Hard Learned Lessons About Advertising For Small Businesses

Everything in business is a learning process and advertising is no exception. Advertising promises to reach new potential customers and create a brand or image for your company in the public’s eye. What happens when the results don’t meet your expectations, you think back about where things went wrong.Lessons Learned1. Trust but verify. Often advertisers will try to sell you ad space based upon the size of their audience, the geographic area of distribution, the frequency of publication, and so forth. This kind of information tells you nothing about their effectiveness as a channel. A good approach is to find previously published advertising material and check with the companies that advertised (even if the publication provides references). If you ‘re considering placing an ad in a tradeshow program guide, obtain last year’s guide and call the companies that advertised to learn what their results were. Media salespeople always want to sell long-term contracts. Even if the discount is great, avoid such contracts until you know whether the channel works.2. To gauge the appropriateness of any media for your ads, check out who their advertisers are now. Have you ever noticed that ads on highway billboards and public bus panel are always the major players in some industry? How many local businesses advertise on a highway billboard? How many are instead Ford, Toyota, IBM, Microsoft, and Apple? There is a reason: these channels are very expensive and cost prohibitive to small companies.Note when competitors or similar industries are running their promotions. They have a lot of experience advertising to the same audience and know best when to reach the targeted customer. Car dealers know to advertise late in a week because most people buy cars on weekends. Weight loss programs don’t advertise late in a week because no one wants to start a diet on Friday. Watch your email box. When do you receive notices about online store offers, newsletters, or notices about tradeshows?A medical clinic and day spa service business advertised in the local newspapers and through email marketing. The clinic tried each of these approaches for a year or more before they disappeared from both media. Look back at previous advertisers and see what they did; it’s an indication of how well the media worked for them.3. If readers get something free, it’s not as effective for advertising as a publication with paid readers. All trade and newspapers want to tell you about how many readers they have, but many give away their publications. The readers don’t necessarily look at or read such publications. My local town newspaper boasts a large circulation because it is mailed without charge it to all businesses and everyone’s houses. Likewise, many online information sites have free email newsletters, but that doesn’t mean the recipients read the newsletters. Similarly, organizations will report that a percentage of their membership rolls have particular demographics, but it doesn’t follow that those members have paid for those memberships. Some organizations offer free memberships to certain individuals just to be able to use them to promote the group for advertising rates. Advertising rates reflect the audience size. The more people, the higher the rates. Media buyer beware!4. Large companies tend to advertise in the largest reaching media. They will place ads in The Wall Street Journal or Time magazine, but not in local or regional publications. It’s easier and more manageable for them to deal with national media organizations than a gaggle of small, niche, or local media companies. By contrast, targeted and niche marketing works best for startups, which have a limited budget. It’s better to dominate a subset of customers in a niche market or a locality and to be pervasively known within the niche than it is to build a little awareness everywhere.Whenever the target audience has a lot of choices, it’s difficult to pinpoint the most promising ones. It’s harder to be effective in TV than in radio. In television, viewers are loyal to a program, not to a network. Most viewers have hundreds of channels available and flip between them looking for an interesting show to watch. With radio, listeners usually have their favorite three stations and change between these few.The concepts of frequency and reach apply equally to newspapers, television, radio, or the Internet. It’s more effective to dominate a time slot or customer segment. Instead of advertising in twenty-five magazines, advertise in a few and give the appearance of being a national brand to that customer segment.5. Advertising strategy must be consistent with pricing. The average selling price of one startup’s product was $1,200, but the advertising cost to obtain a single lead was over $300. Competitors were spending less than $156 to obtain an actual customer. By contrast, if the product price is $25,000 and the advertising cost to obtain a sale is $300, then the producer may have a viable marketing strategy. The key to a viable strategy lies in the advertising cost per lead and advertising cost to obtain a sale, not in the size of the overall advertising budget. When choosing a promotion approach, consider whether it can be sustained long enough to prove the assumptions and whether if it fails, there is enough budget left to try a different approach.6. Advertising is about trade-offs. There is no right answer; many approaches can achieve the same results. It is, however, a zero sum game. Location is a good example. A location, either storefront or tradeshow floor position, can give a startup more visibility with passer-by traffic. With more visibility, less can be spent on paid advertising to get customers to the location. Likewise, there can be trade-offs between advertising versus labor and travel costs associated with direct marketing and sales.
7. On a whim, I found a useful (and free!) Silicon Valley marketing group through Meetup. The peer group organization I discovered invites professors from the local business schools, local advertising and marketing experts, and SMB companies to relay their experiences. The practical and specific advice and discussions on strategies and how well they’ve worked have made the group an invaluable resource.8. An agency or a media buyer will be expensive and most won’t even handle small companies, but despite the costs, it’s still less expensive than the DIY method. The reason is because they will be able to “ramp up” faster than you can without them. Agencies have many clients and are paid on commissions for the media buys. They are not going to get you better pricing, but they can get better positioning for your ads as well as help you with changing the original contract if the ads don’t work as expected. Advertising is an art. Even an agency will need to experiment with your product and company, and this is both a time consuming and costly trial and error process.When dealing with an agency, startups need to be very proactive. They need to track the results diligently and feed them back to the agency. What worked well five years ago may not get results today, and what worked for a similar product might not work for yours.

Google AdWords Advertising Strategy

While Google AdWords advertising is not for everyone, I don’t think anyone could turn down $75 of free advertising for their site! Google offers all new clients a $75 coupon to try out their services. There’s absolutely no commitment to carry on, no automatic billing should you forget to cancel, no deposit, just good old fashioned free money! Simply do a search in Google for “Google AdWords advertising $75 coupon”But, it Costs too Much!Free coupon aside, the main complaint of most people who try Google AdWords advertising is the cost. People will pay several dollars per click through for some high competition keywords. That’s like paying several dollars for one visitor! I have a technique to lower that cost. I woke up this morning, logged into my Google AdWords account and saw an average of $0.14 per click, much better.Lowering Advertising CostsThe key to lowering the cost of click throughs is with Banner advertising. While this takes a little more time to setup, you can generally hit highly competitive keywords at around 5-15% of what it would cost you for text ads. This is still the same highly targeted traffic as you would get from those text ads. I want to address two concerns you may be having right now:· You don’t have to have a fancy expensive graphic design studio to make banners – you can download a free graphics design tool called “gimp” that you can design your banners with· You don’t have to be a graphic design artist – I designed all my banners myself and I have zero training in any artistic discipline, it’s simply about getting your message across. My click thorough rate is around 0.37% which may seem low, but considering the average banner click through rate of 0.2 – 0.3%, it’s actually pretty good! (Source: Wiki Click through Rate).Optimizing Banner CampaignsHere are some general tips that I have followed to get decent click through rates at a low cost per click with Google AdWords advertising.· Keyword Research – focus on 2-3 main keywords that are 100% related to what you want to advertise. Copy those keywords into the Google AdWords Advertising Keyword Tool to get some more keyword ideas. Try and build up 200-300 highly targeted keywords, as specific as possible to what it is you are advertising. This doesn’t have to be done all at once, but try and start with 50-100. Read my article on using the Google Keyword Tool if you are new to this.· Banner Design – it’s even more important to focus on your banner’s message than keyword focusing. You want visitors to click on your banner that are interested in exactly what you are advertising. For example, if I am advertising whey protein isolate, I want my banner to convey exactly that. Not whey protein, not protein, not nutritional supplements, I want people to click on my banner that are specifically looking for a whey protein isolate.· Bidding on keywords – Google AdWords advertising works on keyword bids. You specify the dollar amount you are willing to pay for someone to click on your banner. I generally keep the same bid for each keyword, but you can manipulate each keyword bid individually for more targeted keywords. Start off low, around 15c. If you don’t get any traffic after 24 hours, increase to 20, then 25 etc. until you get the level of banner impressions you are comfortable with.· Banner Population – Google AdWords advertising allows you to upload various sizes of banners – you want to upload at least one of each size! This is important. For your specific market, people might be focusing on a 728×90 size banner, maybe a 250×250? Who knows? You want to exploit the banner size that people may not be using, or not using as much. For me it was the 300×50 size banner.Here are the Google AdWords advertising accepted banner sizes:· 300 x 50 Mobile Leaderboard· 468 x 60 Banner· 728 x 90 Leaderboard· 250 x 250 Square· 200 x 200 Small square· 336 x 280 Large rectangle· 300 x 250 Inline rectangle· 120 x 600 Skyscraper· 160 x 600 Wide skyscraperThe main key here is focus, focus, focus! Google AdWords advertising can be very successful if you generate the right type of traffic – targeted traffic. If you are general with your keywords and banners, you will get exactly that – general visitors, not specifically interested in what you are advertising!Offsetting the CostI generally offset at least 50% of my Google AdWords advertising costs with another Google product, Google AdSense. It’s basically the flip side of Google AdWords advertising, you get paid for people clicking on ads you put on your site. Also flipped is the way I show these ads, I only show text ads because I receive a lot more revenue from text ads than banners.One word of caution, apply Google AdSense tastefully to your website. I have one ad in my side bar and one at the bottom of each article. Do not plaster them all over your website if you wish to use Google AdWords advertising – especially not on the landing page that people click through your banners to. Your banner ad will not get approved until Google deems your site suitable.I also want to stress something else about approvals. It used to be that the folks at Google AdWords advertising would approve my ad in a matter of hours. Recently it has been 3-4 days, so be patient when submitting your ad and realize it may be several days before it goes live.I Hope this information was helpful! See you on the Web!!Stephanie K Tully