Effective marketing: the traditional alternatives that are still worth considering

Digital marketing dominates nowadays, but don't dismiss the traditional methods. Bryony Thomas of Watertight Marketing explains more.

A quick search online for marketing ideas and the ambitious business owner might be forgiven for thinking that all effective marketing these days is digital.

So, while I’m a big fan of maximising the ever-increasing opportunities that social media, search, and sophisticated marketing technology provides, I also have enough miles on the clock to know that traditional techniques are well worth considering.

Here are my top picks for traditional alternatives that should at least be on the consideration list for small businesses looking to make their marketing budget go further.

Direct mail was never dead!

Putting something in the post can be really powerful. The key here is to be timely, tactile and make it personalised.


Map out the path to purchase (or sales journey) and think where you might pop something in the post. We particularly recommend doing this when you know that a potential new customer is weighing up competitors, and when welcoming a new customer onboard with you. Getting a little thank you card specially designed can be enough to do the trick here.


Direct mail that’s memorable is often three-dimensional and memorable. Think about things like toys or other momentos.


This is where DM really hits its stride. We all know that emails are mass personalised, and so it tends to lose its sparkle. A hand-written note, however, really is unique, as are postcards.

When you are an e-commerce entrepreneur, packaging your products for sale and shipment is a key step in your online supply chain, but there are marketing considerations to make too. Companies such as Packhelp can be useful for custom-branded packaging for instance.

Post box marketing

Outdoor advertising has serious advantages

As people have moved to digital, the cost of outdoor advertising has dropped significantly. This is easy to get your head around for regional businesses. However, it can work if your prospective customers are geographically dispersed too – by focusing on outdoor advertising around industry events.

If there’s a big event that you know the venue for, and how people will travel there, you have an opportunity. From buses, bus stops, train stations and roundabouts to pavement paintings and wall projections – if you know where your potential customers hang out, you can make sure they see you with some stand-out creative peppered along their journey.

Door drops can get you directly in front of buyers

Of course, there’s lots of wastage as people put door drops directly in the recycling bin. However, if you get the creative and get the postcode distribution and timing right, this really can be a contender.

Some businesses even approach nearby hotels to place marketing materials in the rooms of conference guests.

Sponsorship has serious potential

When you say sponsorship, many people conjure up ideas of big sports brands and massive budgets. Although this is where the big money might be, the smart money in small business marketing is somewhere else altogether.

There’s very little that isn’t open to a sponsorship of some kind: school sports teams, local networking events, charity galas, and even big name speakers will take sponsorship.

If you think laterally about where your prospects hang out and get creative about the way you manage the relationship, this can be a big hitter. Oftentimes, you don’t need to part with any money at all.

Choose your tools and combine them for real results

Of course, these alternatives get even more exciting when you combine them with effective digital techniques. For example, Facebook advertising a postcode region at the same time as running door drops will increase the effectiveness of both as the ‘I’ve seen that somewhere before’ factor kicks in.

An email with a compelling call to action that lands in the inbox on the morning that your stand-out mailing lands on the desk is a smart move. All sponsorships should also have an option for an email offer to go out to the audience in question.

It’s important that when you’re in the position of needing to out-think, rather than out-spend our competition, that creative and lateral thinking is put to powerful use.

Effective marketing is rarely all achieved online. The true marketing strategist will create an effective interplay of marketing techniques to underpin long-term and sustainable sales results.

Bryony Thomas is author and founder of Watertight Marketing.

See also: Advantages and disadvantages of direct marketing for small businesses

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.