Advertisers are always searching for new ways to reach customers, but one of the latest trends is for customers to reach to advertisers through choosing to receive promotions, offers, news and even coupons through personal technology including the internet and cellular phones.

Using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and through targeted text messages to cellular phones, businesses are finding ways to complement existing advertising efforts.

The main difference between the new frontier of advertising and traditional means is that recipients chose to "opt in" or sign up to receive the advertisements, which range from simple, single-sentence Twitter updates to mobile coupons sent to subscribers' wireless phones or made available on Web sites.

For advertisers, it is a way to make customers feel as though they are part of the business or organization.

"The technology is great, and it lets us be engaged with our fans and have them be active participants in our programs," said Mark Gazdik, assistant athletic director at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. "This allows fans to be part of Saluki Athletics and allows us to get them information in a timely manner."

Last year, fans at basketball games had the opportunity to text their votes for which player they felt was the star of the game and were able to receive game-day reminders of event times on their cell phones.

Other companies, such as Carbondale's Common Grounds Coffee House, have sent coupons out via text message. The concept, called mobile couponing, has been popular in Europe and Asia for some time and is beginning to catch on in the United States, according to Suzanne Nasco, associate professor of marketing at SIUC. Nasco shares information on mobile coupons with her classes and said that researchers will soon be surveying area companies about mobile marketing.

"I know there is a lot of interest among small businesses in the area," she said.

Nasco added that a free seminar on the subject is being planned for early 2010.

Jason Borque, owner of Common Grounds, said the concept of mobile couponing is simple. His company tested the promotional technique last year.

"All people had to do was give us their cell phone number, and then we'd periodically send out discount offers to their cell phone," he said.

Borque explained that customers merely had to show the text message on their phone's screen to receive the discount. Like print-based coupons, the offers had an expiration date.

He said that one of the goals of mobile coupons is to have recipients forward the messages to their friends.

"That way we use these 'social network butterflies' to our total advantage," he said. "If they forward those text messages on to others, they're doing all of the marketing leg work for us."

Carbondale resident Matt Purdy recently used his first mobile coupon, an offer from Barnes and Noble book stores.

"I got a text message with an offer for free Starbucks coffee at Barnes and Noble. I went to the store specifically to use the mobile coupon," he said.

Purdy not only receives text messages with offers, he also follows a number of local businesses and organizations through social networking media including Facebook and Twitter. He said he gets regular updates from his church, national retailers and local restaurants.

"It connects me to the companies," he explained. "I feel like it puts me in the know and helps me build a relationship. These are messages I want to receive."

It is relationships that advertisers such as 17th Street Bar and Grill in Murphysboro and Marion is looking to build. Amy Mills, director of marketing and public relations for the company said her company's efforts are low-key, but important.

"It is a very important presence for us and great interaction with our customers. People feel like they are part of our company's family and we try to cultivate that atmosphere," she said. "No matter what type of technology we embrace, it will always be in the spirit of our company-down-home, warm, gracious and personal."

Mills said that 17th Street has Facebook "fans" from all over the globe, not just in Southern Illinois, and others, including Purdy, receive regular messages about the restaurants on Twitter. Gazdik explained that within the first few months, more than 5,700 individuals signed up to receive updates on Saluki sports through the popular Facebook website.

Bill Robbins, interactive marketing specialist for The Southern Illinoisan, said the beauty of new advertising methods is the ability to send just the right message to the right people.

"As a business owner, you're always targeting your messages and what the technology allows is an opportunity to present a message in front of a targeted audience," he explained.

Robbins added that social network marketing is gathering groups of like-minded or like-interested who may be reached very quickly and easily.

One benefit of all of the new technological promotional efforts for consumers is that audience members must agree to receive the messages. Traditional advertising venues such as newspapers and broadcast stations remain a key to informing prospective customers about businesses.

"Any business is looking to bring new customers in the door," explained Brian Flath, sales consultant with The Southern. "You can't eliminate one method of advertising and migrate to the other. You still have to reach the people first. You have to invite them in."

Successful businesses seem to understand that new media and traditional advertising complement one another, and are embracing a variety of advertising means.

"What I really like is that each avenue is reaching a different audience, each hits a different demographic," Mills said.

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