ADVERTISING STRATEGY

An advertising strategy is a campaign developed to communicate ideas about products and services to potential consumers in the hopes of convincing them to buy those products and services. This strategy, when built in a rational and intelligent manner, will reflect other business considerations (overall budget, brand recognition efforts) and objectives (public image enhancement, market share growth) as well. As Portable MBA in Marketing authors Alexander Hiam and Charles D. Schewe stated, a business's advertising strategy "determines the character of the company's public face." Even though a small business has limited capital and is unable to devote as much money to advertising as a large corporation, it can still develop a highly effective advertising campaign. The key is creative and flexible planning, based on an indepth knowledge of the target consumer and the avenues that can be utilized to reach that consumer.

Today, most advertising strategies focus on achieving three general goals, as the Small Business Administration indicated in Advertising Your Business: 1) promote awareness of a business and its product or services; 2) stimulate sales directly and "attract competitors' customers"; and 3) establish or modify a business' image. In other words, advertising seeks to inform, persuade, and remind the consumer. With these aims in mind, most businesses follow a general process which ties advertising into the other promotional efforts and overall marketing objectives of the business.

STAGES OF ADVERTISING STRATEGY

As a business begins, one of the major goals of advertising must be to generate awareness of the business and its products. Once the business' reputation is established and its products are positioned within the market, the amount of resources used for advertising will decrease as the consumer develops a kind of loyalty to the product. Ideally, this established and ever-growing consumer base will eventually aid the company in its efforts to carry their advertising message out into the market, both through its purchasing actions and its testimonials on behalf of the product or service.

Essential to this rather abstract process is the development of a "positioning statement," as defined by Gerald E. Hills in "Marketing Option and Marketing" in The Portable MBA in Entrepreneurship: "A 'positioning statement' explains how a company's product (or service) is differentiated from those of key competitors." With this statement, the business owner turns intellectual objectives into concrete plans. In addition, this statement acts as the foundation for the development of a selling proposal, which is composed of the elements that will make up the advertising message's "copy platform." This platform delineates the images, copy, and art work that the business owner believes will sell the product.

With these concrete objectives, the following elements of the advertising strategy need to be considered: target audience, product concept, communication media, and advertising message. These elements are at the core of an advertising strategy, and are often referred to as the "creative mix." Again, what most advertisers stress from the beginning is clear planning and flexibility. And key to these aims is creativity, and the ability to adapt to new market trends. A rigid advertising strategy often leads to a loss of market share. Therefore, the core elements of the advertising strategy need to mix in a way that allows the message to envelope the target consumer, providing ample opportunity for this consumer to become acquainted with the advertising message.

TARGET CONSUMER The target consumer is a complex combination of persons. It includes the person who ultimately buys the product, as well as those who decide what product will be bought (but don't physically buy it), and those who influence product purchases, such as children, spouse, and friends. In order to identify the target consumer, and the forces acting upon any purchasing decision, it is important to define three general criteria in relation to that consumer, as discussed by the Small Business Administration:

1. Demographics—Age, gender, job, income, ethnicity, and hobbies.
2. Behaviors—When considering the consumers' behavior an advertiser needs to examine the consumers' awareness of the business and its competition, the type of vendors and services the consumer currently uses, and the types of appeals that are likely to convince the consumer to give the advertiser's product or service a chance.
3. Needs and Desires—Here an advertiser must determine the consumer needs—both in practical terms and in terms of self-image, etc.—and the kind of pitch/message that will convince the consumer that the advertiser's services or products can fulfill those needs.

PRODUCT CONCEPT The product concept grows out of the guidelines established in the "positioning statement." How the product is positioned within the market will dictate the kind of values the product represents, and thus how the target consumer will receive that product. Therefore, it is important to remember that no product is just itself, but, as Courtland L. Bovee and William F. Arens stated in Contemporary Advertising, a "bundle of values" that the consumer needs to be able to identify with. Whether couched in presentations that emphasize sex, humor, romance, science, masculinity, or femininity, the consumer must be able to believe in the product's representation.

COMMUNICATION MEDIA The communication media is the means by which the advertising message is transmitted to the consumer. In addition to marketing objectives and budgetary restraints, the characteristics of the target consumer need to be considered as an advertiser decides what media to use. The types of media categories from which advertisers can choose include the following:

* Print—Primarily newspapers (both weekly and daily) and magazines.
* Audio—FM and AM radio.
* Video—Promotional videos, infomercials.
* World Wide Web.
* Direct mail.
* Outdoor advertising—Billboards, advertisements on public transportation (cabs, buses).

After deciding on the medium that is 1) financially in reach, and 2) most likely to reach the target audience, an advertiser needs to schedule the broadcasting of that advertising. The media schedule, as defined by Hills, is "the combination of specific times (for example, by day, week, month) when advertisements are inserted into media vehicles and delivered to target audiences."

ADVERTISING MESSAGE An advertising message is guided by the "advertising or copy platform," which is a combination of the marketing objectives, copy, art, and production values. This combination is best realized after the target consumer has been analyzed, the product concept has been established, and the media and vehicles have been chosen. At this point, the advertising message can be directed at a very concrete audience to achieve very specific goals. Hiam and Schewe listed three major areas that an advertiser should consider when endeavoring to develop an effective "advertising platform":

* What are the product's unique features?
* How do consumers evaluate the product? What is likely to persuade them to purchase the product?
* How do competitors rank in the eyes of the consumer? Are there any weaknesses in their positions? What are their strengths?

Most business consultants recommend employing an advertising agency to create the art work and write the copy. However, many small businesses don't have the up-front capital to hire such an agency, and therefore need to create their own advertising pieces. When doing this a business owner needs to follow a few important guidelines.

COPY When composing advertising copy it is crucial to remember that the primary aim is to communicate information about the business and its products and services. The "selling proposal" can act as a blueprint here, ensuring that the advertising fits the overall marketing objectives. Many companies utilize a theme or a slogan as the centerpiece of such efforts, emphasizing major attributes of the business's products or services in the process. But as Hiam and Schewe caution, while "something must be used to animate the theme …care must be taken not to lose the underlying message in the pursuit of memorable advertising."

When writing the copy, direct language (saying exactly what you mean in a positive, rather than negative manner) has been shown to be the most effective. The theory here is that the less the audience has to interpret, or unravel the message, the easier the message will be to read, understand, and act upon. As Jerry Fisher observed in Entrepreneur, "Two-syllable phrases like 'free book,' 'fast help,' and 'lose weight' are the kind of advertising messages that don't need to be read to be effective. By that I mean they are so easy for the brain to interpret as a whole thought that they're 'read' in an eye blink rather than as linear verbiage. So for an advertiser trying to get attention in a world awash in advertising images, it makes sense to try this message-in-an-eye-blink route to the public consciousness—be it for a sales slogan or even a product name."

The copy content needs to be clearly written, following conventional grammatical guidelines. Of course, effective headings allow the reader to get a sense of the advertisement's central theme without having to read much of the copy. An advertisement that has "50% Off" in bold black letters is not just easy to read, but it is also easy to understand.

ART WORK AND LAYOUT Small business owners also need to consider the visual rhetoric of the advertisement, which simply means that the entire advertisement, including blank space, should have meaning and logic. Most industry experts recommend that advertisers use short paragraphs, lists, and catchy illustrations and graphics to break up and supplement the text and make the document both visually inviting and easy to understand. Remember, an advertisement has to capture the reader's attention quickly.

ADVERTISING BUDGET The advertising budget can be written before or after a business owner has developed the advertising strategy. When to make a budget decision depends on the importance of advertising and the resources available to the business. If, for instance, a business knows that they only have a certain amount of money for advertising then the budget will tend to dictate what advertising is developed and what the overall marketing objectives will be. On the other hand, if a business has the resources available, the advertising strategy can be developed to meet predetermined marketing objectives. For small businesses, it is usually best to put together an advertising budget early in the advertising process.

The following approaches are the most common methods of developing an effective budget. All the methods listed are progressive ones that look to perpetuate growth:

* Percentage of future or past sales
* Competitive approach
* Market share
* All available funds
* The task or objective approach

The easiest approach—and thus the one that is most often used—is the percentage of future or past sales method. Most industry experts recommend basing spending on anticipated sales, in order to ensure growth. But for a small business, where survival may be a bigger concern than growth, basing the advertising budget on past sales is often a more sensible approach to take.

METHODS OF ADVERTISING

Small business owners can choose from two opposite philosophies when preparing their advertising strategy. The first of these, sometimes called the push method, is a stance wherein an advertiser targets retail establishments in order to establish or broaden a market presence. The second option, sometimes called the pull method, targets end-users (consumers), who are expected to ask retailers for the product and thus help "pull" it through the channel of distribution. Of course, many businesses employ some hybrid of the two when putting together their advertising strategy.

PUSH METHOD The aim of the push method is to convince retailers, salespersons, or dealers to carry and promote the advertiser's product. This relationship is achieved by offering inducements, such as providing advertising kits to help the retailer sell the product, offering incentives to carry stock, and developing trade promotions.

PULL METHOD The aim of the pull method is to convince the target consumer to try, purchase, and ultimately repurchase the product. This process is achieved by directly appealing to the target consumer with coupons, in-store displays, and sweepstakes.

ANALYZING ADVERTISING RESULTS

Many small businesses are distressingly lax in taking steps to monitor whether their advertising efforts are having the desired effect. Instead, they simply throw a campaign out there and hope for the best, relying on a general sense of company health when determining whether to continue, terminate, or make adjustments to advertising campaigns. These small business owners do not seem to recognize that myriad factors can influence a business's fortunes (regional economic straits, arrival of new competition, seasonal buying fluctuations, etc.). The small business owner who does not bother to adequately analyze his or her advertising efforts runs the danger of throwing away a perfectly good advertising strategy (or retaining a dreadful one) if he or she is unable to determine whether business upturns or downturns are due to advertising or some other factor.

The only way to know with any accuracy how your advertising strategy is working is to ask the consumer, the opinions of whom can be gathered in several ways. Although many of the tracking alternatives are quite specialized, requiring either a large budget or extensive advertising research expertise, even small businesses can take steps to measure the effectiveness of their advertising strategies. The direct response survey is one of the most accurate means of measuring the effectiveness of a company's advertising for the simple reason that it measures actual responses to a business's advertisements. Other inexpensive options, such as use of redeemable coupons, can also prove helpful in determining the effectiveness of an advertising campaign.

ADVERTISING AGENCIES

The decision whether or not to use an advertising agency depends both on a company's advertising strategy and its financial resources. An agency has professionals who can organize, create, and place advertising so that it will meet established objectives better than most small businesses can do on their own, but of course the expense associated with soliciting such talent is often prohibitive for smaller companies. Still, some small- and mid-sized businesses have found that agencies can be helpful in shaping and monitoring advertising strategies.

Because of their resources and expertise, agencies are useful when a business is planning a broad advertising campaign that will require a large amount of resources. An advertising agency can also help track and analyze the effectiveness of the advertising. Some criteria to consider when choosing an agency include size of the agency, size of their clients (small companies should avoid allying themselves with agencies with a large stable of big corporate clients so that they are not treated as afterthoughts), length of time that the principals have been with the agency, the agency's general advertising philosophy, and the primary nature of the agency's accounts (are they familiar with your industry and the challenges involved in differentiating your company's products or services from others in that industry?).

ADVERTISING LAWS

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) protects consumers from deceptive or misleading advertising. Small business owners should be familiar with the following laws, which pertain to marketing and advertising and are enforced by the Commission:

* Consumer Product Safety Act—Outlines required safety guidelines and prohibits the sale of harmful products.
* Child Protection and Toy Safety Act—Prohibits the sale of toys known to be dangerous.
* Fair Packaging and Labeling Act—Requires that all packaged products contain a label disclosing all ingredients.
* Antitrust Laws—Protects trade and commerce from unlawful restraints, price deception, price fixing, and monopolies.

Many complaints against advertisers center on allegedly deceptive advertisements, so small business consultants urge entrepreneurs and business owners to heed the following general rules of thumb:

1. Avoid writing ads that make false claims or exaggerate the availability of the product or the savings the consumer will enjoy.
2. Avoid running out of advertised sale items. If this does happen, businesses should consider offering "rain-checks" so that the consumer can purchase the item later at the same reduced price.
3. Avoid calling a product "free" if it has cost closely associated with it. If there are costs associated with the free item they need to be clearly disclosed in the ad.

Since advertising is a complex process, and business law undergoes continual change, business owners should consult an attorney before distributing any advertising.

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