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6 tips for advertising in the age of the Internet

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Fans of AMC’s “Mad Men” enjoy a glimpse into the world of 1960s advertising, where suit-and-tie creative directors drink scotch and pitch clients on a well-placed print ad, an eye-catching billboard or a catchy jingle.

While these solutions worked in the past, advertisers today realize this model of “straight-talk advertising” is no longer as effective because customers no longer live in one channel.

“Consumers live in a cross-device world,” says Dan Meehan, founder and CEO of PadSquad. “They are screen jumpers, moving from their PCs to mobile and tablet devices to perform activities and consume content.”

Thanks to the Internet’s democratization of media content, anyone with an email address, social account or website has a platform to speak from and an audience to speak to. A YouTube video or tweet that resonates can go viral, whether it’s posted by a New York ad agency or a stay-at-home mom. And that makes connecting with your customers increasingly difficult.

“In the era of selfies, it’s not enough to have one brand of Axe or Old Spice deodorant,” says Rodger Roeser, CEO of The Eisen Agency. “Everything is becoming much more personal, and brands are always trying to create that niche relationship.”

Here are six tips for effective advertising in the age of the Internet:

1. Mix up your strategies

If anyone today has the ability to create good advertising, does paid advertising still make sense? Yes — as long as you avoid some common pitfalls. The biggest mistake is treating all media platforms as equal.

“Companies that want to grow and remain competitive need to work within a marketing mix,” Roeser says. “For some businesses, paid advertising is a waste of dollars. For others, it’s fabulous. But in a vacuum, these tactics are worthless.”

That is not to say that every company should be on every platform. Flip-flopping tactics just to advertise on the newest network or most popular device doesn’t work, either. Rather, recognize that successful advertising requires a mix of strategies and tactics, public relations, marketing and advertising — working together in harmony — to deliver a specific, positive impact for your business.

“Your target public is being bombarded by messages all the time,” Roeser says. “So it becomes a question of survival. If you aren’t integrating these pieces, you are going to become a buggy whip company pretty quickly.”

2. Set clear goals

Allocating advertising efforts and dollars can feel overwhelming, especially when you are working across a spectrum of platforms and channels. Setting clear goals for your advertising program up front can help you get started.

Is your main goal to double your sales? To build awareness about a new product or service?

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Roeser says. “But I hear all the time, ‘I don’t know how to measure my advertising.’”

Once you crystalize your business goals, you’ll find it easier to bring a singular, objective focus to all parts of your advertising strategy.

“If you aren’t setting specific, measurable goals for your marketing team, you are going to fail,” Roeser says. “Don’t get stuck in the weeds. Focus on the key performance indicators that are important to the growth and success of your business.”

3. Simplify your call to action

One aspect of advertising will never change: all advertising sells something. A product. A service. An idea. Whatever your business, the first step of an effective advertising program is to clearly define your audience and what you are trying to lead it to do.

“You have a finite amount of time to grab someone’s attention,” Roeser says. “Brands need to understand that if you don’t have a specific call to action, advertising is not effective. It’s all about the brand engagement and knowing that you are moving your customer on to that second step.”

The call to action could be driving traffic to your website, getting prospects to call or increasing the number of “Likes” on your Facebook page. Just make sure you are using your key performance indicators to create a call to action that is clear, simple, precise and measurable. Otherwise, you could confuse your message or your audience.

4. Know your brand

To be top of mind, brands must provide relevant messages and experiences and deliver those messages to customers at the right time, when they are most receptive, Meehan says. That is impossible if you don’t have an accurate and timely understanding of your business and the value it provides to customers.

Brand journalism, content marketing and thought leadership are game-changers in the evolution in brand communication.

“Talk to the customer about things they value, that are going to make their business better,” Roeser says. “That’s brand journalism and content development at its best.”

With so many competing messages demanding your customers’ attention, it is an uphill battle getting your brand message to rise above the pack. Fortunately, companies have a wide range of media — mobile, web, social media and email — at their disposal to better engage their audience.

“You are touching people in entirely different ways,” Roeser says. “Advertising as a sales tool in and of itself does not work. What we’re looking at now is more of a content development model where you need to speak to a business or a consumer with more knowledge and understanding.”

5. Be a good date

Social media has unlimited potential to engage a target audience at the right time with the right content, yet many organizations do social media poorly because they aren’t providing content that drives customer engagement.

“A lot of businesses are like a jerky guy on a first date,” Roeser says. “Their advertising strategy is to talk about how amazing and successful they are instead of sharing information that’s interesting and engaging to their constituencies.”

Successful brands realize that dollars don’t buy influence with today’s customers — influence buys customers. These brands don’t just sell products. Instead, they foster engagement, passion and loyalty for their brands by interacting with their audiences, Meehan says. They create strategic advertising and marketing plans to reach consumers at all touch points.

“It is no longer about creating one-off experiences with your target audience,” Meehan says. “A brand needs to have a continuous dialogue with its consumer and be everywhere the consumer is, all of the time.”

6. Know your customer

Increasing engagement and boosting sales are impossible if you don’t inspire consumer trust. This comes back to the golden rule of selling: Put yourself in the shoes of your customers.

“Brands often try to do advertising in house and wonder why things aren’t working,” Roeser says. “Advertising is designed for the customer or consumer, not the CEO.”

The first thing most people do after learning about your business is check you out online. But if you don’t have a mobile-responsive website and they are on mobile devices, their experience with your website is going to be bad. If you were your customer, would this inspire your trust? Your loyalty? Your purchase?

“Nobody makes a buy before they build trust,” Roeser says. “I’ve seen major firms whose Facebook pages have misspellings. It makes your business and your brand look bad if you are spending ad dollars to drive your audience to some sort of technology and your execution is poor.”

The good news is that global consumers are now more trusting of online, TV, radio and movie advertising than they were five years ago, according to 2013’s The Nielsen Global Survey of Trust in Advertising. If your business sets clear advertising goals and creates integrated, targeted strategies that provide valuable content to your audience, you may be surprised what you learn about your customers — and more important, what they learn about you.