Getting the word out: 10 tips for better advertising

By Robyn A. Friedman    

In today’s challenging economic climate, attracting customers may be the key to survival for many a smallTarget Your Customers - Dry Erase Board business. One way to do so is with advertising. But with so many options for advertising your business—print, online, radio, television, billboards, Yellow Pages and more—how do you get the most bang for your advertising buck?

Most small business owners don’t have the budget for radio, TV, or billboard advertising, but that’s OK. Print and online advertising, tailored correctly, can be highly effective in targeting prospects, communicating your message, and getting customers in the door.

“Print is a very good vehicle for reaching a large potential customer base,” said Andy Dykstra, a partner of Burdette Ketchum, a full-service marketing firm in Jacksonville. “Online has really become a vehicle where you can be really highly targeted.”

Advertising can take many forms. We’re all familiar with typical display ads that appear in newspapers and magazines as well as the banner ads that seem to pop up whenever we’re online. But there are plenty of low- or no-cost forms of advertising, such as business cards, gift certificates, brochures, flyers, door hangers, mailbox inserts and paper or plastic bags with your name and logo. And, of course, your Web site is a form of advertising as well.

Most experts recommend that you combine a variety of advertising forms to get your message across. Community First Credit Union in Jacksonville, for example, uses traditional media such as magazines, newspapers, TV, radio and outdoor as well as the new media—online ads, search engine marketing and social networking. “There’s a basic tenet that your potential customers can’t do business with you unless they know about you,” said Kim Deppe, vice president of marketing. “And advertising is still one of the least costly ways to get people familiar with your company and with the products and services that you offer.”

Here are some tips for effective advertising in any form:

• Know your customers. That means understanding how they make decisions and how they find information relevant to purchasing your product or service. That way, you’ll know how to reach them. Do your clients find you through networking events? If so, you may not have to spend any money on advertising. But if they find you through the Yellow Pages, then you need to be there. By knowing your customers, you’ll also be able to craft your message, whether in print or online, in a way that’s highly relevant to them.

• Know what you’re selling. This may seem obvious, but in many cases it’s not. Are you advertising a sale? Branding your company? Introducing a new product? What are your advertising goals? “People have a tendency to rush right to the tactics—‘I need a brochure syndrome’ is what I call it,” Deppe said. “But the selection of the tactic has to come after you’ve already thought through your goals and strategies.” Your goal should be specific and measurable.

• Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repetition is vital. One-shot ads rarely work. Advertising has a cumulative effect, and it often takes time to see results. Dykstra recommends placing an ad a minimum of three times. “If you’re not accomplishing that, you shouldn’t even spend the time doing it,” he said.

• Emphasize benefits. What does your product or service offer its audience? What’s in it for them?. Your goal is to motivate the reader to act.

• Keep your message simple. You want people to remember it.

• Have a Web site. That’s the first place many people will go to find out about your company. You can include details about your product or service as well as testimonials, which can be highly persuasive.

• Avoid clutter. Don’t include too much copy in your ad. Keep your message focused.

• Understand what print advertising can do. Print advertising is a very good vehicle for creating broad reach—to connect with a large potential customer base. Online advertising allows you to target your audience more precisely.

• Establish a realistic advertising budget. A good rule of thumb is that you should spend about 3% to 5% of your revenues, depending on the type of business and stage. “When you get started, you may want to spend a little more to get your name recognized and create a brand,” said Cathy Hagan, area director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida. “But once you build that network, the smarter you can be with your advertising dollars.”

• Track your results. Ask your customers how they found you. That will help you hone your advertising plan in the future.

Remember that advertising is just part of an overall marketing plan, which should also include public relations, direct mail, trade shows and word of mouth. “Everything from your Yellow Pages listing to the sign over your front door is part of your advertising,” said Deppe. “It should all go together and work as part of an overall strategy.”

Robyn A. Friedman is a contributing editor to Jacksonville Small Business Advantage. She can be reached at or through her Web site



Print or online? Different features for different focus

Advertising is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Print advertising has its place; likewise, so does online advertising. In most cases, you’ll want to do some of both. Here’s what differentiates the two forms:

Print advertising should:

• Grab your prospects with a catchy headline and image. Powerful visuals are essential to stop readers, draw them in, and get them to read the body copy. The headline has to have punch. The words “free,” “sale,” and “buy now and save” are proven ways to encourage your readers to act now.

• Include a call to action. Tell readers to do something.

• Include your company contact information. Include your company’s name, usually at the bottom of the ad, as well as your address and phone number. Make your phone number larger to encourage people to call. If you’re a new business, include a cross street or brief directions to help people find you.

• Be placed in the most prominent position possible.

Online ads should:

• Be placed where your customers go. Know your customers and what their online habits are. Find sites for your ads that will reach the right demographic. For example, you can advertise on by running a banner ad across the home page. Or you can place your ad in the sports section or business section—choose the section where your prospects are most likely to visit.

• Use a rich media banner ad, which has motion. That allows you to scroll a message and have more than just a single headline. Rich media also allows you to animate your ad to draw readers in. Use attention-getting artwork.

• Include a call to action in your banner ad. In most cases, you will be trying to attract viewers to your Web site for a deeper message, so you’ll want to invite them to click on the ad to be linked to your site.

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