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Make your advertising work for you Add to ...

Every business needs advertising. Following a few basic rules will help you develop an effective message, choose the right medium and get the most out of an advertising agency.

The first step is to set your objective. Are you trying to introduce a new product, for example, or counter claims from your competition? Or is your aim to announce a special promotion or price?

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Next, define your target audience - the type of people you want to purchase your product or services.

Finally, identify the key benefit your business offers - the reason customers would want to buy from you: quality, service, price or some other motivator.

Every type of advertising vehicle offers pros and cons. In deciding which one best suits your goals, first assess your audience. What age group do your potential customers fall into? Are they male or female? What are their preoccupations and personal habits? Where are they most likely to see your ad? In what context are they most likely to respond to it? Where, when and how often is the ad circulated and seen? In what language is it published?

Answering the questions above will help you to select the advertising medium best suited to your needs and budget. The three main categories of advertising vehicles are:

  • Print media, such as newspapers, newsletters, magazines, circulars and signs. For small or medium-sized businesses, low-cost vehicles such as community newspapers, press releases and basic networking are worth considering.
  • Electronic media, including television and radio. Television is often expensive, with a return on investment that isn't always high enough for a small or medium-sized business to justify the expenditure. Radio ads can be produced locally and are usually less costly but provide no way of showing physically what your product looks like.
  • Online marketing vehicles such as e-newsletters, email campaigns and websites are popular given their broad reach and low cost. But be sure your target market uses the Internet in the first place

Remember, if your ads are amateurish, badly produced or appearing in the wrong places at the wrong time, your product will be diminished. The pointers listed below are valid for advertising in just about any medium.

  • Keep it simple; advertising is often misunderstood, and you want to avoid this.
  • Put your key message in the headline and avoid burying it.
  • Colour advertising is often more effective than black and white.
  • Avoid reverse type (white text on a background) as this is usually hard to read.
  • Use only high-quality photography and visuals.
  • Illustrate your print ads with photographs rather than drawings.
  • The larger the ad, the bigger the impact.
  • The more frequent the ad, particularly on television or radio, the more effective it is.
  • Ads on page one or inside covers generally reach more people.
  • Placing an ad next to a relevant article about your product is an effective way to attract attention.
  • The most effective ads typically show the product being used in someone's hands.
  • Use testimonials to build credibility.
  • Highlight the benefits of your product rather than its features, and avoid criticizing your competitors.
  • Being concise is important, but make sure people get the information they need to make a purchasing decision.

Get the most out of your communication specialist

Studios, advertising and communications agencies offer a wide range of services from conception to production. Typically, small agencies will give small and medium-sized businesses better service. A less expensive option is to hire a freelance copywriter or designer who can help you find the right concept and marry visuals with copy.

When you're trying to choose a firm, you may want to see proposals first. If so, you may have to pay a "pitch fee" up front since agencies won't generally dedicate time or money to develop detailed proposals unless they think they stand to generate a substantial payoff later.

If the agency sends its top people to make a sale, make sure you know who will be handling the account if you give that company the job. Make sure as well that you have a written contract, with all parties specifying deadlines and costs, including overtime, copywriting, photography, translation, project management and printing.

Once you've made your choice, remember that no one knows more about your company than you. By all means, give the agency the information they need to do their work, including your objectives, target audience and the key customer benefit of your product or service. But let the agency do their work. Don't tell its staff how to write or design. It's also a good idea to simplify the approval process by allowing a limited number of people to deal with the agency and sign off on the project.

If you're considering online advertising, consult an agency that specializes in e-marketing. Make sure you get a guarantee of service stipulating that if a website goes down or your ads are not shown, your contract will be extended for the period of time that was missed.

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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