Effective Advertising for Small Businesses

By Barry Cohen, special to Overdrive

The Davids of the world will inevitably trump the Goliaths nearly every time. Why? Because they have to. Smaller companies have to make every dollar work. So, these folks have honed their skill in doing just that. Let’s look at a few ways to do this.

There are two sides to every successful marketing campaign— the media and the creative. In order for the media side to work, it must achieve both reach and frequency. For the creative to succeed, it must achieve both brand awareness and brand preference.

How do you out-advertise your competitors, even when you can’t outspend them? First, use media your competitors are not using. Don’t try to go head to head with someone who can bury you. Instead, go to a medium where you can be first, and you can be the dominant player in your product category. New Jersey trucking firm Cargo Logistics went on a radio station with high in-office listenership. When the boss told the secretary to ship it, she called the company.

You need to have a better value proposition than the other guy or gal. Bad offers in good media just won’t pull.  alue perception does not necessarily mean a lower price. It means offering something your customer sees as valuable— even if it doesn’t cost you much. When an auto dealer offers you one full year of scheduled maintenance with the purchase of a new car, you can put a tangible, quantifiable dollar value on that—probably enough to swing you over to that dealership—especially since the product is otherwise the same. 

People are jaded today, with buy-one, get-one offers. Don’t expect 10-percent off to motivate anyone to buy anything. If it’s a high-ticket item, state the savings as a dollar amount. It’s far more powerful to save US$200 on a piano than 10 percent, for example.

Next, you need a more impactful creative presentation of your message.  This doesn’t have to cost much.  We produced a low budget cable TV commercial for a French restaurant in the style of an old silent movie … with an actor dressed like a mime. It stood out. It has to get noticed, be remembered and acted upon. Guess what? It’s the same formula for a good direct mail campaign— get it opened, have it read and get them to act upon it.

Most locally produced advertising pales next to slick national ads, not because of the production values. Here’s the secret: they lack emotion, and emotion doesn’t cost a nickel more. Almost every purchase you can name is emotionally driven. We warmed up Palermo Plumbing Supply’s stock footage of showers, sinks and toilets from Kohler by running the sounds of children at play in the background. No models, no actors, no expensive photo or video shoots.

You must create a superior product position. While large auto dealers tell people they buy volume and pass the savings on to you, small town Ford dealer Ed Mullane took the opposite approach. He intoned in his gravelly voice, “Come to my bear bones cinder block showroom, where you don’t pay for any frills.” It worked … because it was believable. Who wants to pay for carpeting and crystal chandeliers?

Barry Cohen is the Managing Member of AdLab Media Communications, LLC, and author of the book, 10 Ways to Screw Up an Ad Campaign, and co-author of the Startup Smarts.  He has also written guest columns for Radio & Records, Floorcovering Weekly, Performance magazine, NJ Business and Tiempo de Mercadeo, and has addressed trade shows and conferences on the subject of effective advertising for smaller companies.

Categories: general


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