Social Media Marketing vs. Traditional Advertising

Are you a sitting duck for local advertising reps?


Image by Kevulike via Flickr

It’s the Holiday Season and all of the local area media — the neighborhood newspapers, the regional newspapers, the local radio stations — are doing what they do best, which is to entice brick and mortar business owners with their Holiday publications and issues.

One of my clients, a small retailer of women’s apparel, just passed along an email from a local media representative.  The offer?  Well, there were several.  All were based on price and size…not quality of the audience, readership, reach or positioning…just price and size. From $230 for a rectangle to an $825 package for triangle and 1/8th of a page.

If you’re a brick and mortar business, chances are good you are receiving very similar Holiday advertising offers from your local media.   The reality is you are enticed to spend those precious dollars in hopes that the ad will pull in more customers than you can handle.  Times are tough and you just don’t know that the customers will visit your store and not the Big Box stores that will be advertising and discounting like crazy this year.  But before you make a media commitment, one you may not be able to afford, here are some serious questions to ask yourself.

5 Questions before you purchase traditional media 

I’ve written before about how to make one’s advertising more effective and I’ve offered advertising tips.  But let’s ask some critical questions.

  1. Will your ad (regardless of the ad size) bring in more sales than what is required just to offset the media expense?  If not, don’t bother.
  2. What were the results the last time you advertised in that particular media publication?  Don’t know?  Then you shouldn’t be advertising, not until you put a tracking mechanism in place.
  3. How much waste will your ad dollars be buying?  By waste, I’m talking about the percentage of the circulation that doesn’t match your target audience.  Why buy waste when there are more effective social media marketing tools available to you?
  4. Are you thinking of advertising in the local media because it is a smart thing to do or are you just feeling like you have to do SOMETHING to ensure that you come through the Holidays?  If it isn’t a smart move because of the target audience, readership and positioning, don’t do it.  Save your money.  Instead tap into a social media marketing platform and make it work for your business.
  5. Do you really think one or two ads can compete with the tons of advertising the Big Box stores will pour into local media during the Holidays?  I don’t and neither do you.

The advertising alternatives for brick and mortar

There are advertising alternatives for brick and mortar. Here are a few.

  1. Build strong bonds with your existing customers through email and other types of social media marketing instead of paid advertising.
  2. If you feel you have to discount, only discount to those who have supported your brick and mortar store over time.  Let them know that the discounts are your way of saying thank you for their support over the years and have them do some social media marketing for you by spreading the word to their connections.
  3. Come up with creative ways to get your customers and their friends into your store.  A Bring and Buddy Day.  Have a contest.  Feature a local charity drive and make your store a drop-off place.  Have an after store hours speaker that your audience will really enjoy.
  4. Know you are not alone and other brick and mortar stores in your community are probably facing the same dilemma.  Identify a few non-competing stores and brainstorm some ideas about how you can cross-promote during the holiday.  With two or three stores working together, advertising during the Holidays is more affordable and may make more sense.
  5. If you feel you must use traditional advertising, then check with all of the media in your area and see if full page inserts in targeted zip codes aren’t less costly than in-page ads.  If so, consider using them for your Holiday advertising efforts.

Please leave your comments below and let me know what tools you’ll be using to promote your small business this Holiday Season.

Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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  1. This is a brilliant article. I wouldn’t argue completely against traditional media, but I do find it funny that sales people are trying to sell “squares” for money. That’s why I like Groupon and Ad My Auto for marketing small brick and mortar businesses. Mobile Impressions and loss leaders are big for getting customers through the door during these crucial holiday months :)

    • Brian: Thanks for your comments.

      I’m with you…I wouldn’t toss traditional media out the window, but if a small business owner is going to use traditional media, they need to do their homework or it just can’t be expected to deliver.

      Interesting that you are having good luck with Groupon. I’m curious to know what your experience has been with Groupon. I’ve had some small retailers try it, but they weren’t very pleased with the results. If you are comfortable sharing, what percentage of those who come into your business through Groupon actually return or buy more than your initial offer?

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