Mobile, social media, interactive, video—there’s no doubt that digital technologies get the lion’s share of buzz in the marketing world today. But here’s an interesting factoid revealed in FedEx Office’s Fourth Annual Signs of the Times Small Business Survey (Spring 2011): While many small business owners plan to reach existing and potential customers online and through social media, more than half (53 percent) intend to use more-traditional channels such as newsletters and direct mail.

What is the right mix of digital and print media for small and medium-sized businesses? Obviously, there’s no single right answer that covers all types of businesses in all kinds of industries, but there are strategies you can use to figure out what’s likely to work best for your company.

“Finding the right mix of print and digital is less about your business and more about your customers,” says Joellyn “Joey” Sargent, a principal in consulting firm BrandSprout. “Think about who they are, how they buy, where they go.” Understanding those things will help you determine how to reach customers with a mix of print and digital that provides the greatest visibility in the right places.

Look for the ability to create multiple impressions in a variety of venues to get the best ROI from your marketing programs, Sargent suggests. Avoid wasting money on marketing programs that won’t reach your target customers by first doing research to ensure that any opportunity you are considering will actually help you connect, online or off.

Determining value

Beyond having a solid understanding of your customer and your marketing objectives, budget and timing will quickly narrow things down to determine the best options for reach, frequency, and impact, says Robbin Block, marketing strategist at Blockbeta Marketing. The type of business and/or product is important because leveraging existing communications channels can be a key part of a marketing strategy. “The opportunity cost—the value of the other thing you could be doing—is a critical part of the trade-off decision” when choosing between media alternatives, she says.

One example of print media that is still successful in this digital age is direct mail, says Michelle Van Slyke, vice president of marketing at The UPS Store, which has been collaborating with the U.S. Postal Service on Every Door Direct Mail since last fall. “The results are trackable, and both our franchisees and their small business customers who have used it have seen results—new customers and repeat business,” she says.

Direct mail remains a go-to tactic for many SMBs because it is effective, and the rapid spread of digital marketing may be helping to keep it relevant. “People receive so many digital messages all day now, while their stack of mail is getting smaller and smaller,” Van Slyke says. “A direct mail piece stands out. It gets noticed, it gets read, and its offers and coupons get used.”

No matter what the mix, all types of media should be used together in a complementary manner in what’s come to be known as integrated marketing, says Kevin Kelly, chief creative operative at BigBuzz Marketing Group. “Digital and traditional media should be treated the same. It all comes down to reach, frequency, and engagement,” he says. “If digital and interactive aren’t part of your traditional plan by now, you should fold up your tent and go home.”

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