By Chuck Morris, Guest Columnist

When I was just starting my career a thousand years ago in the early ’90s, print advertising was king. I worked for a media company then, and we believed in print’s effectiveness so strongly that we were able to sell and develop custom, single-sponsor magazines and books for some of the world’s most recognizable brands: Johnson & Johnson, Ralston-Purina, Seagram’s, and Federal Express, to name a few. It was our entire business. Clearly, those brands believed in print, too.

The internet and digital advertising weren’t even a thing then, but something called “desktop publishing” (I laugh even as I type this) was upending entire disciplines: from writing and editing to typesetting, graphic design, production/pre-press, and printing. Some of you (wink) know what I’m talking about.

Then Adobe’s® portable document format (PDF®) came out. People were saying that the end of books and magazines was near. People said that we wouldn’t need printing of any kind anymore, including desktop printing on lasers and ink jets. We were promised an earth-friendly “paperless office.”

Fast forward to today, and not only are we still printing, arguably, we’re printing even more. And we have AI now, just to keep things interesting, LOL. In a sort of déjà vu, AI futurists have predicted that entire swaths of jobs will be eliminated because AI will do all the work.

As usual, I believe that we will find that the past is not necessarily prologue.

So, what’s working in advertising now? My answer sounds like I’m trying to weasel my way out of answering, but it depends. And indeed, it does.

We often say at our firm, “We don’t know what we don’t know, but what we don’t know we can test.” And as a guiding principle, we also say, “We’re strategically focused and tactically agnostic.”

There have never been more ways to reach your customers than there are today, and that makes answering the question difficult. What we used to call “audience fragmentation” (the specific demographic and psychographic niches – now “buyer personas”) is also the highest it’s ever been. Chances are that you may have as many as 10 buyer personas, all with different buying motivations. Combine unprecedented audience splintering with the proliferation of media channels and you have a fine mess of decisions to make.

The oversimplified answer is that it’s usually both/and, not either/or. In fact, when it comes to just print versus digital advertising, studies show that campaigns are 24% more effective (measured brand recall) with both than either alone.

Print advertising has these primary advantages: 1) credibility (local reach and trust; 54% of adults trust print over digital), 2) lifespan (magazines have shelf life and typically have a 3x readership), 3) sensory (you can feel and touch a magazine), and 4) better brand recall.

Digital advertising has these primary advantages: 1) lower cost and commitment, 2) real-time engagement (often at the moment of buying decisions), 3) precise targeting, and 4) detailed analytics for measuring ROI.

By leveraging the unique advantages of each and integrating them into a cohesive campaign, businesses can truly maximize their marketing return on investment (ROI).

Here are a few considerations for a successful campaign:

• Strategy. Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” We always begin with strategy, not tactics. Advertising is always tactical, but many clients start there because doing the strategy work is hard. What do we want to happen that supports our clients’ goals? (Could be sales, awareness, goodwill, or any combination.)

• Message and Audience. We use a Messaging Matrix for this, which is a 3×3 grid for the top three messages we want our top three buyer/prospect personas (target audiences) to hear.

• Test. For digital, if you can run an A/B test on a small scale, do it. You will learn something that will likely save you money later. This is in the absence of bona fide primary market research, which is even better.

• Refine. If there’s a clear “winning horse” based on your A/B test, run with it and tweak as you go.

• Measure. How’d we do in the metrics (key performance indicators, or KPIs) that matter: eyeballs, awareness, engagement, conversions, overall sales?

• Repeat. In magazine and newspaper advertising, we used to say that repetition is better than size. In other words, if you have to choose, run six half-page ads instead of one full-page ad. That’s still a universal truth. Consistent presence and compelling messaging, not splash, is what wins.

Chuck Morris is a fractional CMO to several companies and also principal and founder of Morris, a marketing, branding, advertising, and digital media company headquartered in Knoxville. The company website is Morris.Agency.