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3 Reasons Your Marketing Doesn’t Work Like It Used To

Are the good old days of advertising gone for good? Here are three major reasons why marketing doesn’t work like it used to.

Author: Jeremy Harrison

November 5, 2021

I have a friend here in Northern Ohio named Bill. He’s been running the same local business since I was a kid. Things have become a lot harder for Bill than they used to be. He lamented to me over breakfast.

“Do you realize how much easier this stuff used to be, Jeremy?”

“What stuff?”

“Advertising! Marketing! All of it. I could buy weekly ads in the local newspaper or magazines and the phones would ring. We tweaked the ads over time, but as long as you knew what you were doing, it usually worked.”

“Yeah, I remember those days.”

“Back then, every person who sold me advertising or marketing services looked like a genius. But today, we think long and hard before we buy any advertising. Our marketing used to work great, but today it’s a crapshoot.”

“So what have you done about it?”

“We’ve tried everything. First we killed most of the newspaper and radio ads… thought we’d go online. We spent more than I’d like on a new website a few years ago. We tried blogging and Google AdWords. Now I’m paying a local girl who says she’s a ‘social expert’ to post on our Facebook.”


“Not enough! It seems like when I try something new I’ll get a couple good leads and then it quickly dries up. I’m getting too old for this.”

Are the Good Old Days Gone for Good?

Over the past two decades, there’s been a fundamental shift in the way people buy products and services. You may, like most people, blame market forces, competition, or an unpredictable economy.

The shift I’m describing has very little to do with the economy or outside forces. That’s good news because we can’t control that stuff anyway.

It has everything to do with the way you relate to your customers. If you will begin to understand this shift you can break out of the frustrating rut that Bill ranted about over breakfast.

The 9/11 Generation

Since the start of the millennium, we’ve been on a roller coaster ride of constant changes that have shifted the way our customers buy things.  Consider all that happened from 2001-2009… 

  • 9/11
  • Corporate scandals
  • War and terrorism
  • The rapid emergence of social media
  • The rapid emergence of smartphones
  • The Great Recession

And it didn’t stop there. Defining world events and new innovation has continued at a breakneck pace.

As a result, your prospective customers see themselves in a whole new way. This affects the way they see your business, and it means that you need to approach your marketing with a new mindset.

Three Epic Shifts (Why Marketing Doesn’t Work Like It Used To)

#1: From TV Screens to Smartphones

When you and I were kids, everyone’s eyeballs were glued to one screen—the television! It was a coveted spot to advertise, because you had a captive audience. If your business was on television, you had people’s attention.

Today, that attention has shifted from televisions to smartphones. Everything changed in the summer of 2007 when Apple rolled out the first iPhone. It didn’t take long before smartphones were in the hands of every consumer.

digital marketing changes, 9-11 changes

Because smartphones are always in our hands, they now get even MORE attention than the television ever had.

Lesson #1: If you want to catch your customers’ attention, you better be on their smartphones!

#2: From Mass Markets to Highly Segmented Markets

It used to be you could reach everyone in a couple places. If you needed to reach everyone in your local area, everyone read the same newspaper and listened to one of a few local radio stations. If you needed to reach everyone in your region, you could buy a spot on a few local television stations.

Today, your customers are much more segmented.

News: Local news is still strong, but customers are now reading news on smartphones from hundreds of different news sources.

Radio: In addition to local radio, people are listening to hundreds of satellite radio channels, plus online streaming sources like Spotify and Pandora.

Television: We’ve gone from 3-4 regional stations to hundreds of channels watched through cable and satellite, and don’t forget streaming choices that skip commercials, like Netflix, Hulu and YouTubeTV. Customers also record their programs and watch when they have time.

While all of your customers used to be in one of a few places, now they are in thousands of different places engaging at different times.

The bad news is you can’t reach large masses of people effectively anymore. The good news is that there are far more powerful ways to reach really specific groups of people through digital marketing.

Lesson #2: Mass marketing has its place, but if you are a local small business, that place probably isn’t yours. You must hit a highly-targeted audience based on highly-targeted needs and saturate your message in that space.

This leads to our final shift.  

#3: From Interrupting to Helping

People used to tolerate ads that would interrupt what they were doing. They’d listen… or watch… or read ads. Today, most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 ads daily.

That’s a lot of people vying for your attention, and a lot of companies you’re competing against. To break through the noise, you need to reach a highly-targeted audience with a message that matters to them. That message needs to focus on who they are and offer very specific solutions to very specific problems.  

getting your customers attention, brand awareness

Lesson #3: Effective ads can no longer rely solely on interrupting consumers. They must speak your customers’ language in a highly specific way and offer help.

If your marketing isn’t working, ask these questions…

  1. Are you reaching your customers on their smartphones?
  2. Are you still running broadly-targeted ads to reach your customers?
  3. Is your message focused on a mass market or on offering specific help for specific problems? 

Spire offers comprehensive, done-for-you marketing solutions to help businesses find the target audience and craft the messages that will matter to your ideal customer.

Spire has created and manages hundreds of targeted digital marketing and brand awareness campaigns for local businesses that want to grow. Connect with us today.

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