Don't Pull the Trigger on Advertising with Your Eyes Closed

By Hector Cisneros
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Shoot - Ready - Aim - That's the most common method, small businesses use when implementing their marketing. A common scenario goes something like this.  An advertising sales rep will pitch them on some marketing, and if they like what they hear, they make the buy. Often the sales rep will be armed with some statistics that have little relevance to the business’ target market. But in most cases, the small business owner doesn’t fully understand what the sales rep is telling them. And to avoid looking uneducated, they avoid asking the hard questions. To make matters worse, most small businesses don’t know what their target market is, what their unique strengths are, what their weakness are and who their real competition is. In this episode of Working the Web to Win, we will explore all these questions and more as we tackle the all so common problem of Shoot, Ready, Aim.

Common Bad Behavior from Unscrupulous Reps.

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I was with a client not too long ago who explained to me some of the advertisements they had recently purchased that failed to produce any results. They told me the ad sales rep came in and told them they had a special going on and that my client could get the advertising for half off the regular rate. When I asked where the ad would run, she said it would run in Area 4. I asked her where Area 4 was; she said she did not know. I looked up Area 4 for this particular advertising product and found out that Area 4 was in Bay Meadows, Jacksonville. A good area of town with a diverse population that had good disposable income. The real problem with this buy, however, was that my client was in the day care industry and her daycare was in the Oakleaf section of Clay County, more than 20 miles away from where the ad would run. You see the rep fooled her by showing good statistics for a good area in which to advertise while skipping the fact that it was not good for her.

This kind of scenario would almost always be avoided if the small business would have taken the time and made an investment in creating a marketing plan. This plan would have incorporated their target market. It would have included their target market's demographics and the target market psychographics. They would have learned as much as they could about who and what their competition was doing, and what they should be doing. They would have spent the time to develop their unique selling proposition (USP), create their compelling offer and establishing their marketing budget. Last but not least, they would have invested some time and money in A/B market testing.

Free Help is Worth its Weight in Gold.

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Most small businesses don’t know how to create a marketing plan, much less how to determine all the factors that go into one. That’s why I always advise not going it alone. Small businesses need to take advantage of the many resources available to them. In our area, there is the Marketing Matters course that is provided by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. There are many organizations that offer free or low-cost solutions to help small businesses create plans to achieve success. This includes; the SBRNSBDC, the FSBDC  and the SCORE  organizations just to name a few. These organizations provide help, consultation, research, resources, and courses that help small businesses. Here is a great link to a horde of Small Business Assistance Providers. Not taking advance of the above-listed resources is a big mistake. If you are currently profitable, you are still losing out on additional profits and growth by not taking advantage of these free and low-cost resources.

How to Budget Without Breaking Your Pencil.

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Now let’s talk money. Every business needs to understand that marketing starts with creating and sticking to a realistic budget. Another lie that unscrupulous advertising sales reps sometimes use is that the extra money you will earn from your ad will provide revenue for your continuing marketing efforts. Don’t fall for this lie. A marketing budget is for a specific amount and a specific time frame. Usually quarterly, semi-annual or annual. Most smart marketers monitor the results of their marketing daily and evaluate its effectiveness on a weekly and monthly basis. I recommend that changes never be made more often than quarterly. If your marketing is producing extra profits at the end of a quarter, you can look at increasing your marketing. Once the campaign has run its course, make a new budget based on what you can afford to lose! Remember, marketing is not a sure thing. It’s like gambling.  When you advertise, you are betting that you understand the timing and buying process of your prospects and that they will find you and choose you for their purchase. There are a lot of assumptions there! Minimize your risk by choosing as short of a contract as possible at first. Once you have good results, you can look at longer agreements.

Easy Budget Stretcher for All Businesses.

Now let’s talk about how to stretch and grow your budget. Most small businesses don’t like to run test ads. I am often told it is a waste of money. The real waste isn’t testing. In fact, every time you run an ad you are testing to see if you guessed right! It’s always better to run a small test ad to see if your message or offer produces a positive result. Here are a few methods you can use to do low-cost tests for your message and offer.

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  • Run a test ad in the classified section of a low-cost circular or the newspaper.
  • Send out an email customer survey that asks them to evaluate your message and offer.
  • Ask people in social media to provide an honest opinion of your message and offer.
  • Blog about your message or offer and ask readers to give you feedback. Post this to your social nets.
  • Run a test ad on Craigslist in several local areas (or maybe even outside your local area).
  • Place an ad for your product on eBay with your message and offer.
  • Run PPC ads on the Google banner network to test your message and offer.
  • Create a Facebook boosted ad to test your message and offer.


Keep in mind that you may have to run several of these tests to make sure your target sample is big enough to get a result. If may be necessary to run your test in multiple mediums as well. Remember, if you think your message is a good one, running this test will either confirm your beliefs and you will make money or it will show you that you need to do more homework.

More Ways to Save
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Other ways you can stretch your advertising dollars is to run ads in reduced time slots, narrow your sales focus and narrow your Geotargeted area. All too often I see people set up ads in Google AdWords and Facebook, and they choose to let the ads run 24/7. Many industries are what I call response sensitive. In other words, if a customer clicks on your ad and they don’t get a quick response from you, they quickly go to the next vendor. This is particularly true on pay per click mobile phone ads. If they call you and you don’t answer, you have lost your chance at that prospect, and it just cost you money. That’s right; you just spent money for nothing. Make sure you learn what the best time of day for your particular industry is and stick to it. This includes days of the week as well. If you are closed on any particular day, don’t run ads on those days.

The same is true of the geotargeted area. Make sure your ads are running in your area only. If you are a local company, you only need to know the maximum distance a customer will typically drive to your business. Other logistics could include how far you’re willing to drive and are there territorial restrictions for your products. Similarly, narrow the focus of your ads to reflect the sale of your best and most profitable items. Unless you're using a loss leader of some kind to get prospects in the door, focus on products that make you money. Likewise, narrow the Geo-targeted area of your ads. Make sure your ads are only running in an area that is likely to bring you business. I know some of this sounds like a no-brainer, but my experience shows that most small businesses don’t make sure that their Google AdWords, Facebook marketing or even their newsprint, TV or Radio advertising is targeting their specific area. They go with what the Advertising Rep says.

The ABC’s of A/B Testing.

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Now that I have shown you a few ways to stretch your budget, let’s look at how to maximize the return on your message and offer, by using A/B testing. A/B testing is where you create two similar ads, (on pay per click, websites, landing pages, social post or other marketing messages) to test and see which one perform the best. Knowing which message and offer perform best will save you a ton of money in the long run and in most cases the A/B test can be completed for between 100 and 500 dollars. These tests should be carried out simultaneously to get the best statistical results. Prospects will always tell you which ad is the best to run, not the marketing company. I have always thought of marketing as a type of fishing, and in fishing, the fish always determine what the best bait is. In marketing, the prospect always determines what message and offer work best. Simple A/B testing can be carried out in classified ads at a relatively low cost. Craigslist is a good place to run A/B testing as well as eBay. My favorite places include Google AdWords Search, network pay per click and Facebook’s Marketplace advertising. Google’s Ad Network is a very low-cost test arena, and if you're new to AdWords, you can sometimes get a Free coupon to receive 50 or 100-dollars’ worth of marketing. Facebook also sometimes provides promo’s as well.

Case Study of a Successful Small Business.

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To conclude this article, I want to give you a case study of an excellent campaign I witnessed. I have a client who attended Marketing Matters and took to heart the lessons provided to learn what needs to be included in a great marketing plan. This plan exposed many of the myths small business owners have which hold them back or lead them to ruin. After completing the program, we helped them further evaluate their current marketing and to shore up the strengths and eliminate as much of their weaknesses as possible. We showed them how to evaluate their competition and showed them how to understand the testing and measuring process. This has allowed them to compete with other businesses in their industry for much less money than their competitors have spent. This client had the common sense to roll up his sleeves and get involved. He also had the common sense to get help when needed and to accept good advice from a reputable marketing company that had to prove it’s worth first.

It is my wish that after reading this article, the reader will heed this advice and take advantage of the knowledge and resources provided. Take the time to take courses like Marketing Matters and enlist the insights of the SBDC and other organizations. Above all, do your due diligence and search for a marketing company that wants to be your partner, not your advertiser. It's been my pleasure providing you this information
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That’s my opinion; I look forward to reading yours.

This article provides more than a dozen easy ways to help small business understand, buy and make the most of their advertising budget. It provides many links to valuable resources and incorporates specific techniques and methods to stretch any small business marketing budget.

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If you feel your business could use some help with its marketing, contact us at 904-410-2091 or fill out the form in the sidebar of this blog, we will provide a free marketing analysis to help you get better results. If you found this article useful, please share it with friends, family, and co-workers. I recommend reading, "The Physic of Marketing - Analogies for the 21st Century",  "The Three Phases of Successful Marketing" and "Understanding the Difference Between Branding, Marketing, and Advertising" for a comprehensive view. You can find other articles on our blog by typing in “Facebook, marketing or advertising” in the search box at the top of this blog. Also, check out the “Blog Talk Radio, Internet podcast, that goes with this article ” and the Show Note Page, it has, even more, links for you to check out.  If you have a useful comment or opinion related to this article, leave it in the comment section of this blog.  Also, don’t forget to plus us, on Google+.


Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on BlogTalkRadio.com, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.” 

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