6 Old-School Marketing Tactics Making a Comeback in 2018

Erin Stevens
Feb 28, 2018 · 13 min read

Digital tunnel vision is killing your marketing efforts.

In a social media-obsessed world, marketers have been tricked into spending all of their time and resources on social media strategy, Google AdWords, and SEO.

While these tools are crucial to success, traditional marketing tactics boast an equal (if not greater) rate of return. They drive active engagement rather than the passive likes and retweets we’ve been conditioned to covet.

Even the Queens of Social Media know how to use direct mail to create buzz around their product. The PR boxes for the new KKW fragrance spurred genuine word-of-mouth (and finger) marketing from influencers that couldn’t wait to break their giant candy hearts this past Valentine’s Day.

Focusing solely on social media and digital marketing is like getting your girl roses for Valentine’s Day. All she can do is look at them, tell you how much she loves them, and wait for them to die. And the more often she gets them, the less she cares. Take her skydiving for Valentine’s Day and she’ll never forget pummeling toward the ground with you.

It’s time for marketers to step away from the keyboard and dive into traditional marketing to give customers the rush they want. Here are 6 old-school marketing tactics that are making a comeback in 2018.

But first,

Tactics ≠ Medium

You may have jumped to the conclusion that “old-school” refers to analog marketing collateral exclusively. But “tactics” are more closely related to mindset than medium.

Most new-school tactics like Facebook Custom Audiences put a straight jacket on creativity and personalization. They’re too formulaic and overarching.

To cut through the digital clutter, marketers must employ traditional marketing concepts to the current medium. Physical media can’t be forgotten completely.

The balance your business strikes between new-school and old-school marketing tactics will rely heavily on your target audience and the nature of your product or service. A fusion of the two will get you furthest.

1. Peer-to-peer marketing & earned media

According to a 2013 study by the Bank of America Corporation, social media marketing came in dead last as the most effective marketing tool for small business. Word-of-mouth and customer referral still reign supreme.

Source: Inc.com

New-school social media tactics are generally a mix of owned and paid media, meaning you control every aspect of the content and pay for that content to be seen.

Owned & Paid Social Media Examples

Earned media in the digital space may be a mix of free and paid tactics. It usually takes the form of an honest peer-to-peer review of a product or service.

Earned Social Media Examples

Earned media and peer-to-peer marketing (effective and inexpensive) results from grabbing the attention of key influencers, media distributors, and fans. The only difference between this tactic now versus 20 years ago is the influencer themselves.


Influence used to be reserved for the very public and authoritative: politicians, actors, and scientists. Now, YouTubers like beauty guru James Charles (6M subscribers), are just regular people that amassed followings of dedicated fans by uploading entertaining or informative content to the web.

Gifting goods and services to high-profile influencers on YouTube and Instagram is one of the most popular ways to use their word of mouth to reach millions. And yes, you’ll have to visit the post office.

There’s no guarantee that the products you send will appear on an influencer’s feed without an official deal (James receive hundreds of products), but their unpaid promotion or review of your product ensures that their sentiments are honest.

Leverage Marketing

And their audiences listen. Three out of four customers trust the opinions on social media including friend, family, and influencers according to Leverage Marketing.

They also found that almost half of consumers rely on influencer recommendation.

And of course, there are right and wrong ways to approach influencer marketing.

2. Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

Most new-school, digital marketing tactics begin with a shot in the dark. Social posts and cold emails campaigns cast a huge net with equally huge holes for potential customers to swim through, even with regular A/B testing.

They often lack focus. Great marketers realize their time is better spent sharpening their spears to catch big fish.

Account-based marketing is a general term for outbound, qualification-first marketing. Rather than using a telescope to inform their B2B strategy, marketers are putting potential clients under a microscope.

Account-based marketers identify their prospect’s problem FIRST and deliver the solution second, not the other way around.

Tech-giant, Salesforce, found a scalable way to add a recurring $100 million in revenue with a formula for lukewarm emails. It was simple and plain in style, but specific and targeted in content, similar to this structure from marketing expert, Nick Persico:



Account-based marketing involves a ton of creeping. Start with a market segmentation based on the demographics/firmographics including industry, location, revenue and number of employees.


Once you’ve built a list of potential businesses that fit your target, begin disqualifying them by pitting their problems against your solutions. If they obviously don’t need you, don’t waste your time.

Once you identify the problem in their current system, create a personalized pitch briefly explaining how you can fill the gap. And leave the sales guy lingo for the phone call. Remember, your initial contact isn’t a sale.

Your list of prospects will get smaller as your spear gets sharper. After you understand your value for a particular company, shoot for the C-level.

Spend time pitching high-ranking executives. The people at the top are the visionaries and real decisions makers. Pitch below C-level and you’ll likely get forwarded — or worse — forgotten.

You can use a tool like Clearbit Connect to find emails for CEOs, CFOs, CTOs or VPs of Marketing in less than five seconds. Nope, they’re not exaggerating.


In your initial email and follow-ups, always create a strong, but informal CTA like, How about a quick call tomorrow afternoon? You may not get a response on the first pitch, but the fortune is in the follow-up.

Don’t get discouraged if it takes 6–8 touches to get a sale. That’s completely normal (especially when pitching busy CEOs).

Account-based marketing isn’t exclusive to email. A strong ABM strategy employs various mediums to capture the attention of potential clients and keep them engaged throughout the sales funnel. Marketers have to face their fear of mixing the old with new, including the (often misunderstood) direct mail piece.

3. Direct Mail and Catalogs

Direct mail of yesteryear was anything but direct. Then, mass mailings supported by shaky consumer reports were normal and necessary. Despite its tumultuous past, direct mail has remained one of the most profitable marketing tactics to date.

Today, it has a new partner-in-crime: real-time data.

You may be mumbling to yourself. Print is dead. Print is expensive. Print is slow. That couldn’t be further from the truth. According to a Direct Marketing Association study found that 79 percent of consumers will act immediately on direct mail versus 45 percent on emails. And expensive digital ads have an average click-through rate of just .06 percent.

Catalogs will always hold a special place in the consumer’s heart. Large, textured images are not only a welcomed break from our chronic scrolling, they allow for a more tactile connection to the lifestyles we aspire to have.

By Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Ecommerce strategist Charles Nicolls found that of America’s top 10 highest converting retail websites like Schwan’s, Land’s End and Office Depot, 9 of them had a catalog.

The Direct Mail Revolution

Programmatic mail is a term you’ll want to throw out at your next marketing meeting. This revolution in direct mail combines the consumer’s expectation for personalization with the power of data.

Programmatic mail houses like PebblePost offer personalized catalogs and postcards sent within 24 hours of a customer’s visit to your website.


These pieces can be as general as a catalog of the season’s newest arrivals or as specific as a lookbook based on their browsing history.

Programmatic mail demonstrates the care you take for your customers. It makes them feel important and empowered, even if it is automated. Because, in the words of PebblePost, “No one ever taped a banner ad to the fridge.”

Programmatic mail services like PebblePost offer all of the same analytics you’d expect from a similar email campaign. The tracking of individualized links, coupon codes, and CTAs helps you rework campaigns and understand them in light of corresponding digital touchpoints.

What if my website isn’t my major touchpoint for sales?

For companies that offer more hard-hitting B2B solutions, direct mail can still work wonders for you. The same account-based marketing process we walked through earlier, applies to direct mail, too. It’s a great follow-up tool for someone you’ve made initial digital touches with and an even greater predecessor to a digital campaign.

SEO company, Conversion Fanatics, looked back at their customer success stories to paint an accurate portrait of their ideal client for a direct mail campaign. Their final list included multiple $30 million+/year companies.


Once the targets were acquired, CEO Justin Christianson mailed personal letters that looked very similar to the aforementioned Salesforce emails. Unlike an email, it was physically signed, sealed and delivered.

Conversion Fanatics’ simple letter campaign had a 25 percent response rate. Those that were unresponsive?

They received a free a copy of Justin’s book — a follow-up dripping with FOMO.

4. Trade Shows

Trade shows are industry-specific B2B exhibits or marketplaces that give brands the opportunity to showcase their products and services, new technologies, or diversified distribution channels.

Successful trade shows are marked by increased media coverage, life-changing business deals, and invaluable connections. It takes a lot of work and planning to stand out at a trade show, but it can mean everything for your business.

SXSW Trade Show. Photo by Merrick Ales.

Smaller brands should consider attending an industry-specific trade show as a ticket holder before entering as a vendor. This allows brands to get a feel for what other brands are doing to get noticed.

As a ticket holder, make sure to bring along samples and physical marketing collateral that stands out from traditional business cards (yawn) but doesn’t break the bank.

When you decide on the trade shows that fit your niche best, start planning as soon as the last one is over. Not only will your experiences and ideas be fresh in your mind, you’ll have plenty of time to work out the kinks of your booth display or brand activation.

Here are a few major trade shows by industry:





5. Pop-In & Pop-Up Shops

Pop-up shops and pop-in shops are both increasing in POPularity (ouch) in the realm of online hypebeasts. They’re very similar in their hype-building abilities but differ in execution.

These limited-time, exclusive events are marked by pre-release sneak peeks, celebrity appearances, and interactive experiences.


Pop-in shops are stores within a store, usually inside an established retailer. The smaller brand is able to capitalize on the clout of the big name retailer and test their product in a brick and mortar space. Pop-ins are typically longer running than pop-ups.


Finding a retailer who shares a common target audience but doesn’t directly compete within your market is the biggest challenge of pop-ins. If done well, pop-ins can dramatically increase brand awareness and social following.

A pop-in may be done for a collaboration for a brand such as the incredibly-hyped but short-lived Supreme X Louis Vuitton pop-ins.


Pop-ups are short-term retail locations that are often created in an unexpected space unoccupied by other retailers. Think warehouse, street corner, park, church or any other weird environment that is disrupted by your brand’s presence (but doesn’t upset the law).

Pop-ups are great for brands on a small budget who lack brand awareness and have a solid story to tell. They can get expensive, but they don’t have to.


Australian clothing brand, Arnsdorf, didn’t have the budget for a giant build-out made of wood and equipped with electricity. Rather, they created an angelic space using 154 pairs of pantyhose.

Pop-ups are about inviting the customer to use as many senses as possible and create a sense of wonder around your brand.

The best pop-ups are in unexpected locations, are totally ‘grammable, and aim to educate or showcase a brand’s story, not just their products.

Some brands find ways to use a product or service completely unrelated to the one they’re promoting. Pantone, the world’s most well-known color company, created the Pantone Cafe to give onlookers a question to chew on: What does color taste like?


Emblazoned with Pantone’s famous swatches, juices, coffees, and lunches are served from a seasonal pop-up cafe begging to have its picture taken.

6. PR Stunts & Brand Activations

Publicity stunts and brand activations date back to 1929 when Edward Bernays, The Father of Public Relations, was tasked with opening up a new market for Lucky Strikes cigarettes. His target? Women.

Then, women had moved out of the home and into the workplace during WWI. They were performing men’s laborious jobs with half the freedoms of their male counterparts. At the time, cigarette smoking was reserved for men and prostitutes.

Bernay’s recognized an opportunity. He’d kill two birds with one stone: empower women in their fight for equality and help Lucky Strike acquire a new target audience. His social awareness and risk-taker mentality inspired the idea for the first PR stunt in modern history.


At the height of New York’s 1929 Easter Day Parade, Bertha Hunt lit a Lucky Strike as she walked down 5th Avenue. Soon, other feminist women joined her carrying their “Torches of Freedom.” It was the first in a long line of stunts that made smoking acceptable for women.

Is anyone surprised anymore?

The extremity of PR stunts has skyrocketed (literally) in recent years because, frankly, it’s hard to shock people. Who could forget Red Bull Stratos?

Sponsored by Red Bull, actual crazy-person and most-badass-human-ever, Felix Baumgartner, attempted to reach the speed of sound while free falling from the edge of space with the help of his team.

Spoiler alert: He did.

All while covered in everything Red Bull, of course. The vessel, his suit, and the live video (8 million views the day of the Superbowl) were expertly branded by Red Bull.


You may not have $30 million to spend on your next PR stunt or brand activation. But it’s inspiring, isn’t it?

Come back to earth

There are tons of other less flashy (okay, maybe not) ways to activate your brand with a PR stunt. Take Bravo’s promotion of their show Stripped at 2017’s SXSW Conference.


Scantily-clad men and women flooded Austin in a flash-mob to promote the show that chronicles how people react when forced to shed all of their possessions for 21 days.

Buzz of the IRL activation spread rapidly throughout the conference and on social media.

Drinking It In

Another favorite from 2017’s SXSW brand activations was Gatorade’s Combine, a series of activities tasked to evaluate athlete’s performance and risk for injury.


A partnership between Kitman Labs, STRIVR, and Sparta Science, the interactive exhibition was well attended and successful at positioning Gatorade as a leader in sports.

The Bottom Line

Marketers have gotten so caught up in the latest algorithms and social strategies that they’ve lost sight of who drives our businesses: the customer. It’s time for us to realize that although mediums change, people don’t.

Whether it’s your brand’s first impression or a new line of product, introductions are crucial. People buy from brands whose initial touchpoints are unique, honest, and personalized. Internet algorithms don’t let you do all three at once.

No amount of data is a substitute for creativity. Casting a wide net doesn’t work in the marketing world and it never has. Take a hint from your predecessors that grew businesses by cold pitching with purpose and advertising with heart.

Forget the notion that print and physical media are dead. Instead, work them into a holistic campaign that cuts through the clutter.

Tap into the Bertha Hunt’s of today to spread your message. Attainability in advertising is working just as well, if not better than, celebrity endorsement.

When you get back to your desk, find a clean sheet of paper and write (yes, with a pen) a few ideas about how you can make your strong online strategies more IRL friendly.

You’ll be glad you did.