Advertising basics for small businesses                                     logo50wd&B.jpg

One of the best quotes about the importance of advertising is by Stuart Henderson Britt and goes like this: "Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but nobody else does."

At this point in the evolution of business, it should go without saying that some degree of marketing is vital to the success of any business, large or small. But while the necessity of promotion is clear, what are the fundamentals?

First, a business owner must determine what precise objectives he or she wants to achieve through marketing. Is it simply to get the word out in the community in a general way about the existence of your business, with key information such as your products or services, your expertise, and your location? (This is especially important for a new business, naturally, and for a business facing stiff competition from neighboring businesses.) Or perhaps the objective is to promote particular "news" about a business: an upcoming sale, for instance, or a new location, or a new product.

Pinpointing the objectives will determine the following step, which is figuring out how much of a budget you need and are able to allocate to marketing. The size of that budget will of course depend on the size of your business and the breadth of the market you're aiming to reach.

Those factors will determine the next priority, which is determining whether to hire an advertising agency to handle your promotion or to do it in-house, working directly with vendors on the creative execution of your promotion. Agencies can be costly but can give you more bang for your buck, negotiating better rates with vendors and coming up with a more sophisticated marketing strategy that can deliver more fruitful results from your promotional efforts.
You or your marketing representative must come up with the right "tone" for promoting your business. Maybe it's just straight information you're looking to get out. Or maybe you have a humorous, tongue-in-cheek campaign in mind. Being funny might work great for a burger chain but might not go over quite as well for a funeral home. Or maybe it would. Some of the cleverest ad campaigns around have injected humor into an otherwise humorless situation, to fantastic effect. While the advice of a professional can be invaluable on this topic, clearly it's your business, and nobody knows your business and customers better than you.

Finally, depending on your budget and the type of message you're looking to deliver, you must figure out which of the multitude of marketing options out there is most feasible in terms of expense and effect, from ads on bus shelters and in the yellow pages to TV and radio commercials, billboards, fliers, the sides of coffee cups, the tops of taxi cabs, even skywriting. The possibilities are endless, and the costs, likewise, vary wildly.

The bottom line: Look at advertising as you would any other investment in your business, such as real estate or equipment or personnel. Any investment carries inherent risks, and the risk with an ad campaign is that it won't drive enough business to justify the cost. Through careful due diligence beforehand, you will take the steps to maximize your investment.

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