Should your small business advertise? Many people assume that marketing and advertising are the same thing, but they are not. Advertising is one tool among many tactics that might warrant a place in your marketing toolkit and can help remind customers about your business, call attention to new products or happenings, attract new customers, and slowly build your customer base (don’t expect an immediate flood of foot traffic).
Does Advertising Work?
Advertising works best and costs the least when you pay attention to these three “P’s”: Planning, Preparation, and Persistence.
Planning and preparing ahead for a long-term ad campaign can help keep your costs low and ensure you reach the right audience. For example, you'll pay less per ad in newspapers and magazines by agreeing to run several ads over time rather than deciding on an issue-by-issue basis.
Ads become more effective over time –the longer they run, using consistent branding, the chances of more consumers seeing them goes up. This long-term approach triggers recognition and helps special offers or direct marketing payoff.
So how can you execute on the three “P’s”? Here are five steps for planning your next winning advertising campaign.
1. Map it Out
Start by defining your goals – long-term and immediate. This way you can easily measure return on investment. For example, do you want to grow sales by 20%? Reach a new market? Clear inventory? Then map out how marketing (not advertising alone) can help attain these goals. Focus on advertising channels that complement your marketing plan. For example, new markets mean using media outlets and messaging that you may not have used before.
2. Plan Your Budget
What can you afford? Many companies allocate as much as 5-10 percent of their income to advertising, others much less. At the end of the day, it comes down to what’s right for your business and whether advertising can help you achieve your goals. Advertising takes time to have an impact and can be hard to measure initially, but as you plan your budget, consider the impact of not advertising. Get advice from other business owners or advisors at SCORE or your local Small Business Development Center if you are not sure. As you embark on a long-term campaign, remember you have room to experiment and adjust.
3. Define Your Audience and Your Message
Who is your audience? Create a profile of your best customer. Be as specific as possible, as this will be the focus of your ads and media choices.
Who is your competition? What can you offer that they don’t? Do you occupy a unique niche? All this will help drive your message to your target audience. If you don’t already have a concise marketing message that defines what you have to offer, to whom, and why they should buy from you, then take the time to craft one first. You can find tips here.
Next, come up with a theme for your ad that reflects not only your messaging but also your brand identity with a tag line to reinforce the most important reason to buy from you.
4. Evaluate Media Choices
In most cases, knowing your audience will help you choose the media that will deliver your sales message most effectively. You can stretch your media budget by taking advantage of co-op advertising programs offered by manufacturers or vendors.
When developing your advertising schedule, be sure to take advantage of any special editorial or promotional coverage planned in the media you select. Newspapers, for example, often run special sections featuring real estate, investing, home and garden improvement, and tax advice. Magazines also often focus on specific themes in each issue. Don’t forget online ads (be sure to check out laws that apply), local HOA newsletters, and coupon supplements. If you are located in a multi-tenant commercial property, strip mall or plaza, could you run an ad in any flyers or mailers that the management company distributes? What about billboards, buses, or point-of-sale displays?
5. Throw Other Activities Into the Mix
Advertising is just one facet of an overall marketing strategy, so why not extend your advertising beyond traditional media with complementary tactics and repeat the message you’ve worked hard to create? Here are some ideas:
- Co-sponsor events and advertise your participation. Community marketing is a great low-cost but high profile tactic that works well for small businesses.
- Include mailing inserts or flyers in bills and invoices.
- Use social media and your e-newsletter as another vehicle to showcase any promotions or ads.
- Create tie-in promotions with complementary businesses.
- Invest in promotional giveaways imprinted with your name and contact information – pens, post-it notes, pins, and fridge magnets.
Lastly, be persistent and consistent. Presenting your company's image and sales message repeatedly will eventually build awareness and a distinctive identity for your business.