Yes, Advertising Is Necessary and You Can’t Avoid It

Anyone who has called on businesses know this line: I have tried advertising and it just doesn’t work for my business. In fact, I hear it about half the time, and it hasn’t changed. In all my years of working with small businesses, speaking with thousands of business owners in a face-to-face relationship, I’ve never seen a business who couldn’t benefit from some sort of marketing. It hurts to see how many small businesses believe this and have to close their doors and give up on their dreams. It is also staggering to see how many businesses don’t believe in this false doctrine and create community staple businesses and have long, successful careers doing what they love.

I see six issues with the philosophy of not “needing” advertising.

1) The reason to market is not understood

What is marketing? Business Dictionary defines it as the management process through which goods and services move from concept to the consumer. In other words, it’s how you as a small business communicates with the public about what you have available, what makes you different from the competition, and why a consumer should buy from you. If you are not communicating that message, who is? Everyone else. You have no control or say in how someone might or might not understand what you do. This includes someone who spent 30 seconds on your website, or took 2 minutes to browse through your store. They are all of a sudden experts on your business. If you are not offering the proper definition of who you are, everyone else will make one up for you.

2) The results are unrealistic

Many small business owners feel like this is how an advertisement works: Buy space in a magazine. All the readers study the ad. They tear the ad out of the magazine. They come into the business waving the ad around, making sure that the employees know that it was the magazine that convinced them to patronize that particular location. Don’t laugh, it’s true. These people get to the end of a one, two or three month campaign and say, “The ad just didn’t do anything for me. Customers weren’t talking about your publication.” This would be the same as you telling the cashier at the drive thru where you last saw them advertised. You don’t do that, and neither will your customers.

The truth is, advertising is 80% branding. You are anchoring your name to a need in the consumer’s mind. When that need becomes pressing, say, when their basement fills up with water, then they will summon the file in their mind of plumbing needs and the business who has done the most positive branding wins the contract. The same is true for all industries. If your ad was seen by someone long enough for their brains to catalog the information (about a half second) then your ad was a success. If you do it right, they won’t remember the last place they saw you, nor will they remember the first place.

3) The channel of advertising is poorly selected

The best price is not the best value. Most exposures is also not the best value. With the options of advertising available today on a local level (internet, newspaper, magazine, billboard, taxis, theater programs, baseball fences,….) it is difficult to put all of this information together and make the best selection. The first recommendation I would make is to spread it out and cover multiple channels (I’ll discuss this in more detail later). The second thing is to figure out what your audience is truly looking at. Get prices, demographic data and distribution for every ad channel in your consumer market. Then do your best to break things down the best you can.

Here are a couple of helpful hints. For print, divide the price by exposures (distribution by 2.5, the average readership per publication) divided by square inches. This will reveal your cost per exposure per square inch. For web banners, divide the price by total projected exposures (TPE). TPE is calculated by taking the traffic to the type of page (article, blog, videos, gallery) where your ad will appear and divide by ad placement location: 75% of readers don’t go past the top, only 25% make it to the middle of the page and 5% make it to the end of the page. The figure that you reach with both is your total cost per exposure per square inch. This will give you a better comparative analysis to see which ads are best worth your money. I will write separate articles about these soon.

4) The amount of advertising is not sufficient

On average, people must see something six times before it becomes memorable to them. This is also true for the name of your business. A lot of business owners, especially those who haven’t been open as long, will try to work their way into advertising by doing one or two ads at a time. These small businesses play needle in the haystack with their consumers, then blame the advertising channels for not reaching enough people. They may see your ad, but they will most likely glimpse over it. This means you have to hit them repeatedly in a short period of time. If you can’t do many channels at the same time, don’t do it at all. It’s just wasting money. An ad is part of an ad campaign. Otherwise, it’s useless.

5) The time on an ad is not enough

I’ll just come out and say it, running any sort of ad campaign for anything less than six months is a waste of time, unless it is for a specific event, like a 5k, convention or fair. Promoting your business is a long conversation with a lot of people. It means you have to repeat yourself over and over until the consumers finally get that you are here, you are stable, and you can provide the solution to a need or want they have. Running an ad for a short period of time, say a couple of months, is like trying to sign the Gettysburg Address to someone on the other side of a crowded gymnasium. Take your time, enjoy the ride, and open a dialogue with your community of consumers. It is well worth the money spent and your response will be much better for it.

6) The ad used is too wordy

You love what you do, right? So do I. It’s fulfilling and fun to help a community of business owners, just like you, who are making a living and providing for themselves/their family doing what they love! But an ad is not the place to pour yourself out, or to write a biography of your company. Other than contact and location information, try to limit your ad to 7-10 words, even if it’s a huge billboard. The best local business ad I’ve ever seen is for a da Vinci Surgery System, recently purchased by a hospital. Much in the style of the Sistine Chapel, a human hand was touching fingers with the scalpel tip of the robot arm and it had only six words: Human compassion meets robot precision. It was so clear and gave me a solid message about what the hospital was trying to communicate with me.

So take your advertising seriously. It is a necessary part of any business for so many reasons. Yes, it costs money. So do your supplies and the result is the same. It enables you to better serve your customer base and attract new customers so that you can grow.