It's probably been a while since you've considered using offline media to drive e-commerce sales.  There was, of course, that time just before the big dot-com bust several years back that e-tailers were looking to TV to drive prospects online.  Then everything changed.

The years following the dot-com bust weren't very good ones for the advertising world-- and most companies.  Companies were in survival mode, and those that are still in business today slowly built their businesses back up using low-cost advertising methods.  Online advertising including e-mail marketing, search engine optimization and marketing, and affiliate marketing, to name a few, lead the pack in terms of driving search traffic cost effectively. But once again, times have changed.

While I'm a big fan of online advertising, it's not the only cost-effective marketing tool out there.  In fact, with stringent CAN-SPAM and privacy laws--along with click-fraud and pop-up blockers and other creative ways for consumers to eliminate online ads--e-marketing has become downright difficult at times.

My firm has always looked towards an integrated offline/online marketing approach for our clients, and I have to say offline tactics appear to be making a very fast and strong comeback for e-tailers. Specifically, we've seen positive results in testing direct mail, TV, radio, print advertising, and public relations.

Before I go any further, however, I need to note that with any of the above offline tactics, it's important to start small. Any vendor you sign up with, whether it's a radio station or a direct mail company, should be willing to let you test the waters a bit without locking you into a long contract or large test. If that is what they are looking to do, move on. There are plenty of suppliers our there that will be willing to do business with you--on your terms.

So where do you start? Try marketing your e-tail business with any number of these low-cost strategies.

Direct Mail

In testing direct mail, look to cost-effective postcard formats.  Standard sizes, like a
4.25-inch X 6-inch card, print and mail very inexpensively (around $.45 per piece in full color).  Don't bother sending prospects direct-mail pieces that are too expensive. Keep it simple. Create an enticing offer, and mail to a targeted list of prospects who are most likely to do business with you.

Print Advertising

Print advertising also works great, but we've found the best results come from classified ad buys and statewide ad buys.  Buying in bulk, and placing one ad to appear in hundreds of publications, might sound as though it's more expensive, but we've found it to provide higher return-on-investment for our clients.  Most advertisers with an online presence welcome new business from new geographic territories, and you'd be surprised just how cost-effective it is to advertise in hundreds--even thousands--of publications at one time.  The bottom line is to look beyond your backyard and into territories you probably would not have considered in the past.

Radio Advertising

If you have a particularly short or memorable URL, radio advertising might just work well for you.  Online spot buying services are able to provide you top-notch service while matching your target geographic and demographic preferences to cost-effective packages.  Many small businesses may think radio is out of their reach from a cost-basis, but radio spots can often be purchased at $10 (or less) per spot with a minimum buy-in of $500 or less.  And don't be afraid to buy remnant or unused inventory--it's usually a great buy for first-time radio testers.  Start with 30-second spots, and if they work for you, do more of them and test 60-second spots.

TV Advertising

Like radio, TV is also one of those areas where most are afraid to venture because of the cost.  However, these days TV advertisers can buy "off-the-shelf" spots with slight customization for $500 or less, with 100% customization costing around $1,000.  Digital production's changing the playing field for the small player, and cable advertising can be so cost-effective that you might start pondering why you're not advertising on TV right now.  Spots can be run for as low as $35 (and lower) with test budgets of $500.  Basically, TV is now within reach and pretty much at the same cost-level as all other advertising methods.

Public Relations

Lastly, a public relations campaign was also once a tactic only sought after by those companies having great brand recognition and/or deep pockets.  Perception was, and still is, that your "story" has to be worthy of prime-time news.  This is no longer the case.  With newswires reaching deep--blanketing hundreds of thousands of editors and websites that are set to automatically pick-up stories--public relations has become a great search engine optimization tool along with doing its job in brand building.  Lastly, newswires are very cost-effective, with distributions being sent for as little as $100--sometimes even free!  Do your homework.

Your job, whether directly or indirectly, is driving more people to your website(s) and driving additional e-commerce sales.  If your job was building houses, you know you would not be able to use just one tool (perhaps a hammer) to complete the job--you'd need many tools.  It's the same case with marketing your website. You're going to want to use as many tools possible--cost-effectively-- to get the job done.