I Tried Digital (or Mobile) Once, It Didn't Work

I talk with hundreds of local business owners every month about their advertising activities. Usually, one of my first questions is about what types of advertising they are doing and how they feel about the results they are getting. I have learned to expect “I tried Radio once, it didn’t work.”

Since the beginning of 2014, I have been hearing something different. More and more I hear local business owners say “I tried Digital once, it didn’t work” or “I tried Mobile once, it didn’t work.” With so many advertising choices out there, you could pretty much fill in the blank with a specific media and hear from business owners that they have tried “that” and it didn’t work.

In its recently released U.S. Local Media Forecast (2013-2018), BIA/Kelsey estimates local media advertising revenues will climb from $133.2 billion in 2013 to $158.6 billion in 2018. A larger percentage of local advertising dollars will be spent on digital advertising. BIA/Kelsey predicts that spending on digital media will grow from $31.7 billion (23% share) in 2014 to $52.7 billion (33.2% share) in 2018.

More local advertising dollars are being allocated to new media like digital and mobile advertising but these new media are being bought and sold using the same flawed buying and selling strategies that created so many dissatisfied advertisers.

Despite all of the new technologies, the hopes and dreams of the local business owner still remain the same, they want to find new customers and they want to keep their advertising costs under control.

According to a recent JD Power survey of car buyers found that they use new technology to access traditional information sources when buying a car. In other words, even though a smart phone has more built in computing power than we took to the moon with the Apollo mission, we use a smart phone to call our Nana just like we did with an old fashioned telephone from Ma Bell.

Whether you are using the Town Crier to walk the streets of your community shouting your advertising message or you are using the latest digital and mobile advertising tools, successful advertising requires that you understand how to use the advertising tools at your disposal to reach consumers on an emotional level. Your advertising must resonate with the consumer enough to emotionally engage them first if you ever hope to communicate what your company has to offer.

When I meet a business owner who is unsatisfied with their advertising efforts, our conversations usually uncover evidence that the business owner has a misunderstanding of how advertising works and what advertising can do. The business owner has unrealistic expectations. They mistakenly believe they will see immediate results, people will quickly come in and buy what they are adverting. They don’t have a grasp of the psychology of consumer behavior.

In my book the Four Keys to Advertising Success, I describe the process of events and activities that lead to a purchase as a Decision Journey. I call it a journey because the consumer follows a path that involves numerous activities. The consumer must follow a path of consideration and evaluation before they ever arrive at a decision to buy.

A decision journey begins with a triggering event. A triggering event is something that happens to the consumer, in the consumer’s life and, on the consumer’s timetable and no amount of advertising will speed that up.

A plumber can have a massive sale with the lowest prices ever but if you don’t have a leaking pipe, a backed up drain or a remodeling project on your horizon, chances are you won’t respond to that advertising. You haven’t had a triggering event. You have no need or desire for what the plumber is advertising.

The length of time a consumer spends on their decision journey involves a number of considerations. The frequency of consumer consumption within a given product category can often dictate how long a consumer spends on the decision journey. If you run a convenience store or a fast food restaurant where people have a triggering event frequently, the decision journey will be very quick. But for products with a less frequent buying cycle the decision journey could be quite lengthy. The complexity of the decision and how much money is involved can also add to the length of the decision journey.

We live in a world of instant gratification. It is easy to understand that business owners want to see immediate results when they spend their hard earned money to buy advertising. However, a realistic approach to setting expectations for any advertising effort demands an understanding of the decision journey.

All too often, the sales person’s need to quickly generate a commission check and the advertisers need for instant gratification combine to set the stage for advertising dissatisfaction. The sales person sells the sizzle of a short term advertising plan and the business owner buys the dream of instant payoff. The result is another case of marketing malpractice where the business owner is the victim of BAD-vertising.

Irresponsible selling practices that lead a business owner to unrealistic expectations is the root cause of advertiser dissatisfaction. So it doesn’t really matter which medium you are using, without an understanding of the psychology of consumer behavior, your advertising efforts will most likely miss the mark every time.

So we are moving forward from traditional media into the new world of digital and mobile and who knows what after that. If we don’t upgrade our understanding of how advertising really works, if we keep on doing what we’ve always done, there will be more people every day who say “I tried that and it didn’t work.”

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