From the January 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

Has your company's marketing hit the doldrums, with little change from year to year and dwindling responses from customers? Businesses age and grow just like we do, and entrepreneurs often get stuck in marketing ruts. It's easy to be more focused on what didn't work a few years ago than what will work six months from now, and that can lead to marketing paralysis.

Innovative, proactive marketing is absolutely essential for retaining market share. When combined, the following elements make marketing tactics perform their best:

1. Creativity that grabs and holds on: Developing advertising is not a do-it-yourself job, and even marketing professionals are not all equally skilled in writing and designing for a range of media. It takes experience working with the rules and bending them to create marketing that grabs, holds and motivates an audience. Choose professionals who have the right experience and portfolios that demonstrate their success in the types of tactics you plan to use.

2. A message that rings true: Understanding potential customers means looking at more than just demographics. It's essential to learn what their hot buttons are and what they desire most from your company. As you try new tactics, focus on the benefits your audience wants and expects. Drive home how your company is unique in its ability to deliver on its promises, and carry that message throughout your marketing for an integrated campaign that positions you above your competition.

3. Spot-on timing: Sometimes, knowing when to use a particular tactic is critically important. For example, suppose you decided to use outdoor advertising to reach office workers. You could advertise on billboards in residential areas, but you would reach prospects at a more advantageous time by using subway posters they'd see on their way to work--when they're in the right frame of mind to receive your message.

4. The right offer: Making an offer is primarily associated with direct-response advertising--for instance, telling customers to buy now and get $10 off their next purchase. But every form of advertising must make prospects do something. And for that to happen, they need to be swayed by an offer or a promise. Generally, when entrepreneurs say a tactic didn't work, it wasn't necessarily the tactic that failed; the offer or promise simply wasn't strong enough.

Shake things up by adopting a fresh perspective on marketing. You can reach prospects faster and in more ways than ever with these up-to-date twists on old favorites:

  • TV spots: Niche programming on cable TV keeps costs down and viewer engagement up.
  • Yellow Pages: Online directories are embraced by younger users.
  • Direct mail: The increasing ease of personalization raises effectiveness, and the ability to purchase four-color materials online reduces costs.
  • Special promotions and customer rewards: These are fast and affordable to send via e-mail to permission-based, in-house lists.
  • Outdoor: The rise in place-based advertising opportunities lets you advertise anywhere your customers go.
  • Newspapers: They now own the top web portals in many major markets that attract affluent, younger readers, so use them to offer print and online combo buys.
  • Word-of-mouth: You can communicate with influencers online using blogs.
  • Traditional offline media: Use it to pique potential customers' interest and drive traffic to a website that has deeper information.
  • marketing

Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, atsmallbusiness now.com. Her new e-book,Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available exclusively from Entrepreneur atsmallbizbooks.com.