How can we sell more digital? In traditional media, that question has been hounding us for years.

It’s in our heads, in our meetings, in our training, in our budgeting. Few of us are growing our digital revenues at rates anywhere near the growth rate of digital spending.

And one of the toughest challenges has been getting our core sales reprentatives to present digital advertising and marketing solutions effectively to their existing customers.

For most of us, whether we’re in print or broadcast, it’s discouraging to look closely at how few of our core customers are buying digital from us. And, if they’re buying, it’s sad to see how weak the digital add-ons often are.

En route to a Morris Publishing Group digital sales summit a few weeks ago, I had an epiphany on this point.

I was thinking about print ads, which, frankly, I don’t do very often. More specifically, though, I was thinking about how consumer behaviour has changed these days, in those moments when people encounter a product they may want to buy or a business they may want to patronise.

They go online – often via their smartphones – to learn more. I do it all the time, and I'm sure you do, too.

Then – wham! – it hit me. The same is true of print ads.

We need to realise that, today, seeing a print ad rarely closes the deal for a consumer who might become a buyer. Far more often, it’s a trigger that sends him or her to the next step. And that next step is usually digital.

In other words, the ad needs to guide the consumer to a digital destination where the rest of the story can be told and the consumer can move further down the purchase funnel.

If the ad is focused on a specific thing – for instance, a weight-loss programme, a high-end home, or a kitchen remodeling service – most people will want to know more before they even consider picking up the phone.

For a weight-loss programme, they will want details on the programme. Is there a physical exam? Are there group meetings? Regular weigh-ins? A special diet? An exercise regimen? And they’ll want to know what it costs.

Rarely does a print ad explain all these things. There isn’t room, and the static print medium doesn’t allow for a carefully managed presentation that helps move the prospect step by step toward closing.

If the ad is for a high-end house, who would even think of calling the real estate agent without first seeing a good slide show or video tour and a list of all the home’s major features?

For kitchen remodeling or any other home-improvement service, what consumer wouldn’t first want to see a slide show of completed projects and some video testimonials from satisfied customers before picking up the phone?

Even with branding or image ads (for banks or hospitals, for example) anyone attracted by the ad would want to know how the branding story is backed up with actual services and quality – much more than a photo and a block of text can tell them.

In today’s world, a print ad or a broadcast spot is just a hook. It’s a way to get the consumer to the digital on-ramp, which can lead him or her the rest of the way to the advertiser.

So if we’re selling print or broadcast ads to customers without including the digital “next-step” components, we are missing a large opportunity – both for the advertisers and for ourselves.

Most ads need to feature URLs for specific landing pages on the Web. Whatever the ad is pitching, the landing page needs to be built to deliver the next stage of the pitch.

This probably involves photos, slide shows, videos, testimonials, a look at choices and options, and so on – whatever it takes to reel in the customer.

Who’s going to build those landing pages? Shoot those photos and videos? Record those testimonials? That should be us.

That’s digital revenue, baby – and it’s what our clients need to make their print and broadcast ads work. Those legacy ads have power, but they can only take the consumer so far.

A 2015 Borrell Associates survey of SMBs supports this point.

Borrell research shows business Web sites are the second most powerful source of leads; print ads are sixth.
Borrell research shows business Web sites are the second most powerful source of leads; print ads are sixth.

As this chart shows, SMBs said their own Web sites are the second most powerful source of leads, while print ads are sixth. By using print ads to drive people to their Web sites – especially if we make sure there’s custom content there that drives home the message of the ad – we can hook up these two successful tools and drive higher results for them.

While writing this post, I paged through the A and B sections of a local Sunday newspaper, checking to see how the print ads steered consumers toward digital deal-closers.

  • 15 ads contained not a single pointer toward any Web site or any digital asset.

  • 21 ads contained the main URL of the business, usually in tiny print. I spot-checked some of these sites; a few were good, but most needed serious work before they could drive new business.

  • Just one ad contained a URL leading to a specific landing page supporting the ad’s message.

That ad was for a local hospital’s weight-loss programme. The URL led to a good-looking page that led with an excellent video telling the story of a happy customer. The page also featured prominent photos of the programme’s lead physicians and provided an abundance of well-written text explaining the programme.

Great!

It was a textbook example of how print can be used to drive customers to digital, and from digital to the telephone. And it’s what some people call content marketing.

Virtually all of the other 36 ads in those two sections needed similar digital support. And we could be the ones to provide it.

However, when I went to the hospital’s URL on my phone, I got kicked to a very poor generic mobile landing page for the whole hospital. So even this programme could be improved.

So, 37 ads equaled 37 opportunities to make those ads work better through digital assets to land the business.

Here’s my takeaway: If we are selling print or broadcast advertising and not selling the digital elements needed to take consumers the rest of the way, we are wasting a big share of their dollars. They need digital to make their ads work.

And the digital assets need to be very prominent in the print or broadcast creative, so we drive the maximum number of people to the specially prepared digital conversion pages.

A programme like this is a far cry from throwing in some banner-ad impressions on our Web sites along with a print or broadcast ad. That’s doing what’s easy for us, not what’s needed by our customers.

Of course, selling good digital along with legacy media is only a small part of the opportunity for us. Selling good digital to customers who don’t use print or broadcast is an even bigger opportunity, since there are so many non-buyers of legacy media in our markets. That’s where digital sales specialists are essential.

But legacy media advertising isn’t dead. Our legacy (or “multi-media”) reps just need to realise how big their digital opportunity is – and how badly they are letting their customers down if they don’t sell them the digital tools to maximise their results.