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Unmasking the Mysteries of Small Business Advertising - Part III

By Robert N. Lee and Margaret Anne J. Taylor |

If you've been following our columns on, you're comfortable with many of the traditional advertising mediums we discussed in our previous articles, such as radio and newspaper. Now that you're familiar with the basics, you're probably itching to experiment with some other creative ideas. Here are some additional suggestions to give your advertising campaign that extra zing.

Outdoor Advertising
Billboards are the most common form of outdoor advertising, but it's by far the only medium used by small business owners to get the message out about their product or service. This category also includes posters, murals on buildings, signs of all kinds, and ads on transit benches, shelters, bathroom stalls and elevators.

There are some very clear advantages to using outdoor advertising. First, you have to option of choosing the location that your target audience is most likely to frequent. Once your ad is posted, people are exposed to it, whether they choose to or not – provided the copy is short and legible. Remember: you only have two or three seconds to capture your readers' attention, so make sure you get your message across clear and fast.

Another advantage is that you can reach multiple audiences simultaneously. What might have started off as an elevator ad targeting CEO's and CFO's will end up being an ad that reaches everyone from the CEO's secretary to janitorial staff to clients that enter and leave the building using the elevator.

Yellow Pages
When deciding to place an ad in the yellow pages, give careful thought to your audience. Imagine you are one of your potential customers. Would you open the yellow pages to make your decision, or would you rely on other sources of information? If you operate a towing service, the yellow pages may be one of your most valuable advertising tools. If you are an interior decorator, you may want to put the bulk of your advertising budget into other areas.

Once you have decided that the yellow pages are an important tool for your company, keep these ideas in mind:

  • This is an extremely competitive medium—you'll need to work hard to stand out. Hiring a graphic designer to create your ad will help to ensure that you will not end up looking like all of the other ads in the same section.
  • Remember that you are committing to an entire year of advertising. Work this into your budget. Also, if your ad makes any promises, such as tows to the nearest service station for $25, be sure that you are willing to continue with them all year.

One small plumbing company found their yellow page ads to be very successful when they used different tools to draw attention to their ad and then provided a compelling reason for customers to take the next step and call them. Amidst pages of plumbing advertisements, their company stands out because they used unusual shapes, colours and a prominent banner that highlights that they're one of the oldest – and most reliable - plumbing firms in the city.

Specialty Advertising
Promotional items such as pens, magnets, notepads, coffee mugs, calendars and other knick-knacks are a simple way to establish goodwill with your existing and potential clients. They will also serve to put your company first in your audience's mind at the moment when they need your services. When you decide to buy a large quantity of personalized items, however, try to match the item to your message. Determine ahead of time how the item will be used. If you plan to mail it out to clients, you may want to choose something that will be inexpensive to send.

Don't think that you are restricted in any way as to what you choose to use as promotional items – be creative! One company in the health industry found that distributing apples at the tradeshows they attend successfully draws people to their booth.

There are a multitude of other ideas that will help you get the word out about your company. Be resourceful. If there is a website that your audience frequently visits, ask if you can place an ad or have your own website listed. You may choose to sponsor a local high school car wash or a Little League baseball team to make your company name more familiar. Or, you may have your company name, logo and slogan emblazoned on your vehicle. Once your vehicle is a moving ad, take it out into rush hour traffic or park it in front of your store during peak periods or promotions.

Whatever you decide to do, remember the reasons that you became an entrepreneur in the first place. Follow the basic guidelines we have shared, put your own unique skills and creativity to work and have fun!

Part I: The Basics of Small Business Advertising
Part II: Newspaper, Magazine, Radio and Television
Part III: Outdoor Advertising, Yellow Pages, and Specialty Advertising

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