Effective advertising reaches potential customers and informs them of your products or services. Ideally, advertising should capture the prospective customers attentions attention and entice them to use your product. Regardless of the method, all your advertising should be clear and consistently reflect the unique positioning statement of your business.
Advertising is communication intended to inform, educate, persuade, and remind individuals of your product or businesses. Advertising must work with other marketing tools and business elements to be successful. Advertising must be interruptive — that is, it must make you stop thumbing through the newspaper or thinking about your day long enough to read or hear the ad. Advertising must also be credible, unique, and memorable in order to work. Like all effective marketing support, it must be built upon a solid positioning strategy. Finally, for any advertising campaign, enough money must be spent to provide a media schedule for ad frequency, the most important element for ad memorability.
Word-of-mouth advertising has existed as long as mankind has communicated and traded goods and services. Word-of-mouth advertising is considered the most effective form. It has the desired qualities of strong credibility, high audience attention levels, and friendly audience reception. It features open-ended conversation with questions and answers about the product, psychological incentives to purchase, memorability, efficiency and frequency. Word-of-mouth advertising passes product information to many other potential buyers (and may even include promotional trial demonstrations and free sampling), at little or no cost to the business. Whenever possible, a small business should build an advertising program that results in word-of-mouth advertising. Satisfied customers are your best advertisements.
In some respects, typical media advertising (e.g., the Miller Lite "less filling/more taste" ads) acts only as a catalyst to achieve word-of-mouth advertising and increased sales. Successful advertising will achieve many times more ad mentions through word-of-mouth than the number of paid media presentations of the ads.
Guidelines for successful advertising campaigns
Here are some guidelines for creating memorable advertising that really sells:
- Make sure your ads are "on strategy" with your business positioning. A good positioning strategy ensures identification of the correct target audience for your advertising, along with a listing of meaningful features and benefits. It can provide reasons why the product is superior and unique, along with an advertising "personality."
- Communicate a simple, single message. People have trouble remembering someone's name, let alone a complicated ad message. Use the "KISS" principle for ad messages: "Keep It Simple, Stupid." For print ads, the simpler the headline, the better. And every other ad element should support the headline message, whether that message is "price," "selection," "quality," or any other single-minded concept.
- Stick with a likable style. Ads have personality and style. The Pillsbury Doughboy becomes a beloved icon; the Quiznos "sponge monkeys" nearly sunk the brand. Find a likable style and personality and stay with it for at least a year or more of ads. Changing ad styles and personality too often will confuse potential buyers. It also fights against memorability.
- Be credible. If you say your quality or value is the "best" and it is clearly not, advertising will speed your demise, not increase your business. Identifying and denigrating the competition should also be avoided. It is potentially confusing and distracting and may back fire on you by making buyers more loyal to competitive products, not less.
- Ask for the sale. Invite buyers to come to your store, send for more information, or call for information and orders in the ad. Provide easily visible information in the ad for potential customers to buy: location, telephone number, store hours, charge cards accepted, etc.
- Make sure the ad is competitive. Do your homework. Examine competitive ads in the media that you are planning to advertise in. Make sure your ad stands out from competitive ads. You can use personal judgment, ad test exposures to a small group of target buyers (i.e., qualitative research), or more expensive, sophisticated quantitative test methods. Compare ads for uniqueness, memorability, credibility, and incentive to purchase.
- Make sure the ad looks professional. If you have the time and talent, computer graphics and desktop publishing software can provide professional-looking templates to create good-looking print ads. Consider obtaining writing, artistic, and graphics help from local agencies or art studios who have experienced professionals on staff, with expensive and creative computer software in-house. They may save you time and money in the long run, with better results. Electronic ads (e.g., TV, radio, Internet) and outdoor ads are best left to professionals to write, produce, and buy for a fee or percentage of media dollars spent (i.e., generally 15 percent of gross media spending).
- Be truthful. Whatever advertising medium you select, make sure your message is ethical and truthful. There are stringent laws regarding deceptive practices and false advertising.
Take full advantage of low and no cost advertising
There are many things you can do in the way of advertising, promotion, and publicity that cost little or nothing. And when you become successful enough to be able to afford more sophisticated ad techniques, there are ways of measuring to some extent just how effective these methods are in terms of your business growth. As always, the chief concern is that the advertising do what it is intended to do: cause more people to purchase more from your business.
Cultivate referral business
Effective advertising does not need to cost a fortune, provided you spend your money wisely. As we noted earlier, word-of-mouth is not only the oldest form of advertising, but is still one of the most effective. To help encourage word-of-mouth advertising, ask for referrals consistently. Depending upon the nature of your business, staying in contact with your customers can help generate referrals by keeping your name top-of-mind. Many personal services businesses, such as accountants and real estate agents, send birthday and holiday cards to their customers. Other businesses, such as hair salons, offer discounts or a gift certificate to customers who provide a referral that brings in new customers.
Good advertising is consistent in look and message. This means that you should develop a simple logo that and use it on all printed material to identify your company. Printed material includes items such business cards, letterhead, brochures, flyers, gift certificates. Your logo should also appear on your website.
Leverage your business cards
Print attractive and informative business cards that include your logo and hand them out everywhere, consistently! If appropriate for your business, you use your card as a discount certificate or other incentive. Another option is to have some cards printed on a magnetic backing so that it can be put on your customer's refrigerator.
Print up some gift certificates. These let your customers introduce you to new customers. Since you get paid up front for the product or service, these are cash-flow friendly.
Brochures can sell customers on your business
Brochures allow you to provide enticing details about your product or service. Simple three-fold brochure paper (stock) may be purchased from mail order suppliers such as Paper Direct. This type of stock comes in attractive cuts and colors. Template software can be obtained that permits you to use your computer to generate classy looking brochures at minimal cost. Plus, many suppliers, such as Paper Direct, provide instantly downloaded templates.
When designing your brochure focus on making it simple, yet eye-catching. Make your headline stand out. Use graphics. Give your customer as much quality information as you can pack into this identity piece. Keep it up to date and personalize it when possible (by writing in the margins or underlining specifics that might interest a particular prospective customer).
If you have a slightly bigger budget, go for a slick four-color piece. You'll need a printer who can do four color separations, so if you're in a small town market with few hi-tech services, you may want to call a national firm that specializes in doing short runs. Firms such as FedEx Office do high-quality, relatively low-cost work for small businesses. They also have a wealth of samples to get your creative ideas flowing.
Flyers are the thrifty entrepreneur's dream
You can create them very inexpensively on your computer, or your local print shop can do them for you. You can use as much color as you like, with either a color printer or old-fashioned colored paper stock. Pack them full of information and post them on every bulletin board you can find that'll allow you space. Easy to distribute in bulk, these handy attention-getters can also be used as bag stuffers or inserts to put in with billings or to include when mailing payments to your suppliers. In fact, don't mail anything out of your business without including some little sales piece. Take advantage of piggybacking on that postage stamp. Placing stacks of flyers in building lobbies and tucking them under windshield wipers are done frequently, but you must be willing to alienate some people if you use these methods of distribution.
Door hangers remain very effective
Door hangers are widely used by fast food and home delivery and service businesses. If you choose this medium, don't scrimp on the stock. Make it heavy so it won't blow off door knobs and litter the neighborhood. Add a coupon or some other incentive to the hanger—in fact, many businesses use the door hanger itself as a coupon. Paper Direct and FedEx Office both have templates available and can handle the printing. Door hangers are a good way to focus in on a specific target market that is defined by their geographic locale.
Telephone numbers can be effective advertising
Surprising as it seems in this internet and smart phone-driven economy, an old local advertising standard continues to be important. A 2011 survey, commissioned by the Local Search Association (formerly the Yellow Pages Association) revealed that 78 percent of the respondents consulted print yellow page directories during the past year. When Internet "yellow pages," were included in the mix, 84 percent reported consulting a yellow page directory. This means that, despite the buzz about Facebook and Twitter, as well as the long-standing need for a compelling website, advertising in telephone directories remains critically important.
However, directory advertising is definitely not cheap. Publishers of these directories have stringent guidelines that make it hard for you to distinguish your ad from your competitors' without spending a lot of money. If you go with this kind of ad, check out whether households in your area receive directories published by more than one company. The cost of advertising varies, as does the market served. Try to pick the one that targets your potential customers the best at the lowest cost.
Get all their prices and pick their reps' brains for information and advice. (But don't confuse a sales pitch for advice.) Be very careful making your listing category choice. Do you want to position yourself as "pizza" or "restaurant" or "carry-out"? Even if you have to stretch to afford it, go for the bold-type listing if you can afford only a single line listing. If you can manage it, a display ad will probably pay big dividends if you keep it running year after year. Use strong black borders if possible and get the most size for the money without sacrificing placement. Don't be afraid to use lots of copy and use pictures and color (red is the usual alternative) if the budget can handle it.
Try to give your business a solid, dependable, reliable feel in your ad. If appropriate, say that you're insured or mention that you've been in business a long time. List every service you can think of as well as your hours and put some stress on your location so people can relate to it. The publisher's rep will give you guidance and examples of what you can do, but try to get a little edge of originality if at all possible.
Toll-Free numbers increase calls to businesses
Toll-free numbers allow a customer to reach you without having to pay any phone charges. Originally, toll-free calls were all "800" numbers. Now, it is a number that begins with any of these three-digit codes: 800, 888, 877, 866 or 855. The cost of your own toll-free may be less than you may think because over 800 “Responsible Organizations” (“RespOrgs”) have been authorized by the Federal Communications Commission to issue toll-free numbers. Because RespOrgs run the gamut from big box stores like Home Deport to all the major wireless companies, knowing exactly what you need (how many calls per day, how many calls per month, and how many minutes per call) and undertaking some serious comparison shopping is absolutely essential. For example, one package may offer 500 minutes for $18/month with each extra minute costing 20 cents, while another may cost only $10/month but include only 200 minutes, with each extra costing five cents.
Explore all print media options
Small display and classified ads in local newspapers or magazines can be a good way to reach your buyers. Remember that the lowly classifieds are perused by a huge number of people, especially on weekends. (Auto dealers and real estate agents fill these pages up for a reason.) If you slip a classified ad into the right category and keep it running consistently, you'll probably get a response strong enough to at least pay the cost of the ad.
The same rules apply to small display ads as to classifieds. Make it easy for your prospective buyers to learn what you have to offer. Use a border to set your ad apart if you can. Run the ad in the appropriate publication: do your homework, read those media kits. Make it very easy for your buyer to respond to your offer by giving a clear phone number, address and location details if space permits.
Get media kits from all your local publications (and any regional or national publications you may want to use as a model). Take a look at what they have to offer and at what price. The media kit will give you the demographic and geographic reach of the publication as well as rate information.
Create your own newsletter
Depending upon the nature of your business, creating your own newsletter can be an effective way to reach customers. Your newsletter can be a blend of advertising and informational text that reminders your customers of your logo and identity and keeps you in touch with with them. You can save postage costs, buy leveraging an email customer list and by having the newsletter available on your website. Just be sure to keep your image consistent, wherever it is seen in print, and have it seen as frequently as you possibly can.
Signs and displays convey your identity
Signage is a key component of establishing and perpetuating your identity. Billboards, blimps, search lights, and skywriting are exotic and expensive; you'd be better served by concentrating on more down-to-earth signs. Matchbooks or boxes with a logo and vital information were always the thrifty solution, but nowadays smoking is on the wane. So try something different such as boxes with little toothpicks instead of matches. This has been very successful in several markets, particularly with upscale restaurants. Key chains, pens and pencils, and calendars are premiums and ad specialties. If they are appropriate for your kind of business, they're worth their weight in ad dollars. People use them. They don't usually end up in drawers or waste baskets.
Bumper stickers, balloons, buttons, decals, and even T-shirts are examples of ad specialty signage that works. Paper or plastic bags and packaging make economical billboards too. Print your name, logo, and message on anything you can, on all sides. Don't miss an opportunity to get your word out. Mailing labels are a perfect medium. Everyone who handles your mail will see your ad at no cost to you.
Also consider "branding" your vehicles. Cars and trucks are great traveling billboards. You can readily find a magnetic sign supplier who can fashion a flexible rubberized sign to attach to your company truck or your personal car. When not in use for company business, simply remove the sign. Employee uniforms are another form of sign. Your logo and identity must carry through all possible aspects of your business. T-shirts are great signs that even your customers can wear.
Interior and exterior signs should be lighted to take advantage of every opportunity to be seen. Neon is becoming popular again, and creative things are being done in this medium.
Reader boards, those signs using individual letters so you can change the message at will, are very useful if well-positioned, lighted, and maintained. Zoning ordinances often limit the use of reader boards. These signs can be portable, on wheels, fixed to the ground in what is called "monument" style or, most often, high up on a pole. Changing the message often and avoiding misspellings will enhance their effect on your business.
When you create posters and banners, be aware that using all capital letters sometimes hampers readability and be sure to check scrupulously for spelling and grammatical errors.
Point-of-purchase displays trigger sales
The importance of POP displays cannot be overemphasized. Impulse buying accounts for a huge amount of product sales. Service businesses can also use some POP techniques, especially when going to add-ons to a regular service such as "wax my car as long as you're going to keep it to change the oil" type of last minute decisions. But it's in the product realm that POP is king.
Often it's manufacturers who pay the cost of POP advertising. Providing a retailer with an attractive display is money well-spent by any manufacturer if it entices a retailer to feature the product and the consumer to purchase it on impulse.
POP can take the form of danglers, signs, posters, banners, custom display racks, special lighting, or video monitors with promotional loops playing all day long. Bounceback and register tape coupons (printed on the back of the cash register receipt) are good to give at a POP location to stimulate customer's return to your business in the future. POP even has its own trade magazine, Shopper Marketing, and there are numerous website providing POP information, such as the In-Store Marketing Institute. If you are a retailer or a maker of consumer goods, you'll want to study the opportunities POP offers.
Catalog and telemarketing efforts can drive sales
Direct mail and catalogs remain popular. despite the rise in online shopping. Whether you use direct mail promotions or develop your own catalog, the demographics of your mailing list (database) is the key to success. Firms like L.L. Bean, Land's End, and Eddie Bauer are masters of database marketing. If you hope to get started in this arena, our advice is to start very small and narrow your niche to a needlepoint.
There are other hazards of direct mail, beyond getting the right list and creating a sharp, concise, attractive print piece. You have to maintain a flawless 800-number service with customer-centered operators who are your first line of contact with your customers. Then you must make sure your delivery services are prompt, your warehouse well-stocked, your order pickers mistake-free, and your merchandise return policies correct. On top of that, you must have truly superlative inventory management. Initially, you may want to consider using a fulfillment house. These companies can take the calls, handle the customer credit process, and even ship the product if you wish. The fee is stiff but might just be worth it until you build a base.
Telemarketing has pros and cons
Sometimes nothing beats a good old-fashioned phone call for making the connection. Telemarketing comes in various guises. Look at telephone contact as a way of giving out information or keeping in touch, and avoid thinking of it as a way to close a sale. It gives you a chance for one-on-one contact but carries a risk of being intrusive. For a small business, it might be best to start calling people you've been referred to by current clients or networking contacts. Calling on existing customers to thank them for their business and inform them of new products or ideas you may have is a good way to keep in touch with a pre-qualified client base.
Be aware that many people have opted out of receiving telemarketing calls on the National Do Not Call list maintained by the Federal Trade Commission. Don't make the mistake of calling people on the list. Fees are charged to telemarketers for access to the list.
No matter what form of electronic marketing you use, you should always be tracking the results and refining your efforts to get the best return on your investment, as you would with any marketing initiative.
Trade shows and tie-ins offer specialized advertising opportunities
Trade shows are essential to some types of wholesale and manufacturing businesses, as well as businesses that provide goods and services directly to other businesses. Display design, booth location and pre- as well as post-show mailings are carried to high degrees of sophistication (and expense). A small business person thinking of using this form of advertising would do well to contact the trade or professional association for his or her industry and also to pick up a copy of How to Participate Profitably in Trade Shows, by Robert Konikow, published by Dartnell.
Tie-ins with another business, co-op ad reimbursements from suppliers whose products you sell, and frequent buyer clubs are all becoming more prevalent in the current advertising environment. One of the emerging trends these days is for businesses to accept or even solicit the coupons of their competitors. Hardee's will almost always accept coupons from Burger King, Arby's and other competitive fast food chains. Accepting competitor coupons or meeting their discount offers is, when you think about it, an excellent way to retain customers without having to mount an expensive ad campaign to counter those of your competitors. Let them spend the money for the four-color free-standing inserts or the big display ad in the Sunday paper.
Keep higher-cost advertising alternatives in mind
Direct mail marketing via mailbox inserts and free-standing inserts can be very effective at reaching customers. However, this method can also be expensive. If you think that inserts could successfully reach your market, call one of the big distributors and learn how much it would cost you to try this kind of program. The industry leaders are Valassis Retail Marketing Systems (Red Plum) and Val-Pak. If you're just starting out, you may want to wait a bit before venturing into this zip code math contest, but keep it in mind as an opportunity for the future.
If you get big enough to contemplate advertising in major newspapers or magazines or on radio or television, form your own in-house ad agency and save the usual 15 percent commission. This is as easy to do as printing up some letterhead with a name like XYZ Advertising Agency. Have a separate checking account if you're going to do a lot of this. This is standard procedure for medium-sized businesses who handle their own ad buys.
Of course, if you can afford it, you can hire a professional ad agency and learn the ropes before plunging in on your own. Sometimes the money they save you in good media buys may make up for their commission. Look in your Yellow Pages and interview a few firms. The ad business is a very people-centered vocation, so find someone with the kind of personality you'll be able to work with. They can also design and place infomercials if your product or service lends itself to this type of advertising. And don't forget the home shopping networks.