With Guy Regnier, president and creative director of Winnipeg-based marketing and design agency Deschenes Regnier

Everyone is pushing us to give up traditional marketing and try online marketing — do I have to?

In the last 20 years, there has been incredible growth in the number and types of marketing vehicles available to businesses, especially in online or ‘digital’ spaces. This doesn’t mean that older, more ‘traditional’ means of advertising should be ignored, but it does provide you with a greater breadth of options to consider when you are developing your marketing strategy. Today, the best marketing campaigns use a strategic combination of new media and traditional vehicles to maximize your marketing impact and connect with your customers wherever they may be.

As a manufacturer, I have always used brochures, trade shows, presentations, and direct B2B mail campaigns, but people tell me these don’t work anymore. Is that true?

Of course not. These can still be valuable assets in your marketing campaign. Even though these tools have worked in the past, however, you now have access to a variety of new options that can be more cost-effective and that make it easier to measure the results of your campaign. The trick is understanding your customer. Today’s challenge in developing a strategy is finding ways to integrate these new mediums to complement your traditional tactics and ensure your spend is maximized.

It is also important not to forget about the role your website plays in your overall marketing plan. Many companies make the mistake of using their website as nothing more than an online version of their corporate brochure. Your website is the hub of your online communications. When potential clients hear about your company (at a trade show, for example, or someplace else), they go directly to your website first to find out more. When you post on social media, that content should be highlighted on your site. Online advertising (and, to a lesser extent, direct mail advertising) should be pointed to specific landing pages on the website that speak about the specific topics you want your customer to understand, like your product’s value proposition. In most situations, your website is the first point of contact for a potential customer (public or B2B).

You mentioned online advertising — does it work?

Online advertising can take many forms: You can use your current social media properties to deliver a brand message; you can buy ads on social media sites; you can advertise in search engines using tools such as Google AdWords; or, you can purchase ads on third-party sites. The real questions are: What are your goals, what are you marketing, and who are you trying to reach? Just like your physical toolbox at home: A hammer can be a helpful tool, but it doesn’t serve much help in loosening a bolt.

Sure, my kids use social media, but is it actually useful in a business setting?

Social media activity is not an ‘advertising’ tool — it is a communications tool that enables you to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry and to engage in conversations with people about your business. It helps you project a corporate ‘personality’ that is less easily delivered through traditional marketing means as well. But we always warn people before they get involved that taking part in social media requires a significant amount of time and resources. To be successful, you need to be consistently active, and you must commit to do more than ‘push out’ information — you have to meaningfully interact, which isn’t always comfortable to do for the world to see (navigating a customer complaint, for instance). And, most importantly, you must be sincere in your participation or your audience will figure out your game.

Dollars are tight — what are the best ways to market in the B2B segment?

The ‘best’ way needs to be your best way — not the best way for everyone else. I can tell you, though, that, in the past, advertising was about telling people why they should choose your product or service over your competitors’. Now, in a marketplace cluttered by choice and confusion, the purpose of advertising is slanted toward simply being found by potential customers.

The good news is there is an abundance of choice for every style and budget. Unlike in the past, where you may have been stuck experimenting or implementing marketing activities that weren’t right for your audience, you can now target tailored messages with laser-like focus and measured performance. Online, your website is the cornerstone of your brand, your offerings, and your activities. Get that right before exploring any other types of new media. And, if your ‘old school’ approach is still working, stay committed, because new is not always better. Know your customer, know their habits, and have an articulated, well-resourced strategy for how you’re going to reach them.