8 Old School Marketing Methods for 2024 Small Businesses

old school marketing

My clients are making bank using old school marketing methods, including some that are older than I am. Today, we’re going to talk about them.

See, I’m skeptical about the value of social media. Every social media platform is so crowded with businesses and flooded with content, standing out is nearly impossible.

While researching our recent ChatGPT tutorial, I asked the artificial intelligence bot to calculate the odds of a social media post going viral using the number of viral posts divided by the number total posts. After doing a little lightning-fast math, it returned the answer: less than 1%. Other sources have backed this up.

When it comes to the task of bringing in new customers, “less than 1%” seems like pretty long odds to me.

Enter Old School Marketing Methods

The nice thing about the big businesses and famous start-ups sucking up all the oxygen online is that it makes some old school marketing methods a comparative breath of fresh air. Some of these have been around for decades, but are still useful.

However, everything old school needs a little updating, just like my baggy Guess jeans from 1996. Even though baggy jeans are totally back in style, there are some subtle differences from days gone by.

My 1996 fashion: almost in style.

These old school methods need some updating for 2024, but they’re all working right now.

Old School Marketing Method #1: Newspaper ads

2024 Update: Online classified sites 

Printed ads in local newspapers and magazines can be a great way to reach a targeted audience, particularly if the publication is popular in your local area. However, the decline in print media readership and the rise of online advertising has led to a decrease in effectiveness.

Advertising in local online classifieds, such as Craigslist or Kijiji, can be a highly effective way for small businesses to reach a targeted local audience. These platforms allow businesses to create and post ads that can be easily viewed by people in a specific location, making it easier to reach potential customers who are already interested in their products or services.

The low cost of advertising on these platforms, coupled with the ability to track and measure the effectiveness of ads, makes them an attractive option for small businesses with limited marketing budgets.

Additionally, the ability to interact with customers through these platforms can help build brand awareness and loyalty, further driving growth and success. Beware: Some industries aren’t allowed to advertise in these forums.

Old School Marketing Method #2: Flyers and brochures

2024 Update: Postcard with a dynamic QR code

Flyers and brochures can be a cost-effective way to promote your business to a local audience. However, the rise of digital marketing and environmental concerns around paper waste have led to a decrease in their use.

To distribute flyers or postcards in an intentional and targeted way, only focus on areas where your ideal customers are likely to be, such as local events, coffee shops, and community centers.

If you’re a home service provider, consider dropping postcards at the neighbours of your current clients offering a “neighbourhood discount.” Make sure your dynamic QR code is on your mailer.

Old School Marketing Method #3: Business cards

2024 Update: Have a digital alternative

Business cards are an easy and convenient way to leave a lasting impression on potential customers, suppliers, and partners. However, they often don’t maximize their usefulness. Make sure your card includes information about what makes you different in your industry, and include a QR code here too.

In 2024, you will want to offer people a digital alternative in the form of a QR code they can scan that inputs your info right into the contact section of their phone.

Old School Marketing Method #4: Billboards and signboards

2024 Update: Targeted out-of-home advertising

Public signage is called “out-of-home” (OOH) advertising in the marketing biz. Billboards and signboards in high-traffic areas can be an effective way to reach a large audience. Over the pandemic, prices for OOH dropped and you can still find some good deals.

Despite the rise of digital advertising, out-of-home advertising remains an effective way to reach a large, diverse audience in a variety of settings.

From billboards and transit ads to street furniture and signage, out-of-home advertising offers a range of opportunities to showcase your brand and promote your products or services. In fact, it dovetails nicely with digital advertising in a way some might find a little creepy.

Many out-of-home providers are now owned by digital media companies that also own TV stations and streaming services. In some cases, they use your location data to validate the “views” of their ads.

For example, say you go to a bar with advertisements on the back of the stall doors in the washrooms, and you happen to have the streaming app on your phone owned by the same company that owns the stall ad.  They may track your data, i.e. how long you stay in the stall with the ad in front of you, and use that data to sell more ads.

Old School Marketing Method #5: Sponsoring events

2024 Update: Sponsoring events with measured ROI

Sponsoring local events can be a great way to promote your business and build relationships with the local community. This can be especially good for industries where typical “advertising” is regulated or frowned upon. In many kinds of law, for example, advertising undermines your credibility. Sponsoring a hole at a golf tournament, however, is just fine.

To ensure that your investment pays off, consider factors such as audience demographics, event size and reach, and past success. It’s also important to measure your results. To do this, define your goals for the event, create an action plan for reaching those goals, and measure how you do against that plan.

It’s important to note that if you don’t like talking to people, this method isn’t going to work for you. Successful events mean taking every opportunity to engage with attendees and build relationships. If introducing yourself at breakout sessions and mixers isn’t your jam, you could offer giveaways or host demonstrations.

After the event, follow up with anyone you met to cement the relationship. If it feels appropriate, offer additional resources or promotions. Use this opportunity to build on the relationships you’ve established and keep your brand top of mind.

Old School Marketing Method #6: Direct Mail

2024 Update: Personalized Direct Mail

The increasing use of digital marketing has led to a decrease in the use of direct mail. This is great news. Our mailboxes used to be clogged with junk mail. Now, it’s a lot easier to stand out in the mailbox than in a social media feed, and can be cheaper. (which is why the government uses it liberally. Ha, political pun.)

To make direct mail work in 2024, it’s important to focus on personalization and relevance. Use data and segmentation to tailor your message and offer to each recipient, and consider using QR codes to drive traffic to your website.

It’s no longer cool to just carpet bomb a whole neighbourhood with flyers like they did in the 90s. If you’re going to chop down a tree to get your message out, (not personally of course, but you know what I mean) you want to make sure it goes to good use.

Ways to do that include physically dropping your materials in people’s mailboxes with a handwritten note on it. I got one like that a couple days ago from 1-800-GOT JUNK, a company with great marketing. It had a little note written in ballpoint pen, telling me their truck would be in the neighbourhood this weekend and offering a specific discount for me. I don’t have anything to get rid of at the moment but if I did, you bet I’d be taking them up on their offer.

Old School Marketing Method #7: Telemarketing

2024 Update: SMS marketing

Look, if telemarketing wasn’t an effective way to reach a large audience we wouldn’t have giant call centres still doing it. However, there is that one little problem: everyone hates it. It has become the tactic of choice for collection agencies and overseas scammers trying to convince us to pay our taxes with iTunes gift cards. Not exactly the marketing plan you want to emulate.

SMS marketing (or text message marketing) has been dubbed the “new telemarketing” because it provides a non-intrusive way to reach potential customers with personalized, targeted messages.

Like telemarketing, SMS marketing allows businesses to connect with customers directly, but without some of the negative connotations associated with cold calling.

Make sure you learn the lessons telemarketing taught us. Don’t bother people on their phone unless you make it worth their while, like a very valuable discount. A study in the Journal of Retailing noted that a discount has to be at least 20-30% in order to motivate people who wouldn’t have otherwise purchased.

Old School Marketing Method #8: The Yellow Pages

2024 Update: Google Local Business

It boggles my mind that there are grown-ass adults in the workforce who have never used a phone book. When I was 19 I worked on a local TV show that was going national. One of the first things we did is source phonebooks from all over the country in order to book guests. Why? Because it was 1999 and the internet looked like this:

The Yellow Pages were once a popular the only way for consumers to find local businesses. Businesses paid big bucks to have large ads in the phone book. For service-based businesses like movers and repair companies, often this was the only marketing they needed to do.

Just because we don’t print local listings in a book anymore doesn’t mean we don’t use them. Now, that same information can be found in Google Business listings (formally Google My Business.) These listings make a huge difference in the amount of traffic to your website and the number of calls you get, so make sure your listing is optimized.

Admittedly, I love old stuff. I wear vintage clothing. I watch old movies. I collect antique jewelry. According to my kids, I even listen to old person music. So I may be a bit biased with my fondness for old school marketing methods. But here’s the thing…they work. Sometimes it’s a classic for a reason.

bridget brown, founder create that copy