Making Advertising Work

Advertising is all around us. We’ve all grown up with it on TV and radio, on signs, in magazines and now on our computers and phones. It’s natural as a business owner to want to advertise too.

Historically, advertising was a way to reach a mass audience, and in many ways it still is. If however, your business is local, or you sell to a niche market, it can be challenging to make advertising work.

The main challenges are scale, cost and focus. Many small businesses lack scale, and most media cannot focus down far enough to speak to your target audience, resulting in huge waste regarding the reach of your ad campaign.

What should you do?

Should you abandon the idea entirely? Not necessarily.

Ideally, what you’re looking for is the ability to focus exclusively on your target audience.

You want to be able to focus on:

  • Small geographic areas (ideally at a community scale or smaller)
  • Specific days and times
  • Tight demographic groups (age, gender, income, education, language etc.)
  • People with specific interests, affiliations, activities and life events
  • People with certain jobs or titles at specific types of companies
  • Specific devices (computers, tablets or phones)
  • Specific search criteria

You need to advertise to who, where, when and how you want.

Is this possible? It depends.

Each media option offers different combinations of focus, and you need to select the ones most suited to your needs. The media channels with the most control are search engines, social media, local search, mobile and online display advertising. Other tightly focused options include local signage, direct mail, telephone campaigns and affiliate marketing.

The problem is usually wading through the options to determine which is best for you. The ad industry does not make it easy as they don’t present apples to apples comparisons. People often need some help to sort it all out in the form of a strategic media plan and forecast model.

Is it affordable? It depends.

Affordability is relative. The cost of entry is usually low enough for small businesses to use and refine, but there is a steep learning curve to overcome.

Is it effective?

It can be if you do it right. You have all the means available to make it effective if you choose to learn how it works and you take the time to master it.

Typically, what makes your advertising effective is a combination of the relevance and attractiveness of your offer, your competition, your sales process, your ability to track results and refine your approach plus a host of other factors that have nothing to do with the advertising itself.

Making advertising work for small business translates into either a steep learning curve or working with an advocate who’ll help you through the process. The trick is separating the advocates from the media salespeople who’re paid a commission when you buy advertising from them. They only get paid if you buy, so expecting unbiased advice from them could be naive.

A true marketing advocate will help you understand your risks and readiness to advertise. They will show you what you need to do to prepare and they’ll help you set the stage for success, before risking your money on high risk and ill-conceived advertising campaigns.

All told the biggest risk to manage is often your own impatience and reluctance to take on an on-going continuous improvement process. Entrepreneurs are often predisposed to a one-off, trial and error approach.

Success in advertising is like learning an instrument or learning to play hockey; it takes time, training, practice and the money to pay for all the gear. You being the primary barrier is the good news, because if you’re the main obstacle, you’re also the key to success. Success in small business advertising comes down to whether you decide to take it on and develop the skills to win.

Like everything else important you’ve ever taken on, it starts with goal setting, planning, committing to making it happen and then doing it long enough to get results, ideally with the help of a coach, mentor or advocate.

If you’re considering advertising and you’d like to determine if you’re ready, let’s talk. We’ll be happy to help you make an informed choice on how to move forward.

Marketing Is Not Advertising

Over the past six months, I’ve spent a lot of time meeting other business owners. What they keep sharing with me is their impression that marketing is just another word for advertising. When I share with them what marketing is, the most common sentiment is surprise. To my surprise, many business owners have little understanding of marketing beyond the ads they see and the sales pitches they endure.

If I stop and recall my introduction to marketing 25+ years ago, I remember how confused I was. It was such a foreign way to think. I struggled to get my head around it for quite a while. My mentor at the time explained marketing to me like this,

“Marketing is everything you do to grow your company.”

I’ve always liked the simplicity of that description and yet, when I first heard it, didn’t understand what he meant.

What Is Marketing?

What I’ve come to understand is marketing affects all facets of a company. That’s because all aspects of a company affect people’s experience. I now see marketing as the unifying principle behind a business. Its the leadership premise or the platform companies are built upon.

Marketing starts with an idea about who you are, and whom you serve. The idea expands into how you create value for people in a way that is distinct from your competitors. Marketing is the culture of a company and the experience you routinely create for people. Its who you are, how you sell and how you build the economic relationships that drive your businesses forward.

What’s The Purpose Of Marketing?

As a business owner, you are either in startup mode, growth mode, optimising mode or in transition. A transition is when you’re dealing with change, such as a downturn, new competition, succession or a pending sale. The strategic purpose of marketing is to guide your company through each stage and transition to achieve target business outcomes.

Confusing marketing with advertising is tragic, and yet that’s what many people do.

Marketing is not advertising. Marketing is everything you do to grow your company and to shape the experience you create for people. Shaping the experience you create for people is a long way from advertising. The leadership intent is different and so are your outcomes.

Given this expanded definition, let’s have a meaningful conversation about you, your business and what you’re trying to accomplish. I think you’ll find the broader definition of marketing exciting and a valuable opportunity to shape and grow your company, beyond what your current definition affords.

Over the past few years we’ve developed a series of Eighteen Free eBooks on different aspects of marketing and marketing leadership. The eBooks are meant to help you better understand marketing and how to take control of your marketing investments. Please download as many as you like.

Duct Tape Marketing

I help entrepreneurs grow companies in my marketing consulting and coaching practice, so I am always looking for good books to recommend to entrepreneurs.

The process that Duct Tape Marketing outlines is the closest match to what my company offers, that I have found so far. I rate it as one of my top 5 book picks for outlining the entire small business sales and marketing process. One caution is that the coverage of each topic is very general, making it more of a road map – a good big-picture overview – than a practical how-to book.

How Does Duct Tape Marketing Work?

The book starts out with the assumption that you are a small business owner about to market your business and leads you forward from there. It’s divided into two sections: The Foundation, and The Lead Generation Machine. There is also a small third section with some afterthoughts and resources for learning more about the topics introduced in each chapter.

The Foundation section outlines a process for getting ready to market, a priming of the lead generation pump if you will. The Lead Generation section outlines what the components of a sales lead generation promotional machine look like, and how they work together to generate results. Each chapter directs you to some useful resources and tools that might help you along the way.

The book is very readable and can be digested fairly quickly. I suggest reading it once from cover to cover and then again chapter by chapter as you develop your go-to-market plan.

The Problem With Marketing Programs

One of my pet peeves with nearly all marketing programs is that they make the assumption that an entrepreneur is actually ready to market. Unfortunately, this book makes the same assumption. In my experience, many marketing programs begin with little to no professional due diligence; due diligence in determining if an entrepreneur’s business is sufficiently well defined and economically capable of supporting a sustained marketing effort. Without it, an entrepreneur runs the risk of wasting his limited time and money on marketing before he is ready to benefit from it. I’d like to see this book offer some wisdom in this regard to prevent costly premature marketing investments.

Advice To Entrepreneurs

As a marketing consultant, one of the hardest things I do after a due diligence review is say to an entrepreneur, “Your business isn’t ready for marketing yet. I’m not going to do you any favours by helping you market until a number of issues are addressed.”

I always say to entrepreneurs, “you need to be able to answer these questions specifically and with commitment, before you spend any money on marketing”:

  1. Who are you and what do you do?
  2. Whom do you serve, specifically?
  3. What core problem do you solve for your clients?
  4. What is your key competitive advantage?
  5. How does your business make money on first-time sales?

The last question is the most problematic for a would-be marketer and where he often needs to rethink his plans. When an entrepreneur works out the likely cost of a sale from marketing and realizes there is no margin left in an average first sale, there is no point going further until a solution is found.

This “am I ready to market” discussion continually gets left out of marketing books. We need a more sober discussion about how time-consuming, expensive, and risky marketing can be. I think this book would serve its audience better if more emphasis were placed on core business definition, marketing planning, budgeting, and forecasting. This would help an entrepreneur make informed decisions about how ready he is for marketing before he gets excited and jumps right in.

Should I Invest In Duct Tape Marketing?

Despite this gap in coverage, I think Duct Tape Marketing is a very useful book for helping to map out what your marketing program could look like. I also think it is a useful book to refer to as you implement your plan, as it offers very practical advice at each step along the way. Just don’t be too eager to jump into marketing until you are confident you can afford to finish what you start and can make money from the effort.