You have a great product and business plan. But how do you tell the world — in a memorable way — that your widgets are superior?

What Is It?

When most people think about marketing, they are actually thinking about advertising. Advertising is part of the Promotional “P” in the four P’s of Marketing, and it is the most well-known. Advertising is everywhere around us – on the Internet, on television, in our print magazines and newspapers, in our mail, and even appears on billboards along our commute to work. In fact, it is estimated that consumers are subjected to hundreds of advertising messages in any given day.

The Dictionary in the American Marketing Association website defines Advertising as, “The placement of announcements and persuasive messages in time or space purchased in any of the mass media by business firms, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and individuals who seek to inform and/ or persuade members of a particular target market or audience about their products, services, organizations, or ideas.

Advertising has evolved to include several different types of specialization. Outdoor advertising refers to billboards and large scale signs, print advertising refers to newspapers and magazines, online advertising refers to banner ads and search engine advertising, and radio and television advertising also represent a unique specialization within advertising.

Advertising differs from other promotional specialties like sales promotion, public relations, and direct marketing in that it is purchased publicity through a mass media outlet. In advertising, targeting occurs in simply by choosing which specific media outlets to use. For example, if your prospects are female, ages 35-40, with a certain household income, you might choose to advertise in a magazine, on a cable channel, and/or on a radio station whose audience matches your prospects in demographics.

Additionally, in some cases these media offer the ability to target certain geographic areas. A radio station or cable t.v. station typically targets a limited geographic area – and many magazines allow you to advertise only in certain zip codes or regions. However, in spite of these advances in targeting, advertising is still a blanket approach that delivers your message to everyone who reads that magazine, listens to that radio station, or watches that t.v. station. That is why it is referred to as “mass” media.

One exception is Internet-based advertising. While this is grouped into “Advertising,” in many ways Internet advertising is more targeted and more closely resembles direct marketing.

Why Do I Need It?

Advertising is one of the primary tools used to build your brand, reach customers, and promote your products and services. For larger companies, advertising typically plays an important role in the marketing mix – with multiple media communications being utilized for advertising. Advertising is typically combined with public relations and direct response marketing to create a synergy and reinforce key messages using multiple tactics.

In a smaller organization, you may not have a budget for an entire multi-media campaign. Experts from each separate discipline within the marketing mix (advertising, sales promotion, public relations, and direct response marketing) would argue that their discipline represents the most cost effective option for a limited budget. However, the reality is that the real driver of such a decision – if you must choose only a limited use of the marketing mix components – is your own company’s product mix, target market, and campaign objectives.

For example, if your product is focused on a very niche market, reaching your potential customers may be more effectively handled by a direct marketing campaign that relies on a specially compiled prospect list of people who represent your best targets. In such a case, doing mass media advertising would expose your product widely, but not concentrated on your unique prospects … and that wide advertising focus would likely waste your valuable marketing dollars.

However, if you have a product or service that has mass appeal – where the average consumer is represented by most Americans – or if you are focusing on a specific geographic area, then advertising using media that reaches an audience that best matches your target prospects in demographics and geographic location might be a smart move.

Public relations and sales promotions are really complementary tactics that shouldn’t be ignored – but usually aren’t the best choices if you have a limited budget and are only planning a single campaign with a limited scope. That being said, public relations can be a great tool to launch your company, build your brand, and establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Can I Do It Myself?

The answer here is, it depends. This is much like branding and logo work in that it is very easy to spot companies that develop their own “home-grown” ads, and looking professional is very important. An exception to that rule exists when your customer base would likely be offended by slick advertising. In some lines of business, customers are turned off by what they see as pricey investment in advertising – and instead wish you would put that money into servicing your customers. The best advice on this subject is to work to achieve a balance.

In most cases, you don’t want to be known as the “King of Used Cars” guy with the cheesy t.v. and radio spots … but you also may not want to look like you’ve spent a lot of cash on slick advertising that doesn’t fit your target prospects.

In general, it’s probably best to seek some professional guidance in developing an advertising campaign. Purchasing print space, t.v. time, and radio spots is costly enough that you want to be sure you get the most bang for that exposure. Also, a professional advertising agency generally helps you purchase media time – and they are skilled at negotiating good deals, so having their help might actually reduce your media costs. That might make up for the creative and strategic costs that you’ll incur due to their involvement.

Professional Resources

Full-service advertising agencies can help you develop your overall campaign, identify your target audience, select media channels, generate the creative, and purchase the media time – they are known as full-service because they provide one-stop shopping for all your advertising needs. However, full-service sometimes does mean additional cost. If you have a limited budget, be sure you lay out your expectations when interviewing agencies and discuss your priorities. You’ll be much happier with the outcome if you are clear on these subjects.

In addition to full-service advertising agencies, you might seek resources for specific functions if you feel like you can handle some aspects yourself. For example, you might feel comfortable writing your own ad, but may need to hire a professional designer to do the creative design and layout and to handle getting the material ready for output to the specific media channel. In this case, you would follow much the same process as is recommended in the branding section to hire a freelance designer.

Another avenue for help exists at the media outlets themselves. The advantage of this is that they may or may not charge to help develop the t.v. or radio spot, or the magazine or newspaper ad. However, these organizations will only prepare advertising for their media – so if you want to use multiple media, you’ll need to work with separate organizations, and that may make it difficult to keep a consistent message. However, if you’re working strictly with radio or a local newspaper, they can provide a great deal of the professional assistance you’ll need to get your advertising developed.

Top Five Tips in Choosing an advertising agency or selecting media channels:

  1. Before you meet with anyone, spend some time on your own thinking about how to reach your best customers – are they local, in a certain region? Also, give some thought to the budget you’re willing to commit and what type of return you expect for your investment. For example, if you’re going to spend $20,000, you should calculate how many leads and sales you have to generate to make that investment worthwhile.

  2. Interview several different advertising agencies, as well as some media directly. They will usually be happy to spend the time with you. It’s especially important to meet with the medial channels you’re considering to hear the key demographics of their audience and to get some idea of their pricing. Even if you eventually hire a full-service advertising agency, you will be better informed and more able to evaluate their effectiveness if you’ve done some research on your own.

  3. As a general rule, you should try to plan a simple campaign that allows for repetition of consistent messages and visual images – and that will reach your intended audience multiple times. Research suggests that consumers have to be touched a minimum of 7 times to stimulate a response – that may seem like a lot, but you’re competing against an inundation of other messages and your message can easily be drowned. Repetition and consistency are key to breaking through the clutter.

  4. Don’t be afraid to try something different, but make sure you don’t get so far in left field that your message is too abstract and customers can’t figure out what it is you do. Big companies with established brands can experiment with abstract advertising … but smaller organizations need to stick to a simple formula that gets the customer’s attention, outlines your value proposition, and tells them how to find you. You don’t just want people to think you have a cool ad, you want them to come to your store, request information, or place an order.

  5. If you’re working with a new advertising agency the first time, be sure you don’t over commit. Make it clear that you want to test them out for this first campaign, and based on the success of that campaign you’ll make a decision as to whether or not to develop follow-up campaigns. Additionally, make sure you put in some measurement of success that is objective. Many advertising agencies will want to measure “awareness” or just whether you reached the desired audience with your message … but the entire campaign isn’t worth much to you unless it results in new customers. Make sure you agree on a measurement that is tied to actual leads generated, store traffic, or sales made. You’ll be happier with the outcome – and you’ll set up a relationship with the agency that puts you in control right from the start.


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