By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Have you heard about the onslaught of Do Not Market laws proposed at the local, state, and federal level? You haven’t? Well, there is good reason that this pending legislation has caught you unawares. The fact is that it doesn’t exist—per se.
However, in reality there is a plethora of existing laws and proposed legislation that serve to significantly restrict how we all market our products and services. In total, these well-intended but overreaching and imprudent bills combine to effectively amount to one massive Do Not Market law. What is at stake is our ability to promote our businesses and make sales. Once these restrictions are placed on every business, the future of the U.S. economy and its viability as a nation will be in jeopardy.
Less you think this is hyperbole, consider what would happen if you were effectively prohibited from any and all marketing activities. You would be forced to rely on a “build it and they will come” approach to sales. In effect, this would reduce your sales and marketing departments to the mode of reactive order-taker. What would happen to your sales numbers? Most likely business would decline, maybe even going into a free fall. You would stop hiring and begin laying off staff; capital investments would be put on hold; expansion plans would be terminated. This would ripple through the economy, and a recession would follow.
Okay, I admit, this is a tad bit reactionary. But if we truly couldn’t do any marketing, this becomes a dreadfully real and inevitable scenario. Surely, you say, our elected officials wouldn’t go so far as to legislate our economy into disarray by prohibiting all forms of marketing—would they? Let’s review:
- For several years, we have been prohibited from sending unsolicited faxes. What was once viewed as an efficient and cost-effective alternative to direct mail was summarily made illegal. Nix the fax.
- The bellwether bill was the national Do Not Call law and its numerous state counterparts. This devastated calling consumers. Given its immense public support and self-serving political expediency, we should also expect similar future limitations placed on contacting businesses via phone.
- The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (yes, it was four years ago) put onerous restrictions on email marketing messages and solicitations. Since enforcement of this act is both challenging and cumbersome, it has yet to make a dent in spam, its intended target, which continues to grow unrelentingly. It has, however, given conscientious businesses pause in what content they include in email messages and to whom they send them. The honest have been dissuaded, while the crooks continue unabated. Plus, with the implementation of spam filters at numerous junctures along the path of an email message, there is serious doubt as to how often our carefully crafted and legally compliant messages actually get through to the intended recipient. To make things even more cumbersome on the law-abiding, there are proposed Do Not Email bills floating about.
- Consider direct mail. The postal rate hike was discouraging enough, but many Do Not Mail bills are in the works as well. So, even if we can afford it, mailing promotional items may become moot.
- Many other forms of marketing are facing restrictions on a local or regional basis, including billboards, the use of spotlights and PA systems, door-to-door selling, handing out flyers, the size and placement of signage, and so forth. Used wrongly, these can be deemed a nuisance by the buying public, but why should everyone be penalized for a few overzealous marketers?
What is left? Certainly broadcast marketing (radio and TV) is one option. With broadcast media, there are already many balanced, appropriate, and accepted laws on the books that govern ad content. Nothing more is in the works at this time. Unfortunately, radio and TV are not effective media for many businesses and out of the question for many marketing budgets. Besides, with the proliferation of DVRs (digital video recorders), how many viewers are zipping past those television commercials anyway? Concerning radio, be aware that more and more listeners are finding their music online, effectively bypassing commercial radio.
Perhaps the most viable remaining category is print media (newspapers, magazines, and newsletters). Like broadcast advertising, print media enjoys time-tested legislation that regulates what can and cannot be included in ads. Print media can be distributed according to a subscription-based model (readers pay to receive it) or an advertiser-based model (companies pay for it to be sent to qualified individuals).
There are two challenges with print advertising. The first is finding the right publication that addresses your target audience. The second is designing an effective ad. Herein is the painful reality of print advertising: a great ad makes things happen; a bad ad does nothing. Interestingly, the only threat to print advertising is not legal, but rather environmental, since no-longer-needed copies end up in the landfill. (This could be the impetus for future legislation.) To address the issue of paper waste, many publications offer electronic alternatives. Over 10 percent of Connections Magazine subscribers currently receive their copies this way; Byte magazine has been 100 percent online for over ten years. This is definitely a trend of the future.
Last, but certainly not least, is the Internet. In the World Wide Web there resides all sorts of interesting and intriguing promotional opportunities. Website sponsorships and banner ads are two prominent options. Search engine advertising is growing at a phenomenal rate. Certainly, having a company website is a requirement. Trying to market in today’s economy without a website is a foolish and shortsighted endeavor, filled with frustration and wasted resources. Increasingly, companies that lack websites are immediately dismissed by prospective customers, who view them as second rate or, worse yet, not even viable. For the progressive, future-focused promoter, consider how SecondLife, MySpace, and FaceBook fit into your marketing mix.
So faxing, calling, emailing, mailing, and broadcasting are increasingly limited marketing options (even when there is an “existing business relationship”). The remaining opportunities exist in the worlds of print media and Internet marketing, which may well become the final frontier of advertising and emerge as the only effective and successful marketing medium in the future.