Has Social Media Ruined Marketing? How Hype Has Blinded Us to the Value of Traditional Marketing

By Sruly Markowitz, COO, StoreSigns.com

Over the past decade, business owners have been hit fast and furious with new marketing must haves including YouTube, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and most recently Pinterest.

These avenues have been taking an enormous amount of time and resources away from focusing on traditional marketing, such as print media and radio. In addition, SEO (search engine optimization) is now being underemphasized as marketing consultants and media alike try to ride the social wave.

But underneath the glimmering surface, and past the stories of the wealth and fame made by those who jumped on the social media wagon, lies a seemingly hard to understand survey.

In a July 2011 conference, Nielsen announced that shoppers would doubly rather be informed of products and sales through in-store signage and other print methods like newspaper ads than from social media or on their smart phones. So while the hype is all about how social media can sell your products and make you rich, the buyers themselves seem to want more traditional methods.

Now, I am not against social media. Our company, StoreSigns.com, maintains active Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages. But, it is clear that traditional print marketing is not a thing of the past.

Social media is great for businesses for one reason: you can harvest a large following, which can snowball into a huge following, which snowballs even further. That brings awareness of your business or product, and hopefully, customers.

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with social media…

  • Most businesses, services, and products are not offerings that are exciting enough for customers to spend leisure time writing, tweeting, etc, about.
  • Many folks on Twitter are out simply to promote their own business or service, and are following you so that you know about them but don’t have any interest in your product.
  • The addictiveness of Facebook makes people like and fan pages left and right, without much thought. That is why many likes on your Facebook page are from people who may not even be your potential customers, like people from other countries, the wrong demographic, etc.
  • People are using social media to relax- they don’t want to be sold to at that time.

On the other hand, print media, the preferred way of business-customer communication according to Nielsen, has many limitations, as well:

  • It is expensive.
  • It has limited reach.
  • It can only present a limited amount of information to the customer, depending on the size of the ad.

The bottom line is, that we need to call a spade a spade. Social media is great, but it is not the only solution, or the solution at all, for many businesses. Businesses need to ask themselves what they seek to accomplish from their campaigns. Investing a lot of time and money in Twitter over SEO is not the right way if you are selling traditional items that are not likely to garner as much excitement as the new iPad.

In-store marketing is a whole different mindset of customer persuasion. It targets customers that are already interested in your store. It hits them at a time when they are prepared to spend money. And they can touch and feel the product that you are advertising.

In-store marketing brands your store, can make your stores look familiar (if you have more than one location), and can attract passers-by if you are located in a high-traffic area.

Targeting customers with in-store marketing is sort of like saying “Oh, you are interested in my store — here is what I have to offer- and notice from the product photo and graphic design of my signs that we are a quality, medium priced, and even playful — store.”

In contrast, promoting your product with through Facebook and Twitter to unlimited people on the web is like walking over to a random person and saying “I sell X.”

Harassing potential customers or clients by following direct messaging, or other methods of unrequested conversation can be a real turn off. And contrary to popular belief, a direct message saying, “Oh, you live in Texas, how’s the weather out there?” makes it quite obvious of your true intentions, even though you are following your marketing consultants rules of making casual conversation with your followers, which they are supposed to interpret as a sign of friendliness. People have learned to see through this tactic.

In conclusion, social media is great, but it has its time and place. Print media is not extinct, and can help many small businesses more effectively than some of the new, hip, and talked about marketing methods.


Sruly Markowitz, COO of StoreSigns.com, has been involved in the design, marketing and print business for over a decade. In addition to StoreSigns.com, Sruly is VP of The Goldmark Group, a boutique design firm specializing in catalogs.




  1. Nina Bondarook on April 2, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Agree with everything you’ve said. In fact, we have been counseling smaller clients without the manpower/resources to effectively manage social/digital networking outreach not to jump in without careful consideration. We also are advocates of direct mail, and think the US Post Office is offering an array of innovative, affordable “Door-to-Door” outreach/visibility options that some retail clients would do well to consider. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  2. Kate-Madonna on April 2, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    I clicked only because of the ridiculous headline, (half-expecting that you’d debunk the ruin of “traditional marketing” in the first sentence.) If your marketing approach is “traditional” only, you need to take a breath and sit down because what I am going to say, might stun you.

    GOOD marketing is about forming relationships. Leave-behinds are not GOOD marketing, unless they are paired with something that offers conversation. Your customers don’t want to buy what you are on paper, they want to purchase who you are in person and action. Social media is simply ONE road a company can take to reach it’s audience. Traditional media is another road. Each commute to the customer has many twists and turns. We often forget that when creating brand awareness or advertising that we are at the mercy of how our customers want to be reached. I’d love to see the Nielsen study which you cite, (especially with the loss of the bix-box store mentality.) Many customers no longer walk into a store to purchase an item, but rather- buy online.

    Some businesses and products fail at social media because they don’t believe in the power of communication. Simply broadcasting a link, is no more than screaming, “BUY THIS OR SOMETHING!” at the top of your lungs. Why companies fail is a lack of a solid plan, FIRST and creativity, SECOND.

    Here’s the simple truth: A multi-tier approach matters more than a solid, online presence or a print campaign. Moreso? Not one approach over the other will make you campaign a success. For every element, (online, print, mobile,) you need human interaction to follow up. You could have even the best multi-tiered approach and lack common customer service. Your sales will flop. A diamond has many facets and would never shine as brightly with a single cut. Marketing is about more than print media and social media, period.

  3. Brian Pittman on April 2, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Hi Kate,

    Good points all. Sruly’s original headline, BTW, was more balanced than the one I ultimately ran. You can lay that on me, the editor. ^brianp

  4. Sruly Markowitz on April 2, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    The Neilson study can be found at http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/browse-all-about-it-the-evolution-of-the-circular/ (second poll on the page).

    Surely tradtional marketing can flop just as well as social media. The thrust of my article is riding the wave hype and thinking that a Facebook page or Twitter posts will launch your business sky high is, for the most part, wistful thinking. That is true even if you follow the latest social marketing advise – attempting non-salesey dialog with your followers to ‘prove’ that you are interested in a relationship with them. These messages are generally quite transparent.

    Yes, many have succeeded wildly on social media, but for most small businesses, traditional media is surely not something to sidestep in favor of hype.