Category media planning

Next year is almost here…

I know that most small businesses are still busy with Christmas, but did you know that you can get some great deals on next year’s advertising right now? You can save some money by buying next year’s advertising upfront. You’ve noticed that advertising space gets more expensive around Christmas, so avoid that altogether by buying the space now.

The advertising will cost less because the media companies are willing to sell it for less in order to get businesses to commit by the end of January. That helps them budget for next year, and it helps you by making your advertising dollars go farther. You also have the added benefit of planning your advertising at the beginning of the year when things are probably a little slower and it won’t be left until the last minute. It’s completely done for the year.

Have you considered cable?

When a small business owner thinks of advertising, they often think of the newspaper. That’s understandable. The local paper traditionally has been the best place to find out what’s happening in your local area. And despite its decline, it’s still probably the best place to find local news in a small town.

But there’s another advertising venue that deserves a look: cable television. Local cable television advertising is often a very effective way to advertise. Advertising rates are typically lower than a broadcast television station and often cable is the least expensive advertising in the area, yet you have the same advantages in communicating your message as you would if you advertised on broadcast television. So let’s take a closer look.

One of the biggest advantages of television advertising is that all the ads are the same size. Your ad will be the same size as the big national chains. You can show your product or demonstrate your service, show your store or office, and really let the people in your area get to know you even if they are not currently doing business with you. Since video involves sight and sound, the viewer is more engaged with your ad, which is why television commercials are typically remembered more than other forms of advertising.

You’ll still need to say your message in a way that strikes a chord with the viewer, which is true for all your advertising. But once you have your message, the effective engagement of video can create a powerful delivery.

The second advantage of cable is the cost. While it is true that broadcast TV reaches more people than cable, it is also true that broadcast TV costs a lot more. You pay less for cable precisely because it reaches less people than broadcast TV. And you should not be basing your advertising on whether you can reach more people somewhere else, but on how much it costs to reach the people who will be seeing your advertising. The lower cost of cable means that you can build the necessary frequency at a rate you can afford.

While the cost of cable varies market to market, often it is even less expensive than newspaper or radio and carries the potential to be far more effective. Don’t rule out advertising on cable television until you’ve given it a thorough look.

Are you ready?

This is the first week of August, and this week is nearly over. By the end of this month, school will have started in most places. That’s only about three weeks from now. Right on the heels of school starting is the Labor Day weekend. Yep, September is upon us. Then in quick succession is Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For almost everybody, things really pick up in the fall.

If you haven’t started planning your promotions for the fall, you’d better start now. Do you know your message? It had better not be “we’re having a sale” because everyone will be having a sale. Have you thought about where you’ll proclaim your message? You’ve only got three weeks left of summer. If you don’t start planning now, then you’ll be stuck doing whatever can be done at a moments notice, and you’ll probably be disappointed with the results.

Put your eggs in one basket

We’ve all heard the phrase, “don’t put your eggs in one basket.” The gist of this saying is that if all your goodies are in one place and something happens to that one place, you’ve lost everything. Its usually good advice. If all of your 401K is in one particular stock, then that stock had better do pretty well. If it tanks, then you’re through.

Diversification is almost always a good thing, except when you’re spread so thin that you don’t get much of a return anywhere.

This happens with a lot of small business advertising. They think they need to be seen and heard by everyone, so they divide their advertising budget up among a bunch of different venues. Now if your budget is pretty hefty, then there’s nothing wrong with this strategy as long as your reach and frequency are in good shape. But if you’re like a lot of small businesses and you don’t have the budget to sustain a lot of advertising, then you’re probably are going to be disappointed with the results.

It is always better to reach a fewer number of people multiple times than it is to reach a huge number of people only once. As much as you’d like to think that your product is so fabulous that every person who hears of it will immediately beat a path to your door, the truth is people need to warm up to the idea of purchasing it. During this warm up period, you need to be telling them the unique benefits of your product because they’ll need to hear it several times before they say, “You’re right, I need it!” That’s what we call frequency.

So what’s the easiest way to increase your advertising frequency without busting your small business budget? Don’t advertise everywhere, instead put all your advertising eggs in one basket. Pick one venue and advertise there regularly. You’ll reach those same readers or viewers many times, making them more familiar with your product, and hopefully making them more willing to make a purchase from you.

As long as the medium you choose has an audience, you’ll see soon see results. Assuming, of course, that your message is relevant to your customers.

3 Rules for Effective Direct Mail

Yesterday, we talked about the strength and weakness of direct mail. So is direct mail worthwhile? It can be if you follow a few rules. And these rules apply whether your direct mail campaign is traditional mail or email.

Get a great mailing list.

Your direct mail campaign is only as strong as your mailing list. You should have a client list. Start with that. Your past and current clients have already done business with you, so you are a known entity to them. If you do good work, they are already predisposed to do business with you again.

What about buying a list? Although the cost of a list can be fairly reasonable, I usually don’t recommend it unless you are specifically trying to generate new leads or prospects and only if you have a sufficient budget to reach them multiple times. Remember, the Three Pillars of Advertising still apply here.

Create a great message.

This is the hard part, but it is essential. A lot of businesses, led by direct mail gurus, immediately go with hyperbole. Don’t do that. If you are passionate about your product, let it show, but let the client decide if it is truly the best there is.

The next thing the direct mail gurus tell you is that you must have a great offer like a special rate or a discount of some sort. There’s nothing wrong with that, but discounts and special rates are not a substitute for a message that resonates with people.

So what should you say? Tell them what you offer, how that makes you different from everybody else, and how they will benefit from doing business with you.

If right now you’re thinking that you’re an accountant or a heating and air-conditioning company and you’re just like everybody else in your field, don’t spend your money on advertising. Instead invest some money on developing a message that will define you in your customer’s mind and propel sales. Don’t be afraid to get help, if not from me then someone else. Your marketing message is the most important element of your marketing and advertising.

Think of any purchase you’ve made recently. Now why did you make the choice to purchase that particular item over other items you could have bought? Why did you choose Verizon over AT&T (or vice versa)? Why did you choose Levi Dockers over Haggar? Or Johnston & Murphy over some other shoe? There is a reason you chose one thing over another. It might not be rational, but it is a reason nonetheless. You need to give your customers a reason to do business with you. Once you have that reason, you can create your mailer.

Respect Your Customer

You’d think this would be a no-brainer. Who wants to do business with someone who doesn’t treat you with respect? But you see this all the time in marketing.

You respect someone by earning their attention. Whatever you send this prospective client, make sure its useful to them and not just some card that promotes your business. And by useful, I don’t mean a screwdriver with your company name on it (unless you sell screwdrivers, of course). I mean give them some information that is useful in their line of business. Look at things from their perspective, stand in their shoes for a moment, and think “If I were them, what would be really helpful.” Now deliver that in your mailing. Don’t be gimmicky or manipulative (find out by calling me today!), be friendly and matter of fact.

Occasionally, I see a business that I’d like to do work for and I’ll call them up. Instead of a clever sales pitch, I tell them up front that I’m calling to solicit their business even though they don’t know me. You’d be surprised at how often I get an audience with the person. In showing them respect by being up front about the purpose of my call, I earn the privilege of presenting my services to them. You can do the same with your direct mail or email campaign. Showing respect to the person you’re communicating with goes a long way.

You can do it

If direct mail is right for your business, go about it the right way. Put together a solid mailing list, create a great message, and treat your prospective customer with respect. These are simple things, but few businesses do all three. If you do them, you’ll stand out and be noticed.

The Strength and Weakness of Direct Mail

A lot of the information on this site is geared to retail businesses, but what if you’re not in retail? Perhaps you offer some sort of service and your clients are other businesses. When you start thinking about how to promote your business, you’ll eventually consider direct mail.

The proponents of direct mail talk as if it is a 100% sure thing. And it sure sounds good. You buy the names and addresses of business owners who could use your product or service, and then send them a card or letter that sells them your services. Sounds great.

In fact, for a lot of business to business clients, or B2B as it’s called by some marketers*, direct mail is a good fit. But like I’ve said before, almost any medium can be effective if you combine it with a strong message and a sufficient frequency. So lets look at the strengths and weaknesses of a direct mail campaign.

The Upside

We’ve already mentioned the greatest strength of direct mail: it goes to the exact person who you want to reach. If you are targeting other businesses, it doesn’t make sense to advertise in media that goes out to just anybody. If the person who hears your message doesn’t run a business or holds a decision-making position in a business, the money spent to reach that person is wasted. You can have the best message in the world and reach that person over and over again, but it won’t matter if the person you are talking to cannot use your product or service.

Direct mail, for the most part, solves that problem. By sending your message directly to the person who can use your product (that’s why its called it direct mail, by the way), you spend your advertising dollars more efficiently. That’s a big bonus, and it is the greatest strength of direct mail.

This is where direct mail proponents begin the hard sell. You’ll hear about cost efficiencies, how inexpensive their printing services are, how each mailer can be personalized, and so forth.

So what’s the down-side?

The downside is summed up in one word: clutter. How many times have you asked your spouse, “Anything in the mail today?” I bet a lot of the times they answer, “Nothing today, just junk.”

What is “junk” mail?

Advertisements and solicitations.

Who sent it?

Businesses that decided that the most efficient way to promote their business was to buy the names and addresses of people who could use their product or service, and then send them a card or letter that sells them their product or service. In other words, your mailer.

Now do you see the problem? We get so much junk mail that we ignore it. Occasionally you’ll receive something unsolicited and you’ll say, “Hey, that’s kinda cool,” but not usually. This is why the typical direct mail campaign only has a 1% or 2% response rate. Now the savvy direct mail guru will say that problem is a result of a poor message, and they are mostly right. A strong message will get you more attention — most of the time.

You see, in a business, the person who the mail is addressed to is not always the same person who opens the mail. Often a secretary or assistant sorts through the mail, eliminates the “junk” — the stuff sent by people like you  — and the business owner or whoever only receives “the important stuff.”

If you are going to use direct mail, make sure your mailer is “the important stuff” and not the “junk.” That takes effort and homework, but if you don’t put in the effort, it’s simply waste.

(*I hate marketing-speak. Marketers and ad guys are supposed to be communicators, so why do we talk a different language than everybody else? When I see “B2B,”, I think of the B2 Bomber or I think that someone is too lazy to type. But that’s another subject.)

Quick and Inexpensive Advertising

Last week, a commenter responded to a post asking, “what are some simple ways or advertising medium that a business owner could turn to if they had to cut back [on their advertising].” Here are some concrete things you can do to promote and advertise your business at very little cost. In the long run, you’ll want to do more than this to grow your business, but if things are tight this will keep you in the game.

1. List your business with Google Places and Bing Local Listing.

According to Alexa, Google is the most visited web site in the world. Bing is Microsoft’s new search engine that launched last year and is becoming one of Google’s biggest competitors in search.

Both search engines allow you to list your business for free, although you do need to sign up for a free account with each one. If you have gmail, then you already have a Google account. If you have a Hotmail address, or a Windows Live ID, then you already have an account with Bing.

Once you’ve added your company’s information, anyone who searches for your business name and city on that site will find you at top of all the other search results.

If you have a web site, be sure to include that in your Google Places and Bing Local Listing information.

2. Start a blog and tell people about your business.

There’s lots of free blogging solutions on the web. Some of the more popular ones are WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and Posterous. You don’t need a web domain name or anything, just sign up and start writing about your business — what you do and why you are different from you competition. Don’t just write one entry. Write something at least twice a week.

If you have a web site, link to it in your blog posts and “about” page. And be sure to include your blog’s web address in your Google Places and Bing Local Listing entries.

3. Let your friends, colleagues, current and past clients know about your blog.

Don’t blast them all in a single email. Take a few minutes each day and send out a half-dozen or so emails letting those people know about your blog. If you have a Facebook account, tell about the blog in your status update. But be nice, and don’t annoy anyone as you tell them.

Everything I’ve suggested here is free — there is no cost to your business other than the time it takes to do it. You’ll want to move on to other forms of advertising as your business picks up, but in the meantime you are still promoting your business.

Oh, I almost forgot. All the other things I’ve said about advertising still apply.

You’re looking at today’s yellowpages

When was the last time you picked up the phone book?

Now when was the last time you googled a business name to find their phone number?

Last year, I scaled back one of my client’s YellowPages spending. We dropped all of their ads in every category, opting for bold listings instead. The client told me yesterday that they haven’t noticed any change in traffic. Earlier this year, we launched their web site. Business is picking up.

It used to be that if you weren’t in the YellowPages, no one would find you. Now, if you don’t have some sort of web presence, no one will find you.

You Can’t Reach Everybody

When planning your advertising, one thing that paralyzes many small businesses is that they can’t decide on where they should put their advertising dollars. There are so many places that will gladly take their money while claiming to be “#1!” in their niche, so this is understandable. Most small businesses don’t have a huge ad budget, if they have one at all, so there can’t be any waste, which causes them to hesitate and delay. They are stuck, still asking the question, “where should I advertise?”

I get asked that question all the time. I do a little research into their market, and try my best to give them an honest answer based on my experience and research. It is interesting how often I am met with the same response.

But first, the back-story

Before we get to that response, let’s set up an example. Your business sells a product that would greatly benefit if potential customers could see the product selection. If you sell jewelry or furniture, this would apply to you.

Slightly off-topic, free strategy lesson:

Everyone knows what a Ford F-150 pick-up looks like, so you can talk about it without showing it.  Everyone knows what a couch looks like, but what does your couch look like?  Same for jewelry.  One-carat diamond rings look vastly different from ring to ring.  Hmm, maybe you should show your product in your advertising.

Now back to our topic.

Your hypothetical business sells a product that could benefit from showing the product selection in your advertising. Based on your budget and your area, I recommend to you cable television.

I very often get at least one of three responses:

“But doesn’t broadcast TV reach a lot more people?”

“But not everybody has cable.”

“But a lot of people have satellite TV instead of cable in my area.”

What I would like to say is, “So?” But instead I answer a polite, “Yes, that is true, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t advertise on cable.” Why is that? Because your goal isn’t to reach everybody — no one can afford that. Your goal is to simply to reach people in a way that is affordable, effective, and productive.

Here’s an illustration

Back when I was a kid, everyone read the newspaper. However, there was usually two competing newspapers in a town, so unless you had a large enough budget to advertise in both newspapers, you had to choose one. Most people chose the newspaper with the largest subscription base, because it reached the most people. They never gave a thought to the people that read the other newspaper, whom they were not reaching with their ads.

There were businesses advertising in that smaller paper. They did it because they wanted to reach those readers. They understood that the larger paper charged more for its advertising because ads in that paper reached more people. Because the smaller paper reached a smaller number of people, the ad rates were less.

Now let me ask you something. You have one advertisement. You run that ad in both newspapers.  Which ad is more effective? If the ad is the same, then it should have the same effect on the reader regardless of which newspaper they see it in, right? So then, the businesses that only ran in the smaller paper saved money by targeting a smaller group of people.

That was back then, now newspapers are declining and are in danger of disappearing altogether.  But you still have this same situation with radio, TV, and the internet.

So where should I advertise?

There is usually more than one radio station in your area, more than one television station, and a whole world of web sites. You can’t reach everybody, but you do have to reach somebody. It is silly to base where you will advertise on how many people you won’t reach. Instead, base where you will advertise on how many people it reaches and what it costs to reach those particular people.

Here’s some truth in advertising for you: the fact is that reach, the number of people who see your ad, is seldom the problem with a business’s advertising.  More often than not, the problem is the message or the frequency (the number of times a particular person sees your ad). It really doesn’t matter if you choose TV, radio, newspaper, or the internet, as long as your message and frequency are right.

So craft a great message and run it multiple times over a period of time. You’ll see results.

The Media Plan That Fell Apart

I had a client once that sold furniture. They had two stores in two different cities. They hired me to help them with their advertising soon after they opened their second store.

That second store had a slight problem. It was literally located on the wrong side of town. There was a freeway that ran through town, and most of the economic growth was west of that freeway. To the east of the freeway, businesses were shutting down and moving where the action was.

You know the first rule of real estate? Location, location, location! This store didn’t have it. Very few people drove by their location. That’s a problem. Because few people travelled east of the freeway, the people of that city didn’t know there was a new furniture store in town.

That’s where I came in.

I recommended a two-pronged approach: cable television to show people their product, and billboards to direct people to their store.

They sold really nice furniture, and people needed to see that. People also needed to know that they were not very far away even though they were on “the road less travelled.”

They didn’t have a huge budget, and I was an unknown element to them. So we started off lightly by going in with cable with the understanding that billboards would be added later if they saw results.

And results they got. After about a year, we added billboards to the mix. One billboard in particular was in a great location on the freeway south of town — the majority of residents worked and shopped south of town, so everyone saw that billboard when they drove home on a daily basis.

Then things really started to take off.  Sales were way up. Things were good. Then it happened.

The client was spending a lot on advertising. They needed to because there was no benefit from their lousy location. But still, their other store, located in a different city, didn’t have to spend as much on advertising. Never mind that the other store had a fantastic location.

Anyway, they decided to run a test to see which ads were working and which ads were not. That’s not a bad thing, but they never consulted with me and ended up going about it all wrong.

They decided to ask each customer at the time of purchase one question: “Which ad of ours brought you to our store?”

Note that they didn’t ask where the customer sees their ads.

The problem with their question is that the customer isn’t going to know which ad they responded to. The fact is that the customer is responding to all of the ads they’ve seen from that client. The cable ads convinced them that the quality and selection was worth looking into. The billboards reminded them that the client was close by, just a little east of the freeway.

So how did their customers answer the question? Which ad did they mention?

One billboard overwhelmingly led the poll. You got it: the billboard south of town that everyone had to drive past every single day.

So what did the client do? They cancelled all the rest of their advertising except for that one billboard.

I tried to tell them that their cable and their billboards worked together. They said that most everyone remembered that one billboard, but not their other ads. I reminded them that everyone drove past that billboard on their way to the store, so it was fresh on their minds. But they didn’t listen.

I warned them that their sales would decrease once people were no longer being shown the quality of their selection. The billboard only told people where the selection could be found. They didn’t believe me.

Several months later, the client informed me that their sales were down by an alarming amount. Interestingly, they didn’t want to re-implement their media strategy that had been working, they just wanted to change out their billboard artwork. “We must need something new up there, we don’t seem to be getting the same results we were before.”

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