Marketing a business these days is a lot like having a stocks-and-bonds portfolio. The more diversified everything is, the better chance it all has to work out in your favor in the long run.

In marketing terms, that means employing a web of communications strategies rather than relying on just one blunt tool to get your name and message out. For John Martorana, president of Oxford Communications in Lambertville, it’s about awareness, however you can build (and measure) it.

Martorana will join Tom McManimon, president of StimulusBrand, at the Princeton Chamber’s Independent Business Alliance Breakfast on Friday, September 30, at 7:30 a.m. to present “Utilizing Multimedia to Grow Your Business.” The event will be held at the Nassau Club of Princeton. Cost: $40. Visit princetonchamber.org.

Martorana grew up in Drexel Hill and says his parents gave him his work ethic from the beginning. His father was an electrical engineer at RCA who “worked on some cool projects like the Space Shuttle,” but would work janitorial jobs whenever the engineer’s union went on strike, he says. “Nothing was beneath him.”

His mother worked in real estate and was just as driven to do good work for the pride of doing good work as his father.

Martorana studied business and finance at Villanova in the mid-1970s, then earned his bachelor’s in marketing from Georgetown in 1978. Along the way he studied international marketing at Oxford Brookes University in England, which gave him the name of the marketing firm he started in 1986 with Chuck Whitmore.

Thirty years in the game has taught Martorana a lot about that diversification idea in marketing. Back in the days before the Internet, companies looking to get the word out were saddled with few, not to mention expensive, options. But online marketing tools, though often free and wide-reaching, are not on their own a panacea.

Social media have settled down. “Twitter will not solve all your problems,” Martorana says. Not long, ago, of course, a lot of people thought the opposite, mostly as an offshoot of the recession.

When the economy tanked, people turned to cheap, free, DIY alternatives for everything, he says. Twitter and Facebook were free and exposed people to, theoretically, everyone on earth with an Internet connection. In this world, businesses threw themselves into social media platforms at the expense of other outlets that they used to use, from print to radio.

Now that the recession dust has largely settled, Martorana says, businesses are finding a valuable lesson, that using social media and digital advertising (a.k.a. Internet advertising) as part of the strategy and not the whole thing is the better choice.

“There’s a leveling-off now,” he says. “The question is more, how does it interact with other media?”

Speaking of interaction. The advantage social media has given to marketing is not that it’s free. It’s that it’s taught us different ways to communicate, even on non-digital platforms.

“We were living in the interruption economy,” Martorana says. This refers to the dynamic of watching the game and then, boom — beer commercial interrupts the broadcast. “Now it’s the engagement economy.”

Businesses, in other words, are finally facing up to the reality that people don’t like to be hawked at all the time. And that building brand awareness is more about conversation and mutual response than a carefully scripted monologue.

What helps this conversation, Martorana says, is that today businesses can do something they never could before, which is analyze feedback immediately. They can quantify what’s working and what isn’t, through actions like A/B testing. This is where you put out two related messages to see which one is working best. This, Martorana says, helps to narrow down the audience you want to reach and tailor the conversation and messages to fit them accordingly.

You could measure response to a degree with, say, print or a television ad, but the nuances would not be anywhere close to what you can get from a living, breathing conversation.

The podcast returns. Remember a few years ago when everyone talked about how podcasting would be the next awesome marketing thing? And then a few years later when everybody mocked podcasting the way they mock MySpace?

Well, Martorana says, the podcast has found its place in the marketing portfolio. Like video, podcasts are easy to record and easy to put out there. They can also be incredibly informative, especially where complex topics are concerned.

Take long-term care insurance. No one enjoys the topic and less than no one would like to spend an evening reading a dry discourse on what it’s all about. But it is, Martorana says, a dynamic industry with an important message. And connecting with people to get them thinking about long-term care works better when you hear a human being actually talking about it. It’s not just a passive interaction like reading someone else’s work, he says. It’s an active interaction.

What about the little guy? The advantage of online in particular is that it’s a leveler. David’s slingshot upgraded with laser sighting. Small businesses now occupy the same space as the PepsiCos of the world, and it starts with that conversation and engagement.

When the conversation gets rolling and the audience builds to a critical mass, adding other kinds of media to the mix comes next, Martorana says. Maybe businesses are so small that they can only use social media to get the conversation started, but an investment in digital marketing, then print, outdoor, or broadcast can develop.

An oft-overlooked option, surprisingly, is video. There are millions of videos on YouTube, but still so many businesses aren’t using the channel. It’s surprising because YouTube is free, and, really, so is making videos for it if you have a smartphone or a laptop. Video puts a real face on a company — a pretty valuable benefit, especially to a small company looking to connect with real people.

The thing to avoid is thinking you don’t need a particular channel, Martorana says. “It’s a common mistake. People think, ‘I don’t use this channel, so I don’t need to use it for business.’ But the owner is not the target audience.”

Because, imagine that, the customer is.

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