Best Practices in Advertising with a Small Budget

By Rodger Roeser, CEO, The Eisen Agency

There’s an old saying in the advertising game: “I know half of my advertising is working, I just don’t know which half!” But, in reality almost all advertising works equally well or equally poorly because most super budget conscious teams fail to clearly define a target or fail to clearly communicate what they want those targets to do. So, before you spend a dime on purchasing any advertising, consider a few foundational items first.

Before you do anything, take a good look at exactly what you’re trying to sell or share. Specifically list the benefits of what you’re selling and why someone may want to buy it (a consumer good) or go there (a restaurant) or hire it (a professional service). Understanding the benefits to a potential buyer is the first step in creating some type of sales connection with the target. If there are competing interests, look at the competition and endeavor to differentiate your product or service – this is basic branding.

Now that you have created some benefit, you need to take a real hard look at exactly whom you believe would benefit from your product or service. It needs to be clearly, clearly defined. Gender, age, income, and a dozen other profile traits as best you can to really hone in on the exact target you want to go after. A simple rule of thumb, the more limited the budget, the more specific the target has to be. This type of data, combined with buyers habits, demographics, psychographics and all manner of other research is critical in not only finding your target, but also in the next critical step.

Messaging and positioning. Ask yourself what types of phrasings and branding and look and feel do you need to convey to clearly and effectively get your message across. Is your advertisement going to be funny, it is serious? Eye catching. Is it straightforward or more esoteric? All of these decisions should be based on what you want your target to do – we call this the CTA (Call To Action). Define your call to action, make it clear and work backwards from there in your messaging. Try to keep the words to a bare minimum, and only try to convey one thought or one offer.

Okay, now that you have defined your brand, your target and your message, now you can actually spend the money on “doing” advertising. Remember the simple formula: Think first. Buy second. Measure last. Understanding these things up front now allows you to start considering when, where and how much advertising you should be considering. For most businesses, there is a formula for determining exactly how much you should invest in your advertising and it varies wildly from less than one percent to more than 10 percent of annual gross revenue depending on a number of factors – size of business, type of business, years in business, on and on and on. So, unless you have an agency that give you the answer, you’re probably going to have to trust your gut.

Do NOT blindly trust the media representative, whose job it is to sell you their media – always remember that. They’re not bad people, but the media representative’s job is to sell you on their offerings. It’s always better to know what you want first and have a defined budget, then reach out to the appropriate media outlet with what you want and what goals you have so they can tailor a solution for you. Don’t screw these guys around or play them off against one another – they are professionals, and you should be as well. Also, keep in mind depending on your budget and who you’re targeting, there are a variety of advertising mediums that you can consider, such as online, television, radio, print, billboards and so on and so on – typically a  good advertising campaign combines a number of mediums and other tactics. Direct mail can be incredibly effective, as can sponsorships or literally a virtually endless array of opportunities. Because if this fact, it can be incredibly daunting for a layperson to do good advertising. If you don’t know what you’re doing or you’re in over your head, for goodness sakes, hire a professional marketing consultant. They’ll save you more money than they’ll cost you. And, you can focus on your business, rather than marketing. A good agency is skilled at planning and advertising, design, copy and all the necessary pieces of a good campaign.

When you’re on a tight budget, you’re most likely smartest to keep your tactics more focused on a single medium, rather than water that down and spread it amongst many. Focus on a single service, single offering and give your advertising enough time to work. If you can’t afford to run a program for at least three months, don’t do it at all. If you’re planning on doing a one off – don’t. Also, don’t expect instant gratification or immediate results. Good advertising is a commitment and a journey, not a quick fix or single step. A point of caution, and back to the branding. Before you do any advertising, take a real hard look at your operation. For example, are folks not coming to your restaurant because you’re not advertising and they don’t about you, or is it because the food and service are lousy? You have to be honest with yourself – after all, this your hard earned money.

And remember, the point of marketing and advertising is to help make you money, so think of it as an investment that will help you grow, rather than an expense. The tighter the budget, the more focused you need to be on your brand, your benefit, your offering, your target, your design and your placement. Try one thing, but do it all the way. Then move on to the next thing – for example, if you can’t afford to “do it all” don’t try. Do one thing. Own that, and move on.

Or, my very best advice? Just hire a trusted professional to do it for you.

Rodger Roeser is the CEO of Greater Cincinnati’s premier professional services branding and marketing firm The Eisen Agency. Roeser is an award winning television, radio and print journalist, and an award winning public relations and marketing executive. He can be reached at RRoeser@TheEisenAgency.com.

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