I was at a business networking meeting recently and was privy to a debate regarding the merits of traditional marketing versus online marketing. One party was partial to print advertising and praised its time-honored effectiveness, while another extolled the virtues of the online marketing realm.

The debate seemed to boil down to this single question: Which medium is better?

Just as I did at the meeting, I will chime in here and say: That is the wrong question to be asking.

After all,
traditional media (printed collateral, billboards, radio, television, etc.) and new media (Web sites, blogs, search, video, Facebook, etc.) are merely different tools in the same marketing toolbox.

Sometimes you need a screwdriver and sometimes you need a hammer, but it all depends on the task at hand. Instead of asking which is better, here are several questions that are even more important to ask yourself before deciding which tools to use for your marketing strategy:

What is our message?

Determining a meaningful marketing message should be the first step in any campaign. What is the purpose of your marketing? How do you want to position your company? What is your competitive advantage and how will you tout it? How does your message align with your company’s brand promise? How will your offer benefit the reader? What action do you want the reader to take?

Who is our audience?

Once you determine what you’re saying, you need to determine who you’re speaking to. When defining your ideal audience, it pays to get specific. Remember, if you are marketing to everybody, you are marketing to nobody. Keep your sights focused on the people who will get the absolute most benefit from your offering.

Where is our audience?

Once you know who your audience is, you need to determine the best way to reach them with your meaningful message. Are they using Google search or flipping through the Yellow Pages? Do they read newspapers or blogs? Do they listen to radio or iPods? Do they gossip with friends at the hair salon or on Facebook?

Once you answer all these questions,
you’ll have a very good idea of the right tools to use to hit the right people with the right message. In some cases, you will use a mix of several tools, or you may find you only need the tried-and-true favorites.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new tools occasionally.
Either way, keep track of the results. This can be as simple as asking people where they heard about you, or as difficult as having different phone numbers or Web landing pages for different promotions.

Once you’ve done all of the above, then – and only then – will you discover the answer to our original query: Which medium is better? The one that works!