The ins and outs of advertising

Cameron Dawson

Partner

Staplegun

Watching TV not too long ago, I saw a commercial pitching a large office supply chain that referred to a small business owner as the salesman, the receptionist, the janitor, even the copier repairman. “Jack of all trades, master of none,” right?

The spot struck a chord with me, because the scenario has been real for my agency in the past.

The important question that all small business owners ask at one time or another is, “How do I grow my business?” One way to accomplish this is through advertising. Another question is, “How do I effectively use advertising and marketing to my advantage without running my bank account into the ground?” There are several truths in advertising, but one worth considering is that it can be expensive, and businesses – large and small – are competing for the same ad space. Fortunately for larger businesses, they have the budget to buy advertising in bulk, reducing their cost per ad and lengthening their efforts. Smaller businesses often don’t have this luxury.

Let’s face it: If you are a small business and choose to spend some of your budget on advertising, you need and expect to see a return sooner rather than later. This isn’t always realistic. Unfortunately, there is no single solution to this problem, but there are plenty of ways to effectively market your company on a budget.

First and foremost, come to the table with a plan. Often, this is the simplest thing to say, and the most difficult thing to do. An advertising and marketing plan does not have to be perfect from the start. You don’t even need to spell-check; you just need to follow through and get your goals on paper.

Assuming you’ve identified your target audience, think about your service offering. What are you great at doing? Not just good, but great? If you are a local law firm that specializes in aviation, don’t portray yourself as a full-service firm. Your main objective in marketing your product is to find qualified customers who need your services – anything else can potentially be a drain on your resources and an all-around bad investment.

Now, your message: Be clear, concise and memorable, and speak as often as you can to your customer. The key component to your message should state what you can offer a customer, and how you’ll deliver. Remember, you don’t have a “super-brand.” You can’t simply put your swoosh on TV and make the world want to run harder and faster. Instead, think of your customer and what your service can do for them. Try to avoid “me, too” statements – you want your communication to be meaningful and concise.

Everybody believes they provide the best service – you and every roofer, bank and restaurant. This point reminds me of a story I heard at a medical marketing convention. When asked, “What makes you different?” Doctor One said that he had the highest quality of care (me, too), Doctor Two said that each patient was special (me, too), Doctor Three said, “I’m open on Saturdays.” Bam! Doctor Three was able to set himself apart.

Now, the creative aspect. Everybody loves design, and wants the attention-grabbing headline or jingle, but be sure you never sacrifice the message, and keep your main goal in mind: to expand your customer base.

If you want to market your product purely on design, you better have one heck of a niche product. A great headline is only great if it brings in a return on your investment.

Clients often ask, “How long should I run this ad?” Our answer is always the same: “More than once.” The length of your advertising campaign depends on a few things: budget, media, timeliness of the product or service you are selling, and so on. You should go in expecting to run your campaign for a minimum of six weeks. Anything less just isn’t worth your time or hard-earned capital.

The more people hear your message, the more your business is top-of-mind when they need your service. It’s very unlikely that you can run a single ad in any medium and expect your audience to act.

So what medium is best for your business? Each one has its own merits. All reach many people, and have the stats to prove it.

Your decision should be based on where your customers are, and how you’ll maximize the opportunity to speak to them. One hint is that they probably don’t watch or read what you do, so that should never be a factor in your decision. Be patient when selecting ad placement. Your audience is out there, and you can speak to them effectively.

Remember: Ultimately, advertising is only expensive when it doesn’t work.

We live in an age in which advertising touches us all in almost every aspect of our daily lives. When it’s well thought-out and expertly executed, it can be a tremendous asset to your business. Hopefully, you don’t dream about it at night like I do. Consider yourself lucky that the sheep you count aren’t wearing a corporate logo for the wool council.

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