Reactive Marketing vs Proactive Marketing: What’s The Difference

If you’re involved in general marketing, you may be familiar with the terms “reactive marketing” and “proactive marketing,” but at Timmermann Group, we think about these marketing strategies uniquely, particularly regarding reactive marketing and what it means for digital marketing. Instead of thinking of marketing strategy as inbound or outbound, we pull back and look at the larger picture. We look at marketing as either reactive or proactive, creating a strategy based on your clients, customers, or end users.

So, what do we mean when we look at reactive vs. proactive marketing? Let’s examine them both to better understand what will create greater return on investment for your business.

What is Reactive Marketing?

search engine accompanied by geo location icon showcasing the importance of local search optimization in reactive marketing strategies

Reactive marketing is marketing or advertising that places your product or service in the places where people are already actively looking. As you can imagine, there is less of a gamble of your marketing or advertising efforts converting into a sale if they see your product or service where they are already looking.

One way to think about it considering where you think your best conversions could be. In other words, where do people need to be disrupted from their actions to purchase your product or service? This may seem simple, but this marketing strategy is often overlooked for several reasons, including hype over a new advertising platform, following what the competition is doing, wanting to see your name for personal satisfaction, not knowing your clients or customers well enough, or simply steering clear because reactive marketing may take more work.

Reactive Marketing Strategy Example

Let’s say you sell hot sauce and feel you have the best in the world. Perhaps you feel that a gas station would be a great location to place your product because they’ll come in to pay for gas, see it, and buy it. However, it’s probably a smarter move to get your product in a grocery store where people are already coming to shop for food. When paying for gas, the disruption is not as impactful as gaining valuable shelf space or creating a display to showcase your hot sauce in a grocery store where customers are already looking for food. To reiterate, your reactive marketing strategy should aim to get your product or service in front of an audience already looking for similar products or services.

Reactive Marketing Campaign Channels

Reactive Marketing Channel 1: Search Engines

If you are looking for a product or service you want or need, you will most likely be looking for it on a search engine such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing. Next, you will research what business to buy from based on the results displayed on the search engine results pages (SERPs) by entering the appropriate keywords. Depending on your business model and what products or services you offer, ranking on search engines in the following areas may be important.

Paid Ads

Paid ads are located on the very top of the page, and at the time of this writing, there is a maximum of four ads eligible to populate above the organic search results. If you do not rank in the organic search or map listings area, this is the best solution until you do. Even if you do rank, it’s not a bad marketing strategy to have a paid ad running because your business will show up more places on the front page of search engines, where your clients or customers are already looking. Although search engines make it easy to set up a paid ad, it is also very easy to waste all your paid ad budget without having a single conversion or sale. If you are using Google’s Ad platform, I would recommend having your Google Ads campaign developed and managed by an agency that is a Google Partner. It will increase opportunities to make you profitable and save you money compared to trying to do it yourself.

Local Map Listings

Local search is the Maps listings just below the paid ads. Sometimes, there will not be a pack of local map listings (called the local pack) for the keywords your clients or customers type into the search engine, but if there are, you’re in luck. The local pack is the best-converting place on the first page of Google and other search engines. Only three listings initially appear, making it highly competitive, so if you want to organically rank in them, you should find an agency specializing in Local Search Optimization (LSO).

Organic Search Results

The organic search results are below the paid ads (if there are paid ads) and the map pack section (if there is one). There are typically ten listings per page, so your chances of ranking are higher than in the map pack. The organic search results convert very well; the higher you are at the top of the page, the better your chance for conversions. More than 200 factors go into ranking in this section of Google, so you will need to find an agency that is very experienced in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Do your homework and ask for references from other clients they have ranked because many agencies say they offer this service in-house but use an offshore vendor to perform their SEO. A company that doesn’t have SEO in-house will cost you ten times more time and money than one that does.

Reactive Marketing Channel 2: Delivery Apps

Lives are busy, and people have less time for errands, workday lunches, or cooking a family dinner. With the advent of delivery apps like DoorDash, customers can easily find exactly what they’re looking for and have it delivered directly to their door. If you sell food or products that could fall within these delivery categories, you should ensure your business is listed as an available option. It’s an easy way to get your product in front of people actively looking and help increase orders or purchases from your physical location (without making anyone from your current team become a delivery driver).

Reactive Marketing Channel 3: Directory Websites

Various directory websites gather information about businesses that fall within their respective categories. Take, for example, directory websites like Angi for Home Service Pros or TripAdvisor for all things travel. If you own a home services business, you want to be available (and highly reviewed) on Angi. If you’re a hotel looking in a tourist area, you need to be listed on TripAdvisor. Essentially, if there’s a website known as the authority in your business niche, you need to be listed on it because that’s where people are looking for what your company offers.

Reactive Marketing Channel 4: Phone Book

The phone book was the ultimate form of reactive marketing. Entire business strategies were built around being in the phone book and on top of the listing for your business category. Today, though, the phone book is barely used by anyone, and its use will continue declining until it stops being published. The same goes for the online version because unlike websites such as OpenTable or TripAdvisor, the online versions of the phone book are not the authority in their space for online searches of products or services; Google is the current authority.

What is Proactive Marketing?

social media posts on mobile phone that call attention to display and social media advertising found in proactive marketing

Proactive marketing is marketing or advertising that places your product or service where people are not already looking. The people who see your product or service are in the middle of another unrelated activity, such as reading the Sunday paper, watching the local news on TV, or scrolling through a social media feed. Even though these people may be your target demographic, they need to be disrupted by an ad that is powerful enough to pull them away from their original intent and make them act on your ad by calling your phone number, typing in your domain name, or clicking a button that takes them to your website.

Because of this disruption, proactive marketing will not have as high a conversion rate as your reactive marketing efforts. Proactive marketing is very powerful, though, because it can reach people who are not already looking for your products or services, and that number is typically going to be larger than the ones who are looking for your services. Proactive marketing can create awareness about your product or service, seduce people into a consideration stage until they are ultimately ready to purchase, and create a top-of-mind awareness for your brand, which is what you want people to remember when it is time for them to buy.

Proactive Marketing Strategy Example

Let’s continue the hot sauce example from above. Maybe you’re not placing the sauce in stores yet, but want to start generating online sales while increasing brand awareness and product popularity. You create a social media ad campaign to get in front of users who maybe aren’t looking for the latest and greatest hot sauce on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, but the video you created catches their attention, makes them laugh, or brings out their love of hot sauce and encourages them to give your brand a try. Again, the challenge with a proactive marketing strategy is to create an ad that can grab that audience’s attention despite them not specifically shopping for a product similar to yours.

Proactive Marketing Campaign Channels

Proactive Marketing Channel 1: Social Media Marketing

I’m a huge fan of social media marketing because of how large an opportunity it can be if you use it correctly. With social media marketing, you need to create exceptional content that speaks to your current followers; however, you’re not limited to simply sending your ad out to the world and hoping for the best. The largest opportunity comes from developing an ad and pushing it out to your desired target audience.

Even with Facebook algorithm changes, it is still the most cost-effective way to reach your target audience but remember: The content needs to be exceptional. It must be exceptional because your audience is not on social media to have ads presented to them. They are on social networks to be entertained or learn about their industry. Your ad proactively reaches out to your target audience, asks them to stop what they are doing, and wants them to pivot to click on your content to read or watch it.

Social media has a very low point of entry for marketers to be able to post their content, and that is what makes it so approachable. However, executing it correctly is very complicated, making it easy to lose all the money and time you have invested without a single return. Remember, great social media marketing ads, such as the Barbie Movie’s AI-powered selfie-generator tool, don’t disrupt the user and ask them to pivot from being entertained; they simply shift the user from being entertained from the post they are currently reading to the one the marketer wants them to view and interact with. When that happens flawlessly, you have a successful social media ad campaign.

Proactive Marketing Channel 2: Display Advertising

Unless it is used for retargeting purposes, display advertising is one of the most disruptive forms of marketing available. Imagine: while reading an online news publication on your mobile device, you are fed an ad that is not remotely related to your current reading. The ad wants you to click it and be taken off the platform to another website or application so you can learn more about the product or service the ad is pushing, all in the hopes of you making a purchase.

If this sounds like a stretch, you are correct. Display ads have one of the lowest conversion rates of all marketing types. On top of display ads already having a low conversion rate, it seems everyone is pushing this type of advertising. I have recently noticed traditional advertising outlets such as TV, radio, billboards, the Yellow Pages, and even American Express offering display advertising. I have even seen American Express offering display advertising. Like social media, getting a display ad live may be easy, but it takes an agency that knows what they’re doing to make it profitable. It is a great top-of-the-funnel lead acquisition channel if developed and managed correctly. This is because of the proactive reach that display advertising can have to your target audience. That is where display advertising holds its power.

Proactive Marketing Channel 3: Television and Radio

I have seen television and radio advertising work effectively for many advertisers. It has a wide proactive reach and is perfect for getting and keeping your name out in front of your current and future customers, and it is especially effective in local markets. What makes it dangerous is that some media companies will gladly accept payment for your commercial and help you produce it so you can get it live without thinking about how it will help your business generate conversions.

What many of them lack is knowing what the goal of your commercial is and being able to prove the return on your investment. From my experience, very few TV and radio advertisers know where their marketing fits into a potential customer’s buying journey and take the time to make sure their advertising is trackable throughout that journey until you gain a customer and make a sale. If you are selling media, you are obligated to show a return on your client’s investment, which is your goal. The goal is not to “sell media.” TV and radio advertising are very expensive compared to digital marketing, but if you want to cover a market, TV is one of the best forms of marketing available. The secret is finding a media consultant who wants to prove their return on your investment by working with your other marketing vendors to demonstrate key performance indicators (KPIs) such as visitors they sent to your website, how long they stayed on your website, and if they made a purchase or contacted your business.

Proactive Marketing Channel 4: Print Advertising

Print advertising is like social media marketing efforts in a physical format. There are many articles to read, but you are constantly being disrupted by ads trying to incite an emotion within you that makes you take action on their advertisement. The advertiser wants you to give them a moment to hear what they say about their product or service. Some print publications are niche industry-specific, so your target audience is there for a specific topic. Other publications are more general, so your audience may be there for education or entertainment. The more general the topic, the more disruptive the ad must be to grab their attention.

Print advertising is proactive marketing because even though the target audience is there for a specific reason, they are not consuming the publication to buy products or services. They are picking it up to be educated or entertained. Like TV and radio, there needs to be a goal and key performance indicators for the ad. The advertiser should be aware of these goals and KPIs and should work towards helping you accomplish them. If they are not interested in your goals, they are probably not the best partner for you to work with.

Comparing Proactive and Reactive Marketing

If you are lucky enough to be selling a product or service that people are already looking for, then you should apply a reactive marketing strategy for your business to show up in all the relevant reactive marketing opportunities as many times as possible and as high as you can be listed. If you are not showing up in these channels, you are missing out on all the opportunities for buyers already searching for your product or services. Remember that, most of the time, the people searching for products and services are first-time buyers, which equates to new clients or customers. What is the value of a lifetime client or customer to you? What if one of these new clients or customers is your transformation client or customer that completely transforms your business?

If you have all your reactive marketing opportunities covered, or if you happen to be bringing a new product to market that very few people are searching for, then proactive marketing opportunities are great for you. With proactive marketing, you can reach the most people by forcing an ad in front of them instead of waiting for them to look for your product or service. You are only limited by your marketing and advertising budget and the rate at which your ads convert. Remember, if your ads are not converting, you are bleeding money, no matter how little or much you spend.

Whatever marketing decisions you make need to be tracked through analytics. Work with your marketing team or partners to ensure all your vendors know your conversion goals so they can show you the success, or lack thereof, of their efforts. Increase the budgets of the ones that are working and fire the ones that are not working.

Make Your Marketing Work for You with TG

There’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace about marketing and advertising opportunities, and that’s why we’re here. The point of entry for some of these marketing and advertising tactics is lower than ever, causing people to get excited about starting ads without a strategy or plan to ensure the advertising provides a return on investment.

The failure of the attempted ads creates confusion for the people who do not yield a return on their investment, leading them to no longer see the value in marketing, stop their efforts, and prevent their business from growing. Not spending money on marketing and advertising isn’t the answer. The answer is to spend money on marketing and advertising that yields a return on your investment

If you need help with your marketing or advertising efforts, my digital marketing team and I would be happy to talk with you and your team to see if we are a good fit to work together. If we are, we can start a relationship. If we are not, I will refer you to whomever I think can help you. Shoot me a DM on LinkedIn, and let’s schedule a time to talk: Rob Timmermann.