Question:As a contractor in the plumbing trade, how do you feel about companies and services being marketed to retail customers via the Internet vs. direct mail?

Answer:You know, as much time as I spend on the Internet, I’ve yet to see a web page install a water heater. I’ve never seen a letter fix a busted pipe, nor have I heard a radio ad that would water my lawn.

And now that my smart-aleck tirade is over (almost): Please know that I am a fan of virtually every form of media — within reason — but please don’t evermistake media for message.

If you can get your message across by parading half-nude on the interstate while painted blue, go for it. I tend to think the attention you get will have you put in a room talking about your childhood, but you willgain attention.spam

The media’s job is to deliver the messageby first getting attention; after that, it’s your job to keep the attentionlong enough to get the sale. (And by sale I mean phone call, appointment, web hit, image boost, referral, etc.)

The Internet is a media outlet, just as is mail, radio, newspapers, Yellow Pages and newsletters. It is not a replacement for, nor is it better than, its predecessors, as some disciples thereof would attest. The Internet is part of a team of media players, each with specific roles, all required.

An email campaign is a big loser just as a postal mail campaign is a big loser — if you get the market and message wrong. Marketers like me now resort to cleverer subject lines and shorter, more alluring messages to get people outof the email and ontothe website as quickly as humanly possible. (Again, we’re out to get attention first, then the message.)

Sure, the Internet does have the innate ability to go worldwide, but unless you’re running service calls in Tanzania, that doesn’t matter much. It can be changed instantly, multiplied (“scaled” as they say) at virtually zero up cost as opposed to numbers of letters sent.

Yet this benefit’s “mass attractiveness” has nearly nullified the gain. In other words, say thank-you to the spam world for saturating the inboxes of your customers to the point of near blindness. So, to get better results, people email more, further diluting the “specialness” and potentially their credibility in the process.

No, I’m not dogging email alone. Give me a little time and I’ll dog radio, newspaper and direct mail. They’re all fabulous; they’re all flawed. But think not that the Internet is the end-all savior of marketing. It is a form of media.

24-hour-a-day salesperson

Now, your website is indeed a representative of your store, your story and the starry-eyed reasons you were called to serve. It can and should become a virtual walking, talking company rep, advocate, detractor (more in a second), salesperson, scheduler and referral generator.

There is not another single media outlet that can accomplish as much as a solid website. I’ve just invested $27,800 in ours, so I need to make sure I believe this or I’m considering that half-naked, painted blue option. Your website is of immense value and importance in the media mix. A rotten or nonexistent one screams, “Behind the times, resistant to change, stuck in the ‘gonna get to it’ abyss.”

A fantastic website, with customer-centered(instead of company-centered) information, education and ultimately persuasive passion is your 24-hour-a-day salesperson who never asks for a raise.

In fact, I could say that about any of your media-driven messages. It’s just that your website has far more customer freedom, with virtually unlimited time and space to involve your customer.

So, let’s marry our media. Repeat: “I, website, take thee, direct mail to be my lawfully persuasive partner, to support the company in sales promotions …” You get the point.

Make your direct mail sell and introduce your website. Plus, make your website sell and introduce your direct mail. “Sign up here to get special offers by mail and email.” “Click here to receive our four-color newsletter full of customer-only messages and benefits.” Get it? We point Yellow Pages’ customers to websites all the time (but never vice versa for the obvious reason!) in an effort to deepen the message.

If you make your media a team instead of solo players, they’ll all play — and work — much better together.