How to Drive Sales by Advertising in Magazines

Over the last 10 years or so, “print” has become something of a nasty word among those advertisers clamoring to be a part of the digital land rush. Lost in the hype about social media buys and online presence, though, is the fact that old-fashioned magazine advertising still works.

Related: The Secrets to Effective Magazine Advertising

In fact, the Advertising Research Foundation recently found that magazines produce the highest return on ad spend of any visual medium, bringing in nearly $4 in incremental sales for every $1 spent on advertising. Advertisers and publishers alike are starting to catch on. Venerable Newsweek, after eight decades in print, went all-digital in 2012 — only to come back in print two years later and turn a profit.

Despite the value of magazine advertising, there is still under-investment in the market, making now a good time for you to pick up good deals on ads that will deliver results for your business. But what’s the best way to make sure your magazine ad campaign fulfills its potential? Start by applying these concepts.

Don’t go crazy on design

If you run your own business, you probably can’t afford to hire an agency to design your ad. The good news is that you don’t have to. Some of the greatest magazine ads of all time have had minimalist designs. You don’t even need expensive software to design an ad. And if you don’t have a Don Draper handy to write copy for you, don’t worry about that, either. Just point readers to your website.

The key is to be clever and arresting if possible, but even if you can’t — or if that’s not appropriate for your business — just make sure readers understand what you’re selling and how they can get it. The beauty of magazine advertising is that consumers definitely see it and can’t avoid it. It’s permanent, not temporal. And it tends to stand out against the articles in a magazine.

Test small before going big

You don’t have to buy the opening spread or back page of a publication when you get started with magazine advertising. In fact, you can start small with a test ad and see what kinds of results it brings before deciding whether or not to invest further in a particular publication.

Magazine ads don’t have the built-in analytics that digital ads have, so you might want to take testing into your own hands. Promise a discount or other special offer to customers who mention your ad or bring it into your place of business, if you have one. Also, take care to track your sales figures for the time period when the ad runs (a week or a month, normally), and see if you notice a bump.

Keep in mind, too, that magazine ads don’t exist in a vacuum. Some publications practically give their print ads away if you advertise with them online. Don’t hesitate to negotiate a print package when possible when you’re buying other forms of advertising. You might get better results from your free print ad than from your digital ads.

Target a specific niche

If People and Vogue aren’t quite in your budget, don’t worry. You probably don’t need to advertise in publications that size, anyway. There are more than 7000 magazines in the United States alone, including special-interest publications that cover every niche imaginable. Looking to drive sales for your stained-glass studio, for instance? You’d better believe there’s a print magazine for that.

For companies in the business-to-business space, there are thousands of trade publications that cover every conceivable industry from just about every possible angle, from wastewater treatment to pork (yes, just pork). Other journals target specific segments of the market like Gun News Daily, which provides readers with hunting and gun-related information.

Many of those publications offer their print articles online and/or in PDF format, meaning your ad buy could reach readers well beyond the audience of print subscribers. But in all likelihood, the readers you’ll most want to reach subscribe to the magazine in print.

Another advantage of advertising with trades and special-interest publications is that your ads look right at home with their content. When you advertise online, your ad might run next to a general-interest placement that has nothing to do with the focus of the website. But a print buy in a magazine for model-train enthusiasts, for instance, will catch the eye of readers who take the magazine because they love model trains.

Magazines are great for regional campaigns, too, as most areas have at least a business journal or some similar publication that covers the local business scene. These provide opportunities for inexpensive, highly targeted ads in regions that can be quite specific. There’s a business journal, for instance, in upstate South Carolina.

Print is here to stay

The number of print magazines in the U.S. has actually grown in the last decade, despite the hype around print declining. People still read magazines on trains, in doctors’ offices, and especially on airplanes, and many readers still prefer to hold paper as opposed to a phone or a tablet.

Magazine advertising is not only here to stay, it also presents a fantastic opportunity at the moment for small businesses to pick up great deals on ads that boost brand exposure and drive revenue.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs.

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