My Inside Indiana Business Inside Edge column: Advertising’s Place in Today’s Marketing Environment

I wrote this for Wednesday’s Inside Indiana Business Inside Edge e-newsletter. The bottom line is that advertising still has a place in today’s marketing environment, but it’s very different than it used to be. Brands need to consider how advertising can influence the consumer–if at all–and use advertising accordingly, and in a way that’s integrated with their larger marketing and communication strategy.

What challenges are you facing when it comes to advertising in today’s marketing environment? What success stories can you share about integrating advertising into your larger marketing strategy?

Advertising’s Place in Today’s Marketing Environment

I’ve been a runner for most of my life. As I’ve gotten a little older, though, the miles don’t zip by like they once did. As a result, I’m always looking for gear that can help me avoid injuries and allow me to keep running a little longer and faster.

That’s why an ad from Saucony caught my eye as I flipped through Runner’s World magazine. It was pretty simple: it featured a photo of a running shoe—the Saucony ProGrid Kinvara—on a stark black background. There’s wasn’t much else to it: a headline, a few words and a web address. But it worked precisely because it didn’t try to say too much. Instead, the ad focused my attention on what was most important—the shoe, which looked light, fast, and pretty cool. It was simple enough to get my attention and get me thinking about whether the Kinvara was something I wanted, maybe even needed.

This ad, and its impact on me, exemplifies the role advertising can plays in today’s marketing environment. In a world where we have access to more information than ever before, and where there’s more competing for our attention than ever before, the best advertising follows a “less is more” approach. It strives to get the audience’s attention, get them thinking, and then quickly presents a call to action, a next step where we can go to learn more or make a purchase. In short, today’s great ads strive to start a conversation but resist the urge to try to have the whole conversation in one sitting.

One key to success is making the call to action clear and specific to the ad’s message so the audience knows where to go to learn more. In the case of the Saucony ad, the call to action is a web landing page: Saucony.com/Kinvara. Instead of taking the audience to its homepage or cluttering the conversation with irrelevant content, Saucony encourages the consumer to seek out more substantive information—and, of course, move toward a purchase.

But even a website isn’t the end of the conversation. This is where social media comes in. Audience members should be encouraged to ask questions not just of the brand, but also of those in their network. Social media is, in fact, where a sale can be made or broken. For example, I could have asked my friends to give me their opinion about the Saucony Kinvara via a Facebook wall post, or visited a niche social media site like Athlinks to find out what other runners think. And anything they said would likely have a greater influence over my decision than the advertising or Saucony’s website. As social media use becomes more commonplace, this extension of the conversation will become more critical in the overall decision about whether to buy.

It’s critical that advertisers understand this continuum. Advertising starts the conversation. Your website continues the conversation by providing a greater depth of information about the specific product or service and answering some of the questions you can’t answer in a thirty second TV spot, a sixty second radio spot, or a full-page print ad. And social media allows the consumer to get answers from the brand and from other consumers invited to the conversation. Ultimately, the brand can’t control all of the conversations, but by ensuring that what’s promised in its advertising and on its website is consistent with what’s delivered in the real world, they will be much more likely to succeed.

Advertising plays a much different role in today’s marketing environment than in the past, but it still has a role. It’s a little like running a race: start out too fast, and you may never get to the finish line. But if you plan for the long run, you’ll be much more likely to win in the end.

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