There is an ageless axiom in advertising that states when business is good it pays to advertise, but when business is bad, well then one must advertise!
There is certainly no arguing that spreading the word about your business, products, or services is necessary no matter how great a value or benefit your products and services have to offer.
Let’s say for example that you had the cure for the common cold. No doubt virtually everyone would be interested in your product. However if no one knows about your product or knows where to get it, then most likely no one will find it. In other words, the quality or the benefit of the product is not enough to make the product a success. The marketplace has to know what the product can do and, maybe more importantly, where to get it.
Simply that’s what advertising does. Today consumers are bombarded with messages every minute. The challenge is to make sure your potential customers remember your message.
For generations throughout most of the 19thand 20thcenturies, there was little need for small business owners to advertise much. Word of mouth, a solid reputation, and an established customer base usually were enough to maintain a sufficient revenue stream that generated some profit. Small business owners knew most of their customers well enough, personally or professionally, to maintain their business. Competition was present, but often not intense enough to cause too much concern. Usually there was room enough in the market for everyone to make a living.
Advertising – if it was done at all – was mostly done around special events or time of year. Small business owners did the traditional and necessary stuff. They relied on newspaper ads, radio, signs, and maybe television.
Some of the advertising was effective, but for the most part advertising was not necessary for survival. Of course there were exceptions then and there are exceptions now.
Certain businesses have always had to advertise regularly. These include vehicle dealerships and retail stores particularly. But for the most part, most small businesses – and particularly B2B (business-to-business) enterprises didn’t advertise much at all aside from the occasional ad in the trade journal. The latter was usually perceived as mandatory or obligatory. It may not have been much of a sales generator.
Things began to change in the decade of the 1990’s when the world began to shrink thanks mostly to great advances in electronics and communications. The Internet and the World Wide Web brought us all closer to things far, far away. The changes were gradual at first, but momentum has increased steadily and continues today. Frankly, there will be no stopping it any time soon.
Direct-to-consumer small businesses have responded well. The market expanded well beyond the neighborhood for them thanks to E-commerce. Shopping on line has become routine for millions of consumers. The smallest of businesses can ship its product to almost anywhere in the world.
The small B2B enterprises have not responded as well as their direct-to-consumer counterparts. Competition for the B2B enterprise has increased from outside the traditional market and from outside the country. It is a global economy, not just a neighborhood anymore. What was automatic is no longer automatic. Long established customers are courted from afar by new competitors. Established business contacts are no longer present. Buyers and decision-makers are far away, not down the street or across town as they once were. The company headquarters down in Dallas is calling the shots for the Wisconsin location. The contractor from Phoenix is looking for a masonry contractor in Ohio. That’s the way of B2B commerce today.
To survive in the new world economy, both the small direct-to-consumer business and the small B2B business must now do something that hasn’t been done very often or very well for generations. The small business owner must now advertise effectively. Advertising effectively is not just advertising more of the same, but advertising by using methods outside of, instead of, or in addition to the old traditional ways.
Patience is not a typical trait of entrepreneurs and small business owners. The lack of patience on their part is particularly true when it comes to advertising. Most entrepreneurs and small business owners have tried one form or another of the established forms of advertising including newspaper and journal print ads (display advertising), radio or television (media advertising) or direct marketing at least one time.
Consequently, there are many small business owners that will swear that advertising is a waste of money.
Advertising specialists and Marketing experts measure everything. Nothing is left to chance or luck. These specialists and experts know that repetition is essential to any effective advertising program. While it is possible to get lucky the first time, almost always advertising will take time and repetition to be effective.
Signs are a perfect illustration. Advertising professionals know that signs have a very high percent of Recall. Billboards, yard signs, and vehicle signage can have as high as a 96% Recall factor. In other words, people remember the message or important information that the sign provides.
Recall is not Recognition however. A person will drive by an outdoor billboard 20-22 times on average before noticing it. We know this because marketing experts have measured the traffic.
What does this mean for the business owner? There are 21.75 work days per month for the average worker. Large outdoor signage contracts are monthly, but the basic outdoor package is ninety days or more. In other words, advertising experts conclude that there is a statistical probability that the population of drive-by traffic will view and recall an outdoor sign at least once in a business month or at least three times during the three month period of a basic contract. How many people drive by? That depends on the location of course, but the sign company will know how many will pass and the particular demographics of the passerby at various times of the day. Once again, the demographics are measured.
Similar or identical measuring principles apply to all other ad media. Since advertising stimulates people to call or to visit the place of business and advertising encourages the visitors to become customers who purchase products, then it is understandable why frequency and repetition are keys to advertising success.
Speaking of other media, the advertising efforts of any business cannot rely on one method or media. Using one method of advertising is rarely successful. The company’s advertising effort must be a combined and coordinated program with a singular purpose and message. Seeking the advice of advertising or marketing professionals before launching an advertising program is highly recommended and very beneficial.
Furthermore, advertising must be viewed as an investment aimed to generate new customers and new opportunities. In other words, advertising should increase or otherwise benefit sales revenue. How will the small business owner know it is working? You guessed it. The business owner will measure the results and compare the revenue to the investment. How much a business owner spends on advertising depends on the nature of the business and the return on the investment expected or sought.
Advertising can be expensive, but I have identified in the following paragraphs some inexpensive and effective advertising methods that will stimulate product awareness and that will generate the desired results for both direct-to-customer and B2B businesses.
Web site: An effective, commercial web site is essential for any small business in our present economy. Searching the web for information is now the method of choice for not only direct customers, but also business-to-business customers.
Signage: Whether a permanent or portable outdoor sign, yard or street corner signs, vehicle signs, or company uniforms or clothing, signs are very effective. Every piece of moving equipment and every employee is a potential moving sign. An employee in a uniform becomes a walking billboard.
Direct Marketing: Direct marketing whether by mail, email, fax, flyers, canvassing, personal delivery, or other methods remain as solid advertising choices with good return on investment. Frequent and repetitive contacts with targeted customers or market segments are essential however. Once is just not enough!
Cable TV Advertising: Cable TV advertising is the fastest growing medium in advertising today. It is a great way to reach consumers directly so this medium is better suited for the direct-to-customer business, but there are exceptions. Unlike advertising on the local stations of the major Television networks, the cable television providers offer very diverse and highly targeted advertising packages to the local markets at very affordable prices. Often cable providers will produce the commercial for a small fee or include the cost in the advertising package. If Cable TV advertising is a viable advertising option, it is without a doubt the best value and the best return on investment in the market today.
Print Collateral: Color printing is no longer the expensive venture it was in the past. The days of printing 10,000 copies of a brochure to assure a low price per piece are gone. Thanks to direct-to-press digital printing and on-demand printing, the cost to produce a small quantity of company brochures or flyers is reasonable. Additionally, thanks to the ease of editing digital and small quantity printing, revisions or updates are easily applied to keep the collateral piece current. Additionally, thanks to computer hardware and software technological improvements, and affordable, high quality printers, brochures can be produced internally. The business owner must weigh the possible savings compared to the message that a less than professionally prepared collateral piece conveys. Like all other advertising, printed material conveys not only the message, but also conveys the quality image of the company. If your message is printed on a low quality printer using economical printer paper, then that is likely the message you send to your would-be customer. On the other hand, if your message is printed on a higher quality paper stock at the highest quality setting, then the message you send will be quite different. The brochure or print collateral must have the feel of quality.
Additionally, since printed materials are such powerful communicators, then absolutely every piece of mail, every package, and every shipment that leaves the company should have an advertising piece included. Everything! You can’t send your message too many times or to too many customers.