store gave me this advice: “Mike, don’t worry about it the ad reps will be more than happy to help you out.”


He was right—once a week the daily newspaper ad rep would poke his head in the door. The reps from the free weekly newspapers would show up next. The three local radio station reps would stop by every now and then. On top of that, once a year the Yellow Pages rep would visit. And of course ad reps for billboard companies, restaurant placemats and grocery store cash register receipts would be by periodically.


When it came down to it for our area—like many areas back then—marketing was all about the daily newspaper, the radio stations and the Yellow Pages. That’s where most prospects came from.


So the reps were there to help me out—right! I knew they were there to spend our money! And as I found out later they didn’t know much more about marketing than I did. But at least they knew something about it from being in the business for a longer period.


And that’s how it was back in 1987. At the time I thought it was complicated, but advertising in 1987 wasn’t much different from advertising in 1977, 1967 or even 1957. If you had a retail business you pretty much focused on advertising via the same three venues: in the daily newspaper, on the local radio stations and in the Yellow Pages.


Changing Times

Little did I know how much more complicated it would be to market a business in the coming decades, especially after the internet went from an amusing toy to a “must-have-access-to” medium for almost everyone. Since then, of course, the rules for marketing your business have been turned upside down.


And although there are several areas that might appear to be just as they were in 1987, once you wipe the dust off, it becomes clear that even the old and reliable channels have changed.


Back in 1994 I did a study of our store traffic. By then I was fully immersed in this marketing stuff as I tried to find the “golden key” that would unlock the floodgates to more store traffic. Here’s how things broke out:


Daily newspaper-34% Weekly newspaper-13% Radio-22% Yellow Pages-10% Unknown-14%


Keep in mind that these percentages reflected new customer traffic only; they did not include customers who had shopped in our store previously.


Twenty years later in 2014, a store could have similar percentages but end up with significantly fewer customers. How is this possible?


It all has to do with the number of potential customers who aren’t:


-reading the daily newspaper -listening to local radio -pulling the Yellow Pages off the shelf to look up a phone number


Readership of newspapers has plummeted. Listenership of local radio stations has plummeted. The percentage of people using ink-on-paper Yellow Pages directories has plummeted. I don’t think these are revelations to anyone. I’ve had one store owner after another tell me the same thing.


That’s not to say it makes sense to give up on using any of these “old school” marketing tools. Yes, fewer people are reading, listening to or using them, but these marketing tools aren’t dead yet. The question becomes how do we continue to use them not just to close the gap between the customers we have and the customers we want?


I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m going to offer the internet as a good way to bypass your competition in 2014. Well, I won’t disappoint you. Yes, the internet is a great way to sneak around your competitors and get those perspective customers before they do. Simply look online and you’ll find all sorts of tips on how to do this. However, if I left my advice at that I would be doing you a great disservice.


Let me ask you about the last time you went out to a restaurant.


While you sat there waiting for your food, did you look around? What were many people doing around you?


I know what I see quite often when I go out to dinner that I didn’t see in 1987: everyone around me looking at the screens of their cell phones, reading or scrolling or texting as though they’re possessed.  Hardly any face-to-face conversations going on. Instead it’s one person after another in his or her own little world with the latest iPhone or smart phone.


Now we can lament that as another sure sign that the world is going to heck in a hand basket (and maybe it is), or we can accept it as life in 2014 and use it to our advantage as retailers. The fact is that most brick-and-mortar retailers aren’t using mobile technology to their advantage. One study I read recently states that 90 percent of all people who search for something on their phones end up buying that item (or something similar) within the next 24 hours. That’s a powerful statistic, no matter how you view the fact that people are married to their phones nowadays.


When you plan a digital retail campaign, it had better have a mobile component to it or you’re going to miss out entirely. Not only do you need a regular website (if there is such a thing as a regular website); you also need a website that is designed for mobile users.


Keeping It Real

The internet isn’t just about the products we’re offering or the sales we’re having.  It presents endless opportunities for retailers to talk about themselves in a way that establishes them as an “authority” when it comes to retail. It also allows you to presents yourself as a “real person” to your prospects. When it comes right down to it, people still buy from people. The internet offers up powerful opportunities to connect with potential customers by showing that you’re “real”.  Retailers who take the time to identify what makes them different and then post content online to that effect are way ahead of their competitors already.


Combining Tactics


Now let’s circle back to “old school” marketing. Even though it’s not as effective as it was simply because there are not as many potential customers paying attention to its outlets, that doesn’t mean we can’t use it more effectively than ever. Better than we did 10 or 20 years ago. Definitely better than we did in 1987. And often with surprising results.


Every ad we place needs to have a powerful headline that grabs the attention of the reader or listener.  The sales copy needs to be informative and interesting by concentrating on the benefits of the product and not the features.  And every ad needs a strong call to action that causes someone to take whatever action we want them to take be it visiting our store, calling on the phone or simply visiting our website.


The takeaway from all this is to not neglect your offline advertising opportunities and not neglect your online advertising opportunities, but to combine them. To ignore one just because you don’t understand it or because you haven’t had success with it in the past is not a good plan. If you want to grow your market share or simply avoid stagnating sales, you need to roll up your sleeves and work hard to ensure all your marketing efforts—online and offline—are not only effective but innovative.


As business guru Peter Drucker says, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”


Let’s get to creating!

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