One of the most difficult issues a small business owner has to deal with is advertising.
A whole raft of thoughts crosses our mind when we think of spending our valuable dollars promoting our business. The one that worries us most is: “Does it really work, or am I just throwing my money into a black hole? Is it like owning a boat — really nice to have but an expensive luxury?”
Well, that all depends. It’s definitely easy to waste a great deal of money if you go with your heart rather than your head or are easily swayed by smooth-talking advertising reps. It’s worth revisiting a few of the basics of advertising, or at least the basics as I see them. I’m no academic — I’d rather trust all the mistakes I’ve made to scare me away from strategies that will sap my advertising budget as quickly as my energy would disappear running an Olympic marathon in the heat and humidity of Beijing.
Display advertising — you know, the little, or maybe not so little, boxes that are supposed to excite potential buyers to drop everything and run to your store or to your website. Display advertising can be effective, but just placing one ad and expecting people to line up at your door is somewhat delusional.
It’s not that display ads don’t work; it’s just that your potential customers aren’t likely to fall in love with you on the first date! The key to successful advertising of this type is to budget ads for at least a year of issues in whatever magazine or newspaper you think your target market reads.
This approach starts to build awareness, brand awareness. As you can imagine, I don’t often purchase women’s swimwear but, prior to a Mexican vacation last year, my wife mentioned that she needed a new bikini. Immediately, I said that she should try a local store called HtO.
After inquiring as to whether there was anything she should know about my newfound interest in female beach attire, she asked why I suggested HtO. I told her that HtO advertised regularly in our local newspaper. Their brand had been imprinted on my brain so much that, as soon as women’s swimwear is mentioned, I think of them. This store has been taking a small display ad on the inside front page of our local daily for at least the last decade. Even though the store and its product line is of little interest to me, the constant repetition of their name has been well and truly “branded” on my psyche.
So longevity can assist you in building an awareness of your business name; however, a lot will depend on the impact your advertising has on your target market. If you can afford to hire professionals to develop your campaign, then do so. If not, look at your circle of friends and acquaintances and get them to help you develop something eye-catching that will also have a high “stickiness” quota.
Another approach to long-term advertising is to use ads to educate your market. These ads will be far wordier than those that simply ingratiate your brand with readers. By educating your market, you develop a relationship of trust and familiarity with them. This can be powerful in building market share, but can be expensive.
Magazines with a longer shelf life are another option and can offer a cost-effective way of stretching your marketing budget.
Can a one-off ad work though? Yes, in certain circumstances. It will need to elicit an immediate response on behalf of your target market. Imagine this scenario: a couple at breakfast, a pot of tea, perhaps some toast and marmalade, and the daily newspaper. Julie is flipping from page to page and spots an advertisement for a furniture store. “We really should get a new sofa, Tom. This Bentalls store looks as if it has some really nice stuff. We should check it out.”
Breakfast continues and Julie continues to meander through her newspaper. “Hey Tom, look at this: property taxes are going up.” Breakfast finishes and they both leave for work. What do you think the chances are that they will head off to Bentalls anytime soon? The ad prompted a passing thought, a fleeting blip on their memory. If Bentalls doesn’t continually reinforce their name and message, several weeks or months later when Julie and Tom start to shop for their new sofa, they are no more likely to visit Bentalls than any of its competitors.
So, how do you make Julie and Tom take action with just one ad? Let’s spy on their breakfast again. “Hey Tom, we really need a new sofa. We’ve been talking about it for ages. That Bentalls store is having a one-day sale today. They’ve got sofas at 50 per cent off. What do you say we meet up after work and check it out?”
The second ad required Julie and Tom to take immediate action, or simply ignore it if it was not relevant. The ad could equally have had a coupon that needed cutting out and retaining for future use, again demanding immediate action, commitment being the first step to getting a sale.
Knowing the type of ad that you can afford and what will work for you will only get you so far though; the real key is choosing the right message and the right medium. Advertising snowboards in a seniors’ magazine is obviously not going to be highly successful.
How well do you really know your target market? Who is your best customer? What do they read? What excites them? What will be the catalyst to make them decide to buy what you are selling?
The key to successful advertising is to be very clear about who you are selling to. Know everything about them, understand them, relate to them. It doesn’t matter how good your advertisement is if it doesn’t affect them on a basic, emotional level or if no one sees it in the first place.
When it comes right down to it, you have to be able to excite the Julies and Toms over their morning cup of Darjeeling, and you have until the toast pops up to make an impression, so it had better be a lasting one.