How to Advertise

Confused about how to advertise your business? Here are 9 steps to plan an effective advertising strategy and choose the best places to advertise your business. 

What’s the best way to advertise a small business? The many advertising options make that a puzzling question for many business owners.

You can buy pay-per-click ads on Google and other Internet search engines. You can buy banner ads on websites. You can send email to your own email list, or buy ads in another company’s list. You can buy advertisements on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (or just post for free and hope your posts get seen by people who might want what you sell).

Then, of course, there are the more traditional advertising avenues such as newspapers, magazines, radio, local TV, coupon books, weekly and shoppers, and even phone books. Which, if any, should you use?

Ask ten small business owners that question and each is likely to give you a different response. The owner of a niche software publishing company may tell you that advertising in a trade magazine works for her. The guy who runs the lawn care service you use may tell you he advertises regularly in the classified sections of town newspapers but thinks he gets most of his customers by word-of-mouth.

A management consultant may tell you that advertising is a waste of money – that what brings in business is content marketing and presenting workshops. A plumber may tell you Angie’s List® or HomeAdvisor brings in some leads. And so it goes.

Who’s right? Where should you advertise? Does it pay to advertise? How can you get the most mileage from your ad dollars if you do advertise?

Here are nine steps to take to determine how to advertise your small business.

1. Know your customer

You can’t make a good decision about how to advertise or where to advertise unless you know who your customers are.

A man who had been operating a game and hobby center for a year complained at a marketing workshop that advertising wasn’t working for him.

Someone in the room asked where his store was located. When he mentioned the location, another person in the room said, “That’s only a couple of blocks from my house. My kids would love your shop, but I’ve never heard of it!”

The shop owner, it turned out, had never made any attempt to advertise locally. Instead, he had assumed most of his customers would be men in their early 20s and had placed ads sporadically in a major daily newspaper that circulated in two counties. Neither had he set up a website or listed his business in Google My Business or in Bing Places to help his business get found in search on computers and smartphones.

To avoid this pitfall, create a profile of your most likely prospects. Include the standard information such as age, income, occupation, industry, education, sex, and geographical location. But go beyond those basics. Include criteria such as their goals, challenges, and pain points (ie, problems they want to or must solve).

Don’t guess at the information you use to fill in the profile. Do enough research so you are working with facts. Look for information in trade magazines, talk to people you think will buy and ask friends, relatives and business acquaintances who they think would be interested in the product or service. 

2. Know What Your Customer Expects

Creating a customer profile is just the first step in planning a successful advertising strategy Equally critical is determining how customers typically learn about your type of product or service and what motivates them to buy. The best way to gather this kind of information is to interview customers and prospects and ask where they look for what you sell, and what makes them buy. Here are questions to consider asking so you can start building an advertising plan:

  • Is this product or service an impulse or spur-of-the-moment purchase?
  • Do they do any research before buying this product or service?
  • Do paid ads influence their buying decisions?
  • Where do they expect to find ads for this type of product of service? In a daily paper or a weekly shopper? On Google? In ads in social media? On the radio or TV?
  • Do they ask friends for referrals?
  • Do they ask business associates, doctors of other professionals for referrals?
  • Do product reviews influence their decisions?
  • Would they expect to find the type of product you sell on or in Walmart?
  • Do they look for discount coupons before they buy?
  • Do they look for a brand name?
  • Do they look for a convenient location to buy the product?
  • Do they need to see a demo before buying?
  • Do they buy as a result of getting an ad in the mail?
  • Do they respond to telephone solicitations?
  • Do they listen for ads about the product on radio or TV?
  • Are there specific features they look for when they buy the product?
  • What else influences them to buy the product or service?

Use the answers to these questions to help you determine where and how you should advertise.

3. Set Goals for Your Ads

Advertising is no different than anything else in business: to be successful, it has to be planned.

Start by setting specific marketing goals and listing the ways you can reach those objectives. Don’t use “increase sales” as your goal; that’s too vague. Instead, list “attract 25 orders,” or “get 100 new sales leads,” or “double sales of widgets next month.” Set realistic goals based on both the response rate of the medium in which you will be advertising and on your own ability to produce the work or deliver the product you sell.

If you haven’t advertised before, call a few non-competing businesses that advertise regularly to your target customer and ask what kind of response they have gotten from their ads in the media you are considering. Look on the Internet to see if there are any forums for people in your industry or trade. Look for discussions about what advertising methods work best for others in your line of work.

4. Choose the appropriate media to reach your customers

The right place to advertise one product or service isn’t necessarily the right place to advertise another.

For instance, an ad in a regional business newspaper, or a direct mail campaign to building managers might be appropriate to advertise a commercial cleaning business.

But if you want to get customers for home cleaning services, classified ads in a local weekly newspaper or shopper would be more likely to reach your target customer.

Remember, advertising costs are usually linked to audience size. The bigger the circulation or audience, the more you pay. If only 1 percent of the people who might see or hear your ad are likely customers for what you sell, 99 percent of your advertising dollars spent with that media outlet will be wasted.

Save money and get better results by spending your advertising dollars with the outlets and media that will deliver the highest concentration of people who match the customer profile you developed in step 1.

If you will be buying ads on search engines, or on social media, take the time to read their instructions for audience targeting. Look for information on selecting age, sex, location, and other criteria that your typical buyers have in common. You may also want to limit when your ads show to a particular time of the day or day of the week.

If you’re buying banner advertisements or sponsored content on individual websites, or you will be placing an ad in the email they send to their subscribers, ask for a media kit, or if they don’t have one, ask about the audience demographics. Try to determine what percentage of their audience is a good match for your products and services.

If you are considering buying ads in print or broadcast media, ask for their media kit, and if most of your customers are from your local area, ask if they have local targeting options.

You don’t want to pay for an advertisement to be seen by everyone in the Los Angeles area, if you only service customers in Monrovia, CA. For broadcast media, you want to know about the demographics for the particular show you’ll be advertising on and the hour of the day.

Calculate what percentage of the media’s audience matches the profile of your typical customer. Spend your advertising money with the media that can give you the highest concentration of likely customers at the lowest price.

One word of caution. Advertising is often sold on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis. When estimating the results you might get from placing your ad in any one outlet, use realistic figures to estimate your response to the ad, and your actual sales.

For instance, the average click-through rate for banner ads on the Internet is only about 1/3 of one percent, meaning that if your banner ad is shown to 300,000 people online, only about 99 people will actually click on it – if your ad is good.

Once they click on it and get to your landing page, only a percentage of those people will call you or make a purchase. In print media, no matter what the total circulation, customers have to see the page your ad is located on, and then take the action specified in your ad. Learn more about choosing the right advertising media

If your competitors have been advertising for many months in a specific media, their ads are probably working. Ride the coattails of their media research to increased visibility by placing your ads in the same media. Doing so will reduce some of the trial and error associated with finding the right advertising media. It will also put your product’s benefits and features where your competitors’ prospects will see them before they make a purchase decision.

6. Decide on the purpose of your ad

The purpose of any ad is to sell. But there are different things you can “sell” in an ad. An ad may be used to get orders, to get sales leads, to provide information, to get people to visit your store, or just to get name recognition. To get the most mileage out of your ads, make sure you know what your objective is before you write and place them.

7. Write with the prospects’ interests in mind, not your own

Eliminate from your copy all phrases such as “We are proud to announce.” Most of your customers won’t really care what you are proud about. They want to know how you can make them feel proud about something, or how you can help them solve a problem or fill a need.

Related: 13 Ways to Improve Your Sales Brochures

8. Start small

Don’t blow your entire advertising budget on one big ad campaign. Start with small, limited budget campaigns and test your ads to see which ads work, and which media work for you. Advertising that doesn’t work on the local radio station, might work well online. Similarly, a change in a headline, in a print ad, or the addition of a keyword in search ads, might turn a non-productive ad into one gets leads and customers. Keep track of responses to determine what works, and what doesn’t.

9. Test and Measure

Advertising isn’t a once and done thing. A single ad or advertising method isn’t your ticket to success. To make advertising work for your small business you need to test your ads and measure the results. The headline you think is clever may not appeal to your customers. The buy one, get one half price offer coupon you send out might not be as effective as sending out a 25% off everything coupon. But you’ll never know if you don’t test your ad headlines, copy and offers and measure the results.

Related: How to Promote Your Business

© 2018 Janet Attard Adapted from her book, Business Know-How; An operational guide for home-based and micro-sized businesses with limited budgets. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted or republished without permission from the author.

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