The SBDC helped over 448 businesses in Whatcom County last year and almost half of them were asking how to get more sales. While the myth that “if I just had a few more thousand dollars in sales, then all my problems would be solved” is a common theme, it is important to develop strategies to increases sales by getting more customers in your business and making more sales to those customers you already have. One universal truth is that without promotions and advertising few people will ever know about you or your products or services.
The business owner’s challenge continues to be where should I spend my limited advertising dollars to get the best return on my investment. Which advertising media work best? Which ones should our business try? How much should I spend on advertising?
All types of advertising will work if they’re used properly and not just “tried.” The fact that the various forms of media utilize each other illustrates that no one kind of advertising is “the best.” Radio stations promote themselves on television and the sides of buses, TV stations promote their programs in the newspaper, and newspapers use direct mail to increase circulation, Internet companies advertise all over. While there isn’t one form of advertising that beats all the others hands down, it is critical to figure out how to use advertising most effectively.
So many businesses buy advertising because of the sales rep, they’ve been doing the same thing for years, or because they like the publication. None of these are reasons enough to buy advertising! Here are four key elements that should be met to get the most out of your advertising dollars:
1. Know Your Customers’ Demographics.
You must know what segments of the population comprise your customer base. Who buys from you? Who do you want to buy from you? Be able to define them according to the standard age and gender groups used by most advertising media.
Gender: Male, female or adults (includes a balance of male and female).
Age range: Depending on your business, you may choose more than one of these: 12-24, 18-34, 18-49, 25-54, or 50+
Other criteria: Single, married, divorced, with or without kids, working professionals, lifestyle (i.e., computer users vs. outdoor adventurers), income levels, hobbies, interests and geographic area they come from.
Your customer base can change based on a number of outside influences so it is important to evaluate their profile at least yearly. Some of the influences of Bellingham businesses are: seasonality, the opening and closing of other local businesses, university and college schedules (the influx or departure of students), manufacturing plants closing (Intalco or G-P shutdown), or just the natural aging of people in our community (including the influx of retirees). You need to keep track of these changes. This step is critical because it’s the basis of every advertising decision you make. If you’re not absolutely sure who your customers are, you can waste money advertising in the wrong places. After you have identified your customers’ profile, you have to know where they hang out. How do you find the best media for reaching your target audience? Research who each prospective advertising media’s audience really is. Your sales reps have this information and can give you specific demographics on their audience for you to evaluate.
Use only radio stations, TV programs or publications that can deliver your message to the right demographic groups. Ask your media reps to define the primary audiences they reach, and spend money only with those that match the target audience you’ve identified as your customers. Never buy advertising according to your own personal taste or because you like a particular rep! Remember that if you don’t see a match with your customers and the advertising audience, walk away!
After choosing which advertising vehicle is best for you, it is time to spend a lot of time refining your message that you want communicated. You have precious few seconds to tell your story or get your message across, so be direct and be bold. You need to stand out from all the other media messages we are bombarded with every day, every hour, and every minute. You also need a hook — a reason for someone to come to your business instead of a competitor’s. What is your competitive advantage and why should someone act right now to contact or visit your business? Caution: media sales reps aren’t copywriters so don’t rely on a sales rep to write your ads — use a professional. Now some media do have ad-layout people that can help you, but ask yourself and others if your message is really well stated, stands out versus the other ads and accurately reflects your business.
Once is not enough. Without enough frequency your customers won’t see or hear your message. Radio, television and print are three unique advertising vehicles that require frequent placement on a regular schedule.
It’s better to place a substantial schedule on one station or in one publication than to spread a small budget out over numerous media. Focused frequency is preferred over shotgun frequency. Some studies have shown that your customers need to have over 20 experiences or media impressions to be influenced by a good ad. Now is the time to review your advertising to see if it is getting you the best results you can for the money you’re investing. Use your advertising to get the results your business needs.
Tom Dorr is the director of the Small Business Development Center at Western Washington University.