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Guide for advertising

Here are some Advertising guidelines for small businesses. The principles are obviously transferable to very large businesses, and it's common for very large organizations to forget these basics.

How to chose the available mix of methods in advertising.

Advertising is a complex business and an ever-changing science. New ideas and media uses are being devised all the time, and as the advertising industry switches emphasis from media to media, and as new technologies and lifestyle trends develop, so new advertising and promotional methods need assessing and comparing with traditional available methods as to which is more or less cost-effective for your given purposes. For example through the 1980's and 1990's there was a huge trend towards direct mail (junk mail), which seems to show no signs of abating - many very large consumer brands switched significant advertising spending into direct mail, often switching away from TV. TV on the other hand is increasingly attractive to small local businesses. Loyalty schemes demonstrated significant success rates through the 1990's through to present times. Internet advertising is arguably now more popular than radio advertising - the importance of websites and Internet listings are very significant now for small local businesses just as much as larger corporations. 'Viral marketing' (exploiting electronic communications and the 'word of mouth' instinct) is an example of a new method of advertising that simply never existed until about the mid-1990's.

Advertising methods change with lifestyle and technology developments - learn what's available to you - learn what your competitors are doing. Read about advertising methods and developments and trends. Historically (1980's-90's) advertising agencies were commonly 'multi-services' agencies, and split their operations to handle the creative, production and media-buying processes. Nowadays however, multi-services agencies are far less common - the range of advertising methods is so vast that advertising agencies are now most commonly specialized in one or a small number of advertising services (types of advertising), because there's so much to consider and to use. Whether you work with an advertising agency or not, learn about the methods that are available to you - keep up with developments so you can make informed decisions about where to put your advertising emphasis, and what 'mix' of methods to use.

Keep in mind cost, targeting and response

Any campaign can be broken down in terms of cost per thousand, and if you are seeking a direct response, it should be monitored according to cost per response and also cost per conversion. Advertising cost per thousand includes cost of origination (design), production (printing if relevant) and media (such as local radio, display advert, list procurement and postal fulfillment). Generally you will pay a higher cost per thousand for better-targeted methods, but in return you should expect a higher response rate, so the cost per response can be lower than cheaper methods. Choose advertising and publicity methods that suit your targeting.

Organizations selling advertising are able to provide a lot of information about their readership/audience, and you can look at other advertisers that repeatedly using various media to gauge how effectively it's working for them, which will provide some clues as to how well it might work for you. Are they targeting the same audience as you? If so you it's an idea to call them and ask if the particular advertising method is one they recommend or not. Getting and building evidence of advertising effectiveness is a vital part of decision-making, and managing your advertising and marketing mix. Why guess if you can base decisions on experience and previous statistics and data? Sophisticated advertisers only commit to major programmes after accumulating response data from pilots and previous campaigns. They avoid guesswork, and so should you. Any large-scale activity must first be tested and the response measured for quantity and profile.

Selecting Design, production and advertising agencies

Your advertising material helps to form your image, so make sure you are happy with the design, however modest the style and usage. Use typefaces and logos in a consistent way, and if you can get the help of a good designer early this will set the tone and rules for usage later, which will save time and money in the long term. You may already have a perfectly satisfactory 'corporate identity'. If so, don't feel pressurized to change for the sake of it. Brand loyalty and the names and identities associated with it take years - generations in fact - to build. Don't throw away perfectly good branding just because some idiot from an agency persuades you that a change is necessary. When making any change consider your real purpose and implications.

Consider and be warned by examples in recent times of large-scale corporate identity cock-ups, such as BT (trumpeting figure), the Post Office (calling itself Consignia), and British Airways (multi-national aircraft tail-fin designs) - all of these cost tens of millions of pounds, yet they all (according to most commentators) failed disastrously and resulted in expensive re-branding or reversion to the original identities.

The role of design and advertising agencies is however most commonly concerned with planning and implementing advertising or promotional 'campaigns' on a client's behalf.

This advertising process starts with a 'brief' comprising: the purpose of the advertising, how much you will pay, and what you expect to get, including how you will measure whether it is successful or not. A written brief is critically important if you are using an outside agency. Advertising is notoriously subjective; creative agencies are often difficult to manage; so misunderstandings can easily creep in if your control is not tight enough.

Here are some general rules for working with advertising and design agencies:

  • Try to appoint people who come recommended and who have experience in your sector.
  • Agree written briefs for all work, and certainly in the early phase of a relationship.
  • Maintain a balance between what you want to say and how they want to say it.
  • Don't allow the message to get over-complicated.

Agencies charge like wounded bulls for correcting copy (text) once they've started the final artwork, so try to get all the details correct and as you want them before going to the reprographic stage (that's when the designer or typesetter produces the artwork).

If you are a small business try to use an agency with the services you need under one roof (apart from printing which is traditionally separate), as they can tend to mark-up bought-in services quite heavily, eg., graphic design, photography. You'll also find it easier to establish accountability if your agency is responsible for the whole job, rather than just a part of it.

Until you are satisfied with the agency's print prices it's a good idea to ask for an alternative print quotation, and check what mark-up the agency adds on.

In the case of list procurement (for mailings and telemarketing campaigns, etc), display advertising, or leaflet distribution through inserts or 'Door-to-door' delivery, check whether the agency is adding a mark-up (it's likely), and if so that you are happy with this mark-up.

Ask the same question in the case of any other procured services or products, eg., promotional merchandise, exhibition space, etc.

Use advertising for building awareness and to generate response

Within the advertising purpose you should define whether you seek to create awareness or to generate a direct response. Effective marketing generally demands that each is employed, but on a limited budget you may be restricted to concentrating on one or the other, so think carefully about what will help most. Different media and methods are better suited to one or the other. Direct Mail is very good at generating a direct response, as are magazine and newspaper adverts, and inserts. Posters, TV, radio and press editorial are all much better at creating awareness and building credibility.

Using language that is easily understood by the customers.

In all of your advertising material take care to see things and hear things form your customers' viewpoint. As a knowledgeable supplier there is always a tendency to write copy and present information from a technical and 'product/service' standpoint. Remember that your customers are people without good technical or detailed understanding of your products and services. You need to help them understand things in terms that really mean something to the reader - as it relates to their needs and priorities and challenges. Focus on what your propositions do for them, not what your propositions are in technical detail. You should spell things out, using clear simple language. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that complicated language will help build an image of professionalism and intelligence - people will just turn off. The mark of truly effective advertising and marketing is the ability to convey complex issues to the audience in a manner that is interesting, relevant, meaningful, and easy to digest very quickly. Thomas Jefferson suggested that "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do" and this is a good maxim for writing good advertising material.

If you or the 'copy-writer' at your advertising agency cannot achieve this in your advertising and marketing communications then find someone who can, or you will be wasting a lot of your advertising effort and investment.

Give meaningful benefits to your customer from your product/service offered.

Having decided through the processes described above to focus your message on a few key strengths of your business (your 'service offer' or 'proposition') you must now express these in terms of benefits to your customers. What does it all mean to them? Give them something to relate to, so that you explain more than simply what you do or provide - explain what your proposition means to your customers. How will it make their business more profitable, more streamlined, more ethical and sustainable, more socially responsible; how your proposition will improve the quality of their service to their own customers; how it will make their employees lives' easier, better, less stressful - whatever you believe to be the strongest most relevant and meaningful customer outcomes.

Take out measurable response by cost in advertising

Because advertising is such a complex science the only real way to be sure that something will work before you try it is to refer to previous indicators, and if you've no previous statistics or reliable data then run 'pilot' or trial first. Start measuring the effectiveness of your advertising from the very beginning. Keep detailed records of what you did, when, to whom, for how much, and what resulted. Admittedly the results of certain advertising can be quite difficult to measure, particularly where no direct response is sought, (where follow-up sample surveys might be the only way to gauge effects), but measure everything in whatever way you can. Starting a business and a completely new advertising campaign inevitably involves a bit of calculated guesswork, however, if you start measuring and recording results from the beginning then you'll make your task much easier next time around.

Key indicators to be gauged are cost per thousand, cost per response, and percentage response.

A very basic method of measuring and recording advertising effectiveness and results is to ensure that every enquiry is greeted at some stage with the question, "How did you hear about us?" or "How did you find us?" Even very large 'professional' organisations commonly fail to instill this basic principle within their customer service processes, and yet it is so utterly important.

These days there is every opportunity to properly record and measure enquiries and advertising responses: Computer-based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems nowadays offer relatively easy and cost-effective ways of managing customer and enquiries information. Make sure you use one. Then you won't need to guess as to what forms of advertising work best for you. Remember also that advertising forms a part of your business plan, which is aimed at being profitable. If your advertising does not produce a gross profit in excess of its cost you need to know why. As a minimum, you certainly need to know whether it does or it doesn't.

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