With the current economic downturn and digital initiatives changing all the rules, if you’re not planning your advertising a year ahead, this is the year you should start.

Start with a Review

First, review your advertising from the past year and determine what gave you enough results to consider doing it again.

Rule of thumb: If something is working, keep doing it until it stops!

If you are unable to determine with any certainty what worked, then assume nothing worked and make it a priority to determine how you are going to track your ads in the coming year.

How Can You Track Your Advertising?

There are many ways to track advertising. The accuracy of the tracking will depend on the form of advertising you are doing, the method, and your diligence.

Advertising such as billboards or radio are harder to track than direct mail, digital, and print. It is important to plan how you are going to track your advertising when you are deciding what media you intend to use. If you choose radio or billboard you will need to incorporate creativity to effectively track your results.

Here are some effective ways we have found to track mass media advertising, based on our experience working with advertisers in Central Pennsylvania and beyond:

1. Do a monthly drawing for a prize giveaway each month for at least a year to build data. Offer a prize like dinner for two at a nice restaurant. On the registration include a questioner such as what radio station have you listened to and what newspaper have you read in the past day or two. This is better than asking, “How did you hear about us” because people rarely remember. If over a period of three to six months you see a trend of more mentions for the media you are using, that is a good indication that media is working. This is also a great way to build a mail and email list.

2. Surveying with the right question may be all it takes, but you need to be diligent in asking. Sylvan Learning Center’s national call center asks the question “what made you call us today.” The key word is today. Since most advertising works after the message is delivered numerous times, it is likely the respondent will think back and remember the last time they were exposed to a Sylvan ad.

3. Ask your customers directly if they have seen or heard your ad in the specific media you are using. While some may consider this to be aided questioning, I believe the majority of people will not tell you they saw or heard your ad if they did not. But there is a possibility of the respondent telling you what they think you want to hear. So this method takes some intuition on the part of the surveyor.

4. Coupons are certainly a tried and true method. But consider that when you use coupons you are also testing the strength of the offer and any other part of your over-all marketing strategy. Your ad may reach a large audience but if the coupon is not suited to the product or service and if the audience and product are not well matched then it is likely no offer will get you results.

5. Compare records from one year to the next. Do this over a period of three or four years and you should begin to see trends that can be very good indicators as to the success of your advertising and your marketing plan. Keep daily records of:

a. The number of customers in the store
b. The number of sales
c. Where each customer lives
d. The average amount of each sale each month
e. Weather conditions
f. Competitive business activities
g. Internal operations such as employees off or other special situations

Choose Your Advertising Media

You will need a marketing strategy to help you determine what media to use. The marketing strategy will help determine factors such as the target market demographics, life styles, and geography. Many businesses are moving away from traditional mass media in favor of more targeted digital media. Some advertisers will get so excited about the results they get from advertising methods such as emails they will stop all other forms of advertising. Others will use powerful media such as email in moderation and use a media mix to reach out to new customers as well as targeting their existing customer bases.

Web Sites
One media everyone should use in some form or another is the Internet. Creating a basic web site is relatively cheap and easy to do. Plus it is becoming expected that all businesses have a presence on the Internet beyond a listing on the phone book pages. If a web site is not something your customers would use as a rule, you should still have one just for credibility and basic information.

That being said, your web site may or may not be an integral part of your advertising strategy. This will depend on your business model and how you determine to best attract customers. If your business is based on walk in customers like a quick lube business, your web site may not be a focus of your advertising effort. But if your quick lube offers on-line coupons or you want your customers to make appointments then your web site could then be a very important part of your advertising.

Traditional Media – A Few Things to Consider
Traditional media such as radio, cable, TV, billboard and newspaper are still the primary mass advertising media in Central Pennsylvania. Due to technology, consumer habits are changing. Time spent with traditional media is shrinking and the fractionalization of channels plus intrusive on-demand and digital video recorders are making these medias less attractive to advertisers. While billboard messages are limited, they can target audience geographically, and billboard is the only mass media not losing audience.

To preserve their value and compensate for loss of audience, radio stations in Central Pennsylvania have lowered rates… but buy with caution. Cheap is not always best. Stations package their strength with their weakness and 30 seconds is the new one-minute ad. Remember being creative is very hard to achieve in a small time frame. Some stations are also offering special rates if the advertiser runs at less premium time, so remember when you pay less you get less. The newspapers are also lowering rates, but like radio, you should be aware that low rates may also mean less return.

Rule of Thumb: Assume when media is offering a package, they offer it to solve their inventory problem, not your advertising objective.

New Media – Digital Media
There are many forms of new digital media. The most well know form is the e-blast or email marketing. This is a form of advertising almost any business can use cost effectively. We recommend you use one of the major companies providing e-mail marketing services such as Constant Contact or Mail Chimp. Without any computer skills, these companies make it easy to set up a great looking e-mail to send to your mailing list. Another huge advantage to e-blast is the ability to track. When you use one of the professional e-mail marketing companies they offer ways to see how many people actually click on your e-mails as well as other information. Never send an e-blast without an opt-out option.

Most of the new digital media you are hearing about are NOT MASS MEDIA. E-blasts are targeted marketing. Targeted marketing is always most efficient if you can zero in on your target New media such as social media services Facebook, Myspace and Twitter have not yet proven to be efficient due to the amount of time and effort needed to work the sites. Another new digital concept that has had a lot of notice this past year is text messaging. Again, this concept is still ahead of it’s time because the number of people using text messaging regularly is limited, especially here in Central Pennsylvania. Another problem with texting is it costs the user money. Very few people want to spend money to receive an advertising message. However, in time we believe as the cost comes down and more people adopt this method of communication, texting will become more viable.

There is one other form of new digital media that is actually somewhat of a cross between mass media and targeted media. Digital sign networks have the ability to reach audiences as large or larger than traditional mass media. At the same time digital signage can target audiences by location. This is sometimes referred to as place based advertising. If you want to reach tourists, advertising on a digital sign network located at a tourist destination has proven successful for many advertisers in Central Pennsylvania. Beware of the perception that people do not look at digital signs. This perception is being created by traditional media threatened by digital signage because of its ability to reach large audiences much cheaper. Plus, digital signage has the ability to be very flexible with the ability to program the ads on the video screens across networks instantaneously from one remote location. One other very powerful use of digital signage is at point of sale. It is widely known that point of sale advertising is effective because in most cases the best time to advertise to an audience is as close to the time when they are making purchase decisions. If you are a retailer or even a professional office such as a dentist, seriously consider how digital signage can increase your sales.

Media Mix
This year, we are recommending our clients learn how to utilize the best of all worlds with a media mix of new digital media and traditional media. Traditional mass media is and will probably always be, important to reach new customers. Once customers are developed, targeted media like e-mail comes into play.

How Much Should I Spend On Advertising?

There is no simple answer to this question. A good place to start is by looking at what advertisers in your industry spent last year as an average. You can see this information by downloading this document containing average advertising expenditures by most industries. This information will tell you if you are spending over or under the national average. If you are a new business or launching a new product or service, you will probably need to spend more. If you are established and have a good marketing plan with an efficient advertising program you may be able to spend less.

If you would like to know more about planning an advertising or marketing strategy, or would like a free one hour consultation on the subject, please contact AIM at 1-800-598-5038