Times have changed. Long gone are the days when all you needed to do to reach the biggest audience was buy three, two-minute ad spots during a major sporting event.
Of course, if you can afford to do so it’s still one of the best attention-grabbing ad stunts, but not everyone has six- and seven-figure marketing budgets. Even the largest corporations with significant budgets find the quandary of how best to advertise their own products and services a real challenge. Advertising agencies now offer other new-fangled avenues to explore. In addition to advertising in print and on TV, sometimes the most effective means of reaching your audience are far from traditional.
The channels by which we communicate are forever changing and multiplying — the Internet in particular has revolutionized the way we communicate not only between each other but with our favorite companies. And choosing the most effective conduit down which to send your message is a tricky decision to make, especially if the money you’re spending could be put to better use elsewhere. With that in mind we have developed five clear-cut principles to which any company, large or small, can subscribe.
Identify the channels that work for you. A mistake that many businesses make is to take the machine gun approach, when a sharply focused single shot can be much more effective and efficient, not to mention less messy. In fact, unless you carefully consider your customer and know where to find them, it is unlikely you are reaching them at all, merely spending money without maximizing the returns. Ask your customers how they have heard about you, and apply what you can from their answers to reach new ones. For example, if you have been marketing your business online, but most of your customers have come through referrals from other customers, you should dial down your web presence and think of ways to encourage more referrals.
Each business and its customers are different, and it is not possible to give foolproof advice on which channels are the best for everyone. It is fair to say, however, that small businesses do often share one thing: a limited budget. Rather than investing all your available funds in multiple placements for the same advertisement, or one direct mail to all your customers, it’s a good idea to hold back some resources to use for an alternative campaign. Send a piece of mail to only part of your population, or take an advertisement in one local media outlet, and wait to see the results before you take the full plunge.
Word of mouth
Word of mouth has always been the most powerful form of advertising. While it can be difficult to quantify, it is a very effective medium. Couple that with the obvious cost benefits — in many cases it’s free — and it's a very attractive marketing method. Press coverage is one way to spread the word at ground level, but it’s not always so easy to come by good editorial. Try approaching local media outlets and trade journals as a first step, although if you have a very strong story, for example a new product launch, don’t shy away from other publications. Most importantly consider what is genuinely newsworthy. Aside from press, you can also provide incentives to your customers to spread the word about your business by offering finders fees, product trials to pass around or postcards.
Leveraging the Web
The Internet is a marvelous equalizer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re large or small, a supermarket with 300 branches or an organic grocer with one — you have the same chance to succeed. If you can spread the word effectively you have the opportunity to advertise your services to an international audience and generate their interest. Create reasons for your customers to keep returning to your site: updated news, blogs, podcasts or special offers are just some of the many ways to do this.
Money well spent
If you do want to create a traditional advertising campaign, then choosing the right agency to work with is paramount. Base your decision on the quality of their work and on mutual philosophies. It’s no good hiring the ‘coolest’ agency in town if all they want to do is push your brand too far. Why not consider spreading your budget to other promotional platforms such as generating news articles or features in the press? If you can pump some money back into your business to boost the quality of your product, then that’s a great story and something worth shouting about.