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Marketing 101 – What you need to Know before Buying Advertising

By Hector Cisneros
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You’re a new business owner, ready to buy your first advertisement, so you call the local newspapers, radio and TV stations along with several coupon and website vendors to see what they have to offer. Unfortunately, you have never purchased advertising before and you’re hoping the advertisers will help you figure out exactly what to do. You may not realize that most advertising sales reps are paid mainly on commission and their primary mission is to sell you advertising or they don’t make any money. What happens next is all too often the scenario that plays out. In this article we will follow this scenario and cover a simple 10 step program that will insure you’re buying the right advertising and that your return on investment has the best chance of making a profit. Now let’s get back to that scenario.

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The sales rep asks you what seems like meaningful questions about your budget, target market, your product, etc. And they pitch you on the product they feel is the best fit for what they discovered in the Q and A session. Unfortunately, more often than not, the product they sell you is not a good fit. Partially because you may not know the correct answers to the questions they asked, and partially because they are there to sell you something.

As an Agency of Record for many of our clients, it always brings a smile to my face when the advertising rep. looks me in the eye and says, “My product or service is not a good fit for your client”. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Most of the time they pitch what they have to sell regardless of the fit. It’s really up to the business owner (or their agent) who is buying the advertising to know what they need and what they are looking for, otherwise they are just buying advertising to see what works (and in most cases throwing most of their advertising budget down the drain).

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It's important for a beginner to get their feet wet by attempting simpler and shorter run marketing campaigns. After all, your choices are numerous and the sheer number and types of marketing elements can be daunting in and of itself. Simple advertisements can include, a print ad in the local newspaper or a magazine, a short run pay per click campaign in Facebook, LinkedIn or Google Adwords, a bill board ad, an ad short run on radio, a direct mail piece or even ad in a coupon magazine. As a beginner, your budget will often determine which media you choose.

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Make sure you stay focused and do your due diligence on the advertiser. Make sure you create a plan that includes SMART goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, & Timed), and make use of any resources available to you, including demographics, psychographics, show and time slot ratings, etc. that advertisers can provide. Also get a mentor. Most cities have free programs (or very inexpensive) that are designed to help new entrepreneurs learn their marketing ropes. In Northeast Florida, the local Chambers have programs like Marketing Matters and the Small Business Referral Network at UNF and SBDC have programs as well.

Now let’s look at a 10 step process that will keep you focus, pick the right kind of media, and help you track your results so that you will know if your marketing is working.

  •         Step 1 – Create and Stick to a Budget. – One of the biggest mistakes new business owners and entrepreneurs make is not creating a realistic budget that they can stick to.  Figure out what portion of your revenue you can afford to invest in marketing. Understand that you are gambling with this money in that there is no guarantee you will make money when you invest in your chosen marketing/advertising. Make sure you put aside some funds for researching your method, message and target audience. Don’t let sales people fool you into thinking that you will be able to buy more marketing than your budget will allow, based on the belief your sales will generate enough ROI  to pay for the additional advertising. This is also a good time to create your SMART goals that determine your success.
  •         Step 2 – Identify Your Target Market. - You must have a strong idea of who your
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    target market is. Not everyone is in your target market. You can easily do research on the web today by just typing in relevant questions like: “what is the target audience for people buying cupcakes in Florida.”  Or “What is the age and income of people in Northeast Florida that use chiropractic services.” You can also find a lot of useful statistics from the vendors you buy from, as well as advertisers, your accountant, the library and the ad agency you might be using. If you don’t take the time to fully identify your target market, you will never be successful unless you have the grace of God on your side. (Not to mention money to burn.)
  •         Step 3 - Choosing what to advertise. - Choosing the right product that has the right amount of profit, demand, availability, distribution and timing is a tall order to say the least. Whatever you choose to sell, it must produce a profit in a timely manner. Do you have to sell a lot of these widgets or services? Or can you sell one a month and pay for 3 months’ worth of advertising. Is it a big ticket top of the line product with few competitors, or is the product sold primarily on price? Is this product in high demand, is it easy to obtain and deliver? Do you have geographic exclusivity or is the product sold everywhere by anyone? And finally, does it produce recurring revenue where the initial sales produces income for many months to come? Most companies have more than one product or service. It’s usually cost prohibitive to advertise all of your products, so you have to pick and choose the products or services that will bring in the most sales with the least resistance.
  •         Step 4 – Choose an Advertising/Marketing medium that fits your budget. – If
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    you have properly finished steps 1 through 3, you may have already eliminated several marketing mediums already. For example, if you only have $300 a month in your budget – you probably won’t be running TV and Radio ads. These mediums usually have a starting budget of at least a $1000 a month. Also, if you have a larger budget (say $2,000/month) you will have to choose if you’re going to split the money across multiple medium (like $1000 in print and radio).  
  •         Step 5 - Creating a compelling message. – Many marketers say you should have created your message before getting to this stage. I say they are wrong. Your message needs to be media specific. You have to have a good idea of what your main selling benefits are and what your unique selling proposition is in order to build your message. You also have to take into account your target audience, their language, imagery, age, sex, ethnicity and income. Ideally, your message should be short, focused, with an extremely clear call to action and a compelling offer. Make sure you create at least 3 versions of this message.
  •         Step 6 - Test and measure your message – In step 6 we will determine if you’re on the right track or if you have lost your way. Testing and measuring your three test messages from step 5 will show you where you should or shouldn’t be spending your money. If done properly, it will also verify your target audience or point you to your proper target audience. This testing process can be carried out using the A/B testing method. The term A/B testing refers to testing two different ads in the same medium to see which one provides the best results. This includes using the internet with pay per click ads on Facebook, Google Adwords or LinkedIn (aka PPC), with ads pointing to either landing pages in social media or on your website. A/B testing can also be run on the radio, in TV or in print. However, they will cost more to set up and run in those mediums. A realistic budget for testing a message in pay per click is between $100 and $500.
  •         Step 7 – Evaluate the Results – After 30 days of testing, (or when your test
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    budget runs out) you need to evaluate your results. This information should show which ad/s did the best, the demographics of the participants (age, sex, income, etc.…), the best time of the day, the best days of the week and so on. It should also support your idea that your product/service you chose for the advertising campaign was the right choice. If your results are less than stellar, you will need to re-evaluate your whole program and retest. Never spend money on a product that the test data does not support. Remember the purpose of most advertising is to sell your product or service at a profit when all is said and done.
  •         Step 8 - Implementing the best Message that Produces the Best Results.   – If you're testing supports the theory that you can make a profit selling your product or service then it’s time to implement your advertising by signing an agreement for 3 months if possible. If at the end of three months your results are still good, continue the campaign and ask if you can get a better price for the advertising if you sign up for a year. It's important to note that in some cases you will have to sign up for a long term campaign in order to make it cost effective to run the ads. Make sure the ads are producing if you're going to sign up for a 6 months or longer. See if you can get some sort of guarantee with the program as well.
  •         Step 9 – Continue Measuring the Results. By this point you should be making money and learning more about the effectiveness of your marketing, your message and the medium in which you are marketing. Also check your results, at least on a quarterly basis (if not weekly and monthly). Things change, seasons change, competition changes, consumer needs and appetites change!  Keep your finger on the pulse of your sales and marketing to make sure your money is well spent.
  •         Step 10 - Tweak your Message and Method. - After six months or so, re-evaluate
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    your progress and method. What can you do better? If the marketing is producing enough profit to increase the marketing budget, do so in a prudent way. Make sure you bank at least 10% of the profit.
  •         Do it again. – Now that you have developed a program that works, go back to step 8 and do it all over again. If you feel there is room for improvement, go back to step to 6 and tweak your program by following steps 6 through 10. Then do it all again until that marketing on longer makes money (at which point to go back to step 1).
As stated earlier, it is very important that you stay focused and perform your due diligence on any advertiser, including the medium, time slot etc. Also don't cherry pick the above steps. Unless you are very lucky, skipping steps will lead to mistakes, failure and loss of money. Here is a list of additional articles I feel will be of great help as you grow your knowledge base and marketing skills.
Ok, so you've read the article three times, checked out other articles and you feel you're ready to give it a go. Ask your mentor where they would start. Try to keep things simple in the beginning and by all means create a budget and stick to it. Following this method will give you the best chance of receiving an adequate return on your marketing investment, without having to guess.

That’s my opinion. I look forward to hearing yours.

In this article I have provided a 10 step process to help new entrepreneurs navigate the hazardous waters of a first time marketing campaign. It provides a clear step by step method to help the new business owner achieve success and become profitable with their often new and limited marketing budgets.

If you want to save yourself the considerable time, money and aggravation of having to perform all of the steps above, consider retaining a marketing agency.  Not only do they have the time, contacts and experience to perform the entire process, but it will cost you nothing to retain them since their fees are paid by the advertiser.

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If you found this article useful please share it with your friends, family and co-workers. If you have a comment or a different opinion, join the conversation by adding it to the comment section below. I recommend checking out "What Your Webmaster Should be Telling You!" or "Are You Prepared for Mobilgeddon?", “What Exactly Does SEO Really Mean Today? “ and "Social Media Tips, Tricks and Best Practices from the Pros".  You can also search for other related articles by typing in “Marketing" or Advertising” in the search box at the top of this blog.
If you feel your business could use some help with its marketing, contact us at 904-410-2091,We will provide a free marketing analysis to help you get better results. If you'd like a free copy of our eBook, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century," (in its 3rd edition), please fill in the form below. You will gain immediate access to it and as always, your information is always kept private and is never sold. Don't forget to Plusus on Google+.

Hector Cisneros is a partner, COO and Social Media Director for the award-winning, Internet-based marketing firm, Working  the Web to Win, in Jacksonville, FL. You can connect with him on TwitterFacebookGoogle+,  LinkedIn,  and YouTube.  He’s also the co-host of BlogTalkRadio’s “Working the Web to Win,” where he and Working the Web to Win’s co-founder, Carl Weiss, make working the web to win simple for every business. He's a published author of three  books, "60 Seconds to Success"(available at Amazon and B&N), and "Internet Marketing for the 21st Century," which you can get by filling out the form above. He’s also the co-author of the new book, “Working The Web to Win,” which is now available on

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  1. Great article with excellent information for anyone who has not bought advertising before. The testing and measuring is very important. Note: Sometimes when an ad rep asks what the budget is, the prospective customer plays it coy or hasn't even figured it out yet. Set a budget and tell the ad rep what it is. The budget amount will help the ad rep to limit the presentation to what the customer can afford. That's a time-saver.

  2. Clear steps on media buying. Tracking the results is imperative to make your advertising dollar go the farthest.

  3. I liked the line about the sales rep saying their product or service is not a good fit. I have NEVER heard that one! All good info.

  4. This is priceless information! To many times I watch close friends blow tons of money on unnecessary marketing, or have no idea what the return is on their investment they just go with the flow and keep paying... Know what your doing, pay attention it really matters!