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Here's Why Your Small Business Advertising Isn't Working

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Small town advertising isn't as easy as most people think.

Most small towns are generally limited to two principal and the local newspaper.

TV is sometimes available and used on occasion but is often cost prohibitive for many businesses.

The problem with small town or small market advertising is often the same as big city advertising.

It isn't the form of media, it's the message along with how and to whom it's delivered.

What Do You Want Your Advertising to Accomplish?

You started your business because you studied and learned your craft or skill and wanted to offer it to others. I would never dream of coming into your place of business and telling you how to run it.

I don't have the expertise you do. When it comes to marketing and advertising, many small business owners don't have the expertise to do it correctly or profitably.

I will never understand why business owners take advice from unqualified strangers before they trust their own instincts or consult an informed reputable source.

I’ve overheard businesspeople ask complete strangers in movie lines if they should advertise on the screen between movies.

Forget demographics, target market and product positioning. I guess if the stranger said yes, the business owner would make the deal with the manager after the movie.

Advertising generates traffic to your business. You need to generate a certain amount of income to keep your doors open.

How many customers does it take to do that each day? How much must each spend? Who are they and how do you reach them?

Learn the Ways Of A Tiger

In my book, "How To Market, Advertise And Promote Your Business Or Service In Your Own Backyard," I talk about a college professor who told a story about a big game hunter. He wanted to shoot a tiger.

He asked the local "wise man" of the tribe how to do it. The wise man replied, "To catch a tiger, learn the ways of a tiger."

In case you missed the point of that story, let me rephrase it. "To find your customers, learn the ways of your customers."

You must know who they are and how they find information before you can advertise effectively.

Two Choices to Make

So, you have two choices to make.

One, hire an advertising and/or marketing company, if one is available and you can afford it.

Or, if that is cost prohibitive, do it yourself.

At this site we deal with a lot do-it-yourselfers from all over the world.

Where Do I Start?

When you started your business, hopefully, you constructed a business plan. If you don't have one...get one.

Your business plan should have outlined why you think you have a viable business and who your customers are and how you intend to reach them.

If you’re a new business, you don't really have a customer base to analyze. One place you can look for help is trade magazines.

Look for success stories of people in your industry and call them up. Ask them how they advertise and where? What promotions work? Who is their ideal customer?

Let's look at some advertising basics and how they work and don't work.

The "Fab Four" Of Advertising

No, I'm not referring to the Beatles. Advertising was originally designed to accomplish four things.

1. To provide information about your company to your customers.

2. To create an image of the company for your customers.

3. To provide sales leads to the company or sales force.

4. And most important of sell.

Advertising is usually sold at a "cost per thousand" readers/listeners that the advertising reaches.

As you have read here before, I prefer to buy advertising at a "cost per customer."

If I spend $50.00 on an ad and it produces three customers who spend $10.00 each, what happened?

I just lost $20.00. My advertising stops being an investment and becomes an expense.

Track your ads to save money. Where are people coming from? How did they find you? What made them find you?

As I go through each of the four types of ads the question to keep in mind is, "What do I want my advertising to accomplish?"

Let's look at each one of the "Fab Four" and the mistakes most businesses make when they take on the job of in-house advertising manager.

Information Advertising

This is the most common type of advertising and the most often abused. Companies buy ad space and fill it with, "me", "me", "me."

The customer isn't interested in you. The customer is interested in what benefits them.

There's nothing wrong with showing off your company in a positive light. Just be sure you are talking with the customer's needs in mind.

Image Advertising

This is another passive form of advertising. There is nothing wrong with keeping your name in front of potential customers or creating an image.

Most common mistake here is big headline, too much text and no room left to display the logo, company name, phone or web site at a readable size.

The message overpowers the purpose.

If you’re really out to build a name, run several small ads with just the logo or company name and the phone.

Put as many as you can in sections you know your target market reads.

Lead Generation Ads

Many companies produce an image ad or an information ad and expect it to act as a lead generation ad.

In most cases, they are very disappointed. What's usually missing?

A "Call to Action."

Something that motivates the customer to act.

Make a call, return a coupon, enter a contest, get valuable information, visit the web site or physically come to the store.

Make them act now! Fear of loss is more powerful than expectation of gain.

Ads That Sell

This is where copywriters really earn their keep with big companies. But you and I are not big companies.

Writing ads that sell is an art. Can you write one? Sure, you can. You may not write a great one on the first try but over time you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.

What's missing from most? The company never asks for the order.

The biggest single reason people don't buy is because no one asks them. I know that sounds ridiculous but it's true.

Make sure your ad asks the customer to take action and buy your product.

The Last Word on Advertising Mistakes

In order to make your advertising pay for itself, you must know your objectives. What do you want your advertising to accomplish?

Design ads that match your company objectives. Ads should produce customers.

Track your advertising. Ask every customer how they found you.

Keep track of where customers live, how much they spend, what products they buy, how often they buy and most important...why they don't buy.

Follow up and ask them.

Advertising done right is very exciting. It pays for itself.

The more of it you do (correctly) the more profit it produces and the more ads you can place.

That makes a strong and profitable business which is what we all want.

Based in Bozeman, MT, Tom Egelhoff is the author of, “The Small-Town Advertising Handbook: How To Say More And Spend Less,” and "How to Market, Advertise and Promote Your Business or Service in Your Own Backyard."

He is also a seminar and workshop presenter and trainer. He may be reached at 406-580-1104

Listen in on Tom's Saturday weekly radio show "Open For Business" on AM 1450 KMMS Radio, Bozeman. Have a business question for Tom? Click HERE to get Tom's advice for free.

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