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Unmasking the Mysteries of Small Business Advertising - Part II

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

Does this sound familiar? You have a wonderful, well-trained staff and your customers rave about your services. You have followed the marketing rules and are spending 10 per cent of your budget on advertising. Why, then, has your mobile hairstyling business for seniors not landed a new customer in more than six months?

Could it be that the radio ads on your city's rock radio station combined with the television spots on a youth television station are not working?

Errors this glaring may be easy to avoid, but there is much to know about choosing the right medium for your company's advertising.

In this second column of our series on effective advertising for small business, we look at the strengths and weaknesses of advertising in four of the most popular formats: newspaper, magazine, radio and television. Other traditional and non-traditional advertising options, including the Yellow Pages and outdoor advertising.

When choosing the advertising formats that are right for your business, keep in mind that you will generally want to advertise in more than one medium. The best way to reach your audience is to identify your target market, and then repeat your message as many times in as many different avenues as possible.

Newspapers. What we need to assess here is how to make newspaper advertisements work for your business. The newspaper is the most commonly used advertising medium. Newspapers generally have a large, loyal audience base, as people tend to read the same newspaper every day.

One great thing about newspaper advertising is that recurring messaging is very easy to achieve. For example, people tend to visit the same sections over and over, so you can maximize your exposure by targeting sports, business, entertainment or news sections. If you are working within a limited budget, you can create a cycle of repetition by using smaller ad sizes.

Another great advantage to newspapers is because they are printed daily, you can adapt your ad quickly in response to unexpected changes. For example, if you are running low on the dresses you featured at 50 per cent off in Saturday's paper, you can change the ad for Sunday's edition. This flexibility combined with daily release makes newspapers a great format for short-term sales or offers.

There are, of course, drawbacks to newspaper advertising. Just because it is the most common way to advertise does not necessarily mean that it is the best method for you. Newspapers are usually read only once. If your audience misses your ad the first time, they are not likely to read through the paper again and catch it a second time.

There are several reasons that your ad could be missed. Even if you have chosen the correct section, the page on which your ad appears might not contain any interesting articles and may be skipped by readers. And, although a small ad may be economical, the large page size of a newspaper can make a small ad difficult to spot, especially if your ad is surrounded by larger ads. Using colourful or unusual graphics that make your ad stand out is very effective in newsprint.

Magazines. Although at first glance advertising in magazines may appear similar to advertising in newspapers, they are two very different mediums with distinct advantages and disadvantages.

On the positive side, magazines are highly targeted and can provide you with a clear breakdown of reader demographics. Magazines also have a longer shelf life, so people are likely to read them more than once and readers will share their magazines with an average of two to three other people. The other thing to note is that the quality of the paper and therefore the resolution of pictures in magazines are far superior to newsprint. If you want your product or service to signify quality or elegance, magazine advertising is the perfect format.

The high investment required is one of the major drawbacks to magazine advertising. It is significantly more expensive than other print mediums, even if you receive discounted rates for repeated insertions. In addition, in order to achieve a good quality design, you may have to retain a graphic artist or advertising agency, which will further increase your costs. The other challenge associated with magazine advertising is advance planning. There cannot be any last-minute changes, as the final artwork is often required two months ahead of the publication date.

Radio. In comparison to most other advertising formats, radio is generally the most cost-effective. Radio also offers a unique format that will allow you to use sounds to create a mood or idea that would be impossible to create visually. If your product or service can be associated with a sound that makes an unforgettable impression on your audience, radio may be just the right format for your business.

You can strengthen your radio campaign by offering complimentary goods or services to prize-winners. If the announcers ad lib about your company and offer free prizing, paid ads will be strengthened with additional repetition and name recognition.

For all of its strengths, radio advertising is quick and intangible. If listeners miss the information, they will have to wait to hear the ad again. And, radio is definitely not the place for prices and telephone numbers—detailed information is too difficult for people to write down or remember until they get home.

In addition, as peak listening times for radio usually coincide with the drive to or home from work, you frequently do not have a captive listening audience. Drivers tend to pay attention to other things, such as fighting children or navigating their way home safely. Your ad will have to work hard to get the attention of drivers.

Automobile radio listeners also tend to surf between their two or three favourite stations. They change the channel frequently to find a song they would like to hear or to catch the latest news or traffic. In order to reach your market, you may need to advertise on more than one station.

Television. Television has been proven to be the most effective advertising medium, as it offers a larger and more diverse audience than other formats. Advertising on television can give a product or service instant validity and prominence.

You can clearly target your audience by choosing to air your commercial during specific programming. Although the audience for various shows will be clearly described for you, the most popular shows will also have the most expensive air-time charges.

Television advertising's greatest strength is that there is so much room for creativity. If your product or service is difficult to explain, television will allow you to get your message across clearly with a combination of effective visuals and sounds.

The most common mistake that people make in television advertising is thinking that they can produce an ad on their own…starring their friends and relatives. The damage that an amateur commercial will do to your reputation may be irrepairable. Therefore, the cost of producing a quality commercial must be incorporated into your budget.

In addition to production expenses, television airtime is costly. Just as in other mediums, you must repeat your ad in order for it to work. If your budget will not allow for repetition, there is no point in doing the ad at all.

We have given you a brief summary and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the four most common mediums—newspapers, magazines, radio and television. A combination of these four mediums may work very well for your business, depending on your products or services and your target market.

Once you have mastered the most common advertising formats, you may want to look at some more unique and creative ways to reach your audience cost effectively. Watch for our next column on in early July, where we will take a look at more obscure ways to get your message out to potential customers.

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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