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ARLnow Guide to Effective Advertising

Advertising is easy. Effective advertising is much harder.

As a small business owner, marketing manager or communications professional, you have a lot on your plate. Conceiving an effective advertising campaign requires considerable time and attention, on top of everything else that’s going on. Measuring the real-world efficacy of the advertising you’re doing, meanwhile, is difficult for even the largest of companies.

In our nearly 10 years of serving clients, we’ve had a chance to see what works and what doesn’t work as well across hundreds of ad campaigns. In that time we’ve developed a simple guide to creating great local advertising.

One thing to keep in mind is that advertising is not a magic wand. It does not magically turn a sub-par product or service into a best-seller. The stronger your offering, the more advertising will benefit you’ll get out of your advertising.

Also, most of the time, advertising does not work overnight. At its best, advertising adds long-term value to a business or nonprofit over an extended period.

Think “buy the world a Coke,” not “buy this now.”

As such, we encourage anyone thinking about advertising with us or anywhere else to approach advertising as a long-term proposition, not a one-time activity. That follows the generally accepted principle that businesses should have a yearly budget for advertising and marketing and should strive for frequent exposure to your target audience. Don’t just take it from us, here’s what the U.S. Small Business Association recommends:

As a general rule, small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should allocate 7-8 percent of their revenues to marketing. This budget should be split between 1) brand development costs (which includes all the channels you use to promote your brand such as your website, blogs, sales collateral, etc.), and 2) the costs of promoting your business (campaigns, advertising, events, etc.).

Here’s what Inc. Magazine says on the topic:

We are constantly bombarded with advertisements and images and in order to penetrate the consciousness it is important to be seen with some frequency… it is “essential to advertise consistently over a protracted period of time to achieve enough frequency to drive your message home.”

In other words, there’s a reason why Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and the most savvy advertisers are constantly trying to reach customers and remind them of what they have to offer and why it’s great.

Our rule of thumb for effective advertising is to remember the five A’s — audience, attention, awareness, affinity and action. Here’s the explanation for each.

Audience — Make sure you’re reaching the right potential customers.

  • Who are you trying to reach? That’s the first question you should ask yourself. Go wherever the eyeballs of your target audience is.
  • Ask your customers — which print publications and websites do they read? Which TV and online video channels do they watch?
  • Beware the trap of over-indexing on your own media habits. If most of your new customers are in their 30s, for instance, you’re probably not going to reach them in your favorite local print newspaper.

Attention — It’s not just about reaching the right audience, you also need to capture their attention.

  • Wherever you put your ad, make sure it’s in view of an engaged readership. Without the audience’s attention, your ad will accomplish nothing.
  • Don’t be afraid to be bold. In our hyperactive information age, you need to stand out to be seen. Never assume that someone will take the time to read your ad just because it’s there.

Awareness — The first thing you want is for your potential customers to be aware of you.

  • Before you can sell to new customers, they need to know you exist.
  • In your advertising, communicate the basics: your company’s name and logo, what you do, where you’re located, what your value proposition is, etc.
  • When a customer first becomes aware of your business, they’ll make a snap judgment about you based on your name, logo, design of your ad, etc. But the job of winning that customer doesn’t stop there.

Affinity — A customer need to like you and your product or service prior to making a purchase decision.

  • Communicate messages that tell the customer what you and your brand are all about. The goal isn’t to get everyone to like you, the goal is to get the subset of the audience most likely to become customers to really like you.
  • Continue the effort to communicate your value proposition. Stand out and tell customers what makes you better than the competition.
  • Consumers, and younger consumers especially, are more likely to do business with companies that they feel share their values. If your company is a big contributor to a specific cause, maybe devote one of your ads to trying to raise money for that cause. (Have we mentioned that you can run an unlimited number of display ads in rotation on our sites? And you should definitely take advantage of that, as more ads = more opportunities to reach customers.)

Action — Once a customer is aware of you and likes you and what you have to offer, it’s time to try to make the sale.

  • Walk before you run. Date before getting married. And don’t presume to ask for the sale too soon. Most people do not make a purchase decision after seeing just one ad about a business or product they’ve never heard about before.
  • Once the potential customer knows about you and likes you, then you can start providing opportunities for that potential customer to become an actual customer.
  • Actionable ideas: You’re a restaurant and you want to invite people to try your new seasonal menu. You’re a local retailer and you’re having a sale. You’re a local real estate and you have an e-book with the top 10 things someone needs to know about the local real estate market.
  • The goal is to inform the audience about the action they can take. Avoid pushing too hard for the sale.

Finally, once you make the sale, try to track the customer’s journey to see how they got there. Survey customers about how they first heard about you. Most of the time, they won’t volunteer such information.

Want to learn more about advertising best practices? Get in touch and let’s have a no-pressure conversation.

Photo courtesy Jeremy Galliani

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