Firstly, recognize the difference between "Advertising" and "Marketing"; they're often used as interchangeable terms, but they're actually quite different from each other. Marketing is the systematic planning, implementation and control of a mix of business activities intended to bring together buyers and sellers for the mutually advantageous exchange or transfer of products. Advertising is only one component of a well designed marketing plan.
Starting a marketing plan means asking yourself some basic questions about your organization:
- What industry is your business/organization in?
- Who does your organization serve? What types of businesses or individuals make up your current customer base?
- Who does your target market represent? Are you looking to attract the same type of leads as your current customer base, or are you targeting new market segments?
- What it is that your target market needs?
- Does your organization have your competitors? Who are they?
- What makes your business or organization different from your competitors?
- Make a list of the benefits that derive from your product or services. What items are unique to your industry or set you apart from your competitors?
- What overall message or impressions about your organization do you want your audience to take away from your marketing?
One of the most important steps is to set an advertising budget. While a general guideline is 5% to 10% of sales, these numbers will vary depending on your industry and what you're selling. Doing a bit of research within your own marketplace can assist you in determining an appropriate amount. If you are like the majority of small business owners your marketing budget is limited. The most effective way is to create a well rounded program that combines sales activities with your marketing tactics. Your sales activities will not only decrease your out-of-pocket marketing expense but it also adds the value of interacting with your prospective customers and clients. This interaction will provide you with a quality source of market research.
With a budget set, the outline of your message and a firm commitment to keep advertising regularly for at least a year, your next steps should be to determine what medium will serve your needs best. This will be decided in large part by your budget and where your marketing audience is. Examples include newspapers and magazines, radio and television, direct mail, e-marketing and even outdoor advertising.
For example, direct mail advertising can be a very powerful means if you can target your audience creatively and effectively. To get the results you're looking for, you'll need to reach them with a high level of frequency and focus, not only on the customer base you already have but also potential customers in markets you may not have considered. Whatever means you choose, fun and creativity is the key to any successful marketing campaign; to grab people's attention you need to be memorable.
Just because you're on a limited budget doesn't mean you can't compete with the big dogs! There are many creative and non-traditional ways to advertise your service or business:
- Call your vendors or associates and ask them to participate with you in co-op advertising, where your vendor pays for a portion of the advertising costs inconsideration for having their products featured.
- What about co-marketing with a kindred business? If you're selling cheeses and gourmet items, maybe you can contact a local wine merchant and exchange marketing materials or product samples?
- What about the local media? Free publicity has the potential to boost your business. By doing this you position yourself as an expert in your field.
- Is there a special event coming to town? If you are willing to sell those tickets or offer promotional assistance, it could mean free radio or TV publicity.
- How about a charity or fund drive that may be taking place in your area, why not be provide a public service outreach and distribute their material?
- Don't forget to mine your existing customer base! Take some time to send your existing customers' referrals and buying incentives.
Finally, no matter how much you do spend on marketing and advertising, do not forget to create a way to track your efforts. Some do this by coding ads or coupons, or using multiple toll-free telephone numbers or web landing pages. Most important and oft overlooked is simply asking prospects where they heard about you. This enables you to notice when a marketing tactic isn't working and allows you to quickly replace it with a better choice or method.