The Internet has changed the way we do things. It has become our encyclopedia and our shopping cart, our healthcare consultant and our telephone, our banker and our arcade. One of the things that has changed most profoundly over the past two decades is the way goods and services are marketed.

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One can purchase almost anything online—from a sweater to a pizza, to car insurance—and the way brands connect with customers has been completely reinvented by electronic communication. For today’s small business, the best comprehensive marketing plan may be a mix of old and new methods.

The Old

Direct Mail

Bulk mailings were once the best (and virtually the only) way for a brand to get its message to a large number of potential customers. List brokers generated and purged lists of names and addresses based on various demographics, including region, age, gender, income level, and interests. And those lists were very valuable to anyone whose business lived or died by direct mail marketing. The Internet definitely took a bite out of this traditional bulk mailing form of marketing, yet this old school method remains as a resilient old school technique. Seems that having a directly trackable response metric, like a return postcard, still provides brands with some value for their dollar.

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Cliq direct mail design: ShinTheDesigner

Print Ads

Once the standard way of publicizing just about anything from a new car model to a two-for-one burger offer, the space ad in traditional media (newspapers and magazines) has taken a bit of a beating over the past 20 years. Newspapers have faltered in record numbers as the Internet has become the primary news provider for millions (if not billions) of people, and magazines have competed for the remaining ad revenue. Some have fared better than others. Fashion magazines, for example, draw much of their ad revenue from cosmetic and clothing companies, which still don’t mind spending on a two-page spread. Other areas, like news magazines, haven’t been as lucky, resorting to slimmer issues and lighter paper stock to cut costs.

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Ventum print ad design:Slowshow Design

Outdoor Advertising

As long as there are roads and cars, there will likely be billboards. While there’s virtually no way to accurately measure a billboard’s return on investment, they remain a popular method of image advertising. That is, they put the advertiser’s brand in front of the consumer at a moment when, let’s face it, there’s not much else to look at. And billboards aren’t just for roadside attractions or accommodations available at the next exit. National brands use them to keep their name in play, and local businesses use them to try to get more market presence than their nearest competitors. Some advertisers, like casinos and other entertainment venues, have gone with electronic billboards with ever changing displays to catch the consumer’s eye.

The New

Web Pages

Whether your brand represents a brick-and-mortar business (like a restaurant) or an online service (like money management or tech support) you need a web presence to stay competitive, build your brand, and interact with customers. That means creating a strong and consistent online brand persona that reflects the main strengths of your business. A significant improvement on space ads, a web page can let your customers know who you are, what skills you possess, what products or services you offer, what special time-sensitive deals may be in effect, and how best to reach you. And a web page can be updated to reflect changes in the market, the season, the introduction of new products or services, or just to create a new and exciting look. The most successful sites are not only aesthetically pleasing but easy to navigate—and that’s especially valuable if your site represents your main interface with customers.


Zen Style website design: INSANELY.US

Mobile and Responsive Ads

Most of today’s consumers do at least some portion of their shopping via their smartphones—whether comparing products and services, reading past reviews, asking questions of company reps, or making a purchase. That means that marketing has had to adapt to the small screen. Probably the most effective way it has done so is through responsive ads—ads that “know” on what device they’re being viewed. Responsive ads adapt to the screen size and format of the device so that copy and images flow seamlessly and so that the customer needn’t scroll through endless screens to find pertinent information. Click-to-buy and click-to-call technology has made responding to ads and offers even easier for consumers, removing barriers to purchasing.


APT Structures LTD banner ad design: DESIGN Butique

Social Media and Search Engine Optimization

Two other aspects of new school marketing re: social media and search engine optimization. Maintaining a strong presence on popular social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook is an important link between brands and customers—providing a way to advertise products and services, publicize special offers, answer questions, and troubleshoot complaints. Many brands have expanded their marketing plans to include some form of social media marketing consistent with their brand persona. Another update to old school marketing has been to improve the way one’s brand displays in search results. Subtly adjusting content to include pertinent keywords has enabled brands to improve their position in an ever-shifting marketplace.

What this means for design

So, what does all this mean from a design perspective? Perhaps most importantly it means that marketing and advertising are changing faster than ever. Campaigns must be timed perfectly, websites continually updated, responses monitored, and approaches adjusted to reflect changing trends. It also means more start-ups and individual proprietorships are entering the marketplace now than at any time in history. So there are myriad opportunities for skilled designers to make themselves indispensable to both emerging and established brands.

Expertise in web design is in high demand, as businesses continually seek to use the most eye-catching graphics and animations to attract and hold new customers. And because websites must remain fresh and up-to-date, designers are routinely required to make tweaks and adjustments to maintain the sites at peak performance at maximum relevance.

Designing for mobile has ushered in a whole new age in design, both for apps and for responsive design advertising. We’ve only begun to explore what mobile advertising can do, and the frontier is continually expanding as new technology, designers, and web developers push the boundaries.

With social media now a part of purchasing behavior, designers must continually work to create comprehensive advertising and marketing materials that embrace social. And with the evolving nature of search algorithms, designers must remain current when planning and placing content for today’s brands.

Hopefully by reviewing these few key elements, the picture of old school vs. new school marketing techniques will be clearer and enable you to make the best choices for your brand’s future.