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Making Advertising Work

For Small Business Owners

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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.

About the Author

John Watson is the president of Accrue Performance Marketing and the author of Mastering Marketing, the Being Profitable Program, several ebooks and an avid blogger. He serves as a sales and marketing coach and fractional Chief Marketing Officer for companies that cannot yet justify a full-time CMO. He's focused on helping startups and growth-focused companies develop powerful brands, customer-centric websites, sales leads and complete commercialization programs.

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