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What is an ad strategy when the effectiveness of marketing is a war in short vs. long term?

I’ve been blessed to work with some companies and groups for a decade or more. It’s long enough to know what they were doing, what they’re doing now, and how they function overall. I can compare and contrast these groups and can see who is rewarded with short term success, long term success, and where they fail at both.

In every circumstance I blame myself, even if it’s legitimately not my fault. I wake up every morning and think, “I want to make this person some money. I want their customers to be happy.” Often, these things are far outside my control. For many, “I’m just the web guy.”

Growing a company means thinking about the long and the short. There’s a battle in most of the clients we serve by virtue of their size. Their ad budgets are small or non-existent. In most cases, I am the ad budget. And I can’t spend all of it on TV ads because the whole budget is just $5,000 for the year.

Ask anyone how they should spend their money and they’ll tell you nearly all of it, maybe 60%, should go toward long-term growth. The sort of thing where you find a strategy and you stick with it, adjusting only as necessary.

But put people in a room to really decide and all the money’s going to get directed at Facebook. All the time is going to go toward Facebook and other social media. People start thinking they’ll put videos on YouTube and people will start rolling in the door.

We’re stuck with the Facebook and Google duopoly of paid advertising. I don’t like what they’ve done to the landscape. You can’t deny they’ve changed how consumers, customers, and business leaders think. If a business has $1,000 to spend on ads, you can bet they’ll want to spend all of it on Facebook advertising.

Facebook in particular has pulled the short-term thinking to a place everyone thinks they have to go. “All the people are there!”

That may be true, but we see this nearly every month:

“We put money into a Facebook ad for product/event/promotion/coupon/etc..”

“Well, let’s see how it did,” I say. I go look at the Analytics and commerce reports and see they made $15 for every $100 they spent.

“Yeah, but look at all the followers we got, too!”

Followers and likes are a bullshit metric. It’s an easy win in a world where nothing is easy anymore. Even when a Facebook ad does have some success (I’ve literally never seen it happen financially, but I hear about it from time to time), it only goes so long as you pay to run it. Stop running the ad, everything dies instantly. Thats’ not brand-building, that’s a hostage situation.

Buy a TV or radio ad and play it for a year. Everyone will remember that. Everyone in my high school can still remember every lousy car salesman, every Shane Company ad, every daytime TV injury lawyer. Why? Because they had a strategy and they stuck with it. They could stop paying for ads and people will still remember them. When’s the last time you saw a Facebook ad for a year straight?

There is no major brand today, even among new “all-digital” companies that has been built using nothing but online advertising. No one built a successful, long-term company on the back of Google AdWords. The closest I can think is Amazon, and even they’ve bought print, TV, and radio ads the world over.

As effectiveness goes, small organizations need to be incredibly stable and must think about five-year plans. I ask people in intake meetings, “Where’s this going to be in five years?” I get a lot of, “Oh…wow, good question. Yeah…” That’s when I know I’ve found the biggest problem to overcome.

We have to stop living the same year. We have to better about crafting a long-term strategy so that every time someone sees something with your name one it, it’s unapologetically *you*.

How do clients do that? For small companies, that’s a lot of little things:

  • When some group offers to host a fundraiser or event for you, they don’t get to drag and drop your logo off your website into their flyer.
  • When you get tired of looking at your logo because you see it every day, you have to get over it. Stick with it. No one really cares anyway unless it’s really bad.
  • Every time you give a presentation, you use a slide deck template that matches your site, your envelopes, your business cards and so on.
  • When someone asks you what you do, you give the same answer word-for-word.
  • When someone asks why they should buy your product, you tell them exactly why in specific terms. You use metrics, facts, real numbers and truthful data.
  • You listen to customers to know what they’re saying and what they really mean.
  • You set goals and stick to them until you’ve met them.
  • You do research on your customers and target audience over and over. You must avoid ageism and racism and all the other crap people mumble without thinking. Just because you’re born in 1987 doesn’t mean you’re lazy or don’t like something. Just because you’re born in 1957 doesn’t mean you’re too old to do something.
  • These strategies must be creative. It’s not enough for most anyone to rely on a series of Word templates or stock photos. It’s not enough to post motivational quotes when you don’t know what to say, or making every post a “Buy this!” Or “Donate now!” request.

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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