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It takes a plan to succeed with digital media

Don Draper would have loved Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Any new means to creatively tell a client's story would have struck the advertising mad man as a trend worth embracing, maybe even toasting over a fistful of lunchtime Old Fashioneds.

Tod Martin thinks so too and that's why New Era, the world's largest hat maker, turned to Martin's marketing firm for help in doubling the size of its business.

"It's all based on the foundation -- your brand," Martin said of his approach to using social media and other new digital services.

Like anything else, the Web is not a savior and, while most companies need some online presence, not everything on the smorgasbord of digital offerings is for everyone.

"You're not going to use a hammer to put in a screw," said Zack Schneider of 15 Fingers, a Buffalo digital advertising agency.

Schneider said local companies are becoming more and more savvy when it comes to understanding the opportunities and, yes, limits of social media and other online-based marketing strategies.

His company works with a wide range of clients, and the breadth and scope of their work varies depending on each client's needs.

At the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, where the audience is older, the focus is on updating and redesigning the organization's website, rather than creating a Facebook or Twitter following.

Not so at Lofts at 136, a new privately-owned student housing development in the heart of downtown.

The goal there was to use a wide range of digital tools to create a new brand so appealing college students would want to live at the former warehouse on North Division Street.

The message? Hip urban loft style living is available within walking distance of Chippewa Street and Thursday in the Square.

"It allowed us to target every single person we wanted to target," Schneider said. "And we converted a lot of those people into residents."

A lot of what ad agencies are doing today is social media marketing -- the process of creating content that attracts attention and ultimately spreads from user to user, creating credibility for the client.

The goal is to use the online relationships created by social networks and blogs to engage and inform their clients' customers.

BakeMark, a large wholesale bakery supply company, is now using Twitter to reach out to the bakeries it services. It does so by offering everything from recipes to tips on how their customers can grow their own businesses.

"It draws people to their website and exposes those bakeries to all the tools BakeMark has to offer," said Alyssa Mayer, an account manager and interactive strategist at Travers Collins in Buffalo.

More often, advertising clients seek something more traditional such as help in improving the visibility of their Web site or jump-starting their sales by creating a new online commerce strategy.

Again, the thinking is why not open your business to the world by creating a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week Internet operation.

What better way to increase sales?

True, but more and more, advertising clients want proof that their digital strategy is paying dividends.

"They know they have to do it, but they want a way to monitor and record it," said Charlie Riley, interactive services manager at SKM Group in Depew.

The menu of digital advertising services has never been bigger and clients have never been savvier about what they know and what they want.

"Social media has become more and more of a legitimate marketing tool," said Riley. "But it's also not as simple as it used to be."

At Tops Markets, an SKM client, the strategy revolves around an integrated marketing effort that includes TV, radio, print, direct mail and social media.

Tops wanted to expand its share of the younger shopper market and, with SKM's help, unveiled this month the newest aspect of its campaign -- the use of QR codes on much of its brand name ads.

The QR codes, a unique bar code usually found in the lower part of an ad, gives the customer access to more information about the product via their cellphone.

Digital also is big part of the new marketing strategy at New Era, a company projecting rapid growth.

New Era relies on a wide range of microsites and a Facebook page that has grown from 150,000 to nearly 425,000 fans, all them customers or potential customers.

"That's a captive audience, an audience that's interested in your products, that wants more information on your products," said Martin.

Of course, capturing the audience is just the first step. You also to have to keep them and that means giving them the "conversation" or "relationship" they want.

The alternative is a Facebook page no one reads or a Twitter account no one follows.

"It's easy to fail at social media," said Mayer of Travers Collins. "That's why we always insist on a plan."