10 steps to great advertising

Thinking of running ads? Before you start throwing money at the wall to see what sticks, take the time to make sure you make the most of your advertising dollars.

#1. Plan ahead

When planning your marketing year ahead, include any advertising you’re thinking of doing. I urge you to think proactively instead of reacting in your business.

Often business owners will experience a boom period where the business is busy working on large jobs or many sales, but when that finishes they realize in a panic they don’t know where their next customer is coming from. Suddenly, they’re vulnerable to making bad marketing decisions, wasting money and wasting time.

If you know your work is seasonal and drops off at a certain time of the year, start thinking of ways to bring in more business during that quiet period. If you decide to advertise as part of your strategy in this, you have time to prepare in advance.

If you’re working with deadlines know what you’ve got to do ahead of time and get it done. The last minute scramble is always frustrating and stressful. Give yourself time - time to prepare any stock or equipment, give the heads up to your staff, and time to get design, photography or copy writing sorted.

#2. Determine your market and target them

Know who you want to appeal to! Do you want to appeal to people like your current or previous customers? Do you want to reach a whole new audience?

The words, photography or video and design you choose will appeal to different types of people. Knowing the age group, location, gender, occupation and attitudes of your target market will go a long way to helping you create your ads.

People are attracted to people who look like them, so when choosing images, models, or video talent try and find people that look like your audience. Think about age, gender, nationality, social status.

Remember, you are providing a solution to their problem, you need to show that you understand them, understand their problem and that your solution works.

#3. Choose the right media

Don’t choose your media until you know exactly who your audience is. Why? Because different types of media appeal to and target different types of people.

Newspapers might target people in a particular geographical location, where magazines might target people with specific interests or careers. Even digital platforms like social media, apps and display advertising will appeal to different age groups and levels of technological comfort.

The key is making sure a majority of your target market will be there. Advertising is a numbers game - yes target your specific audience with a specific message, but it helps if you’re reaching a lot of that group in the first place.

Don’t bother with Tik Tok if you’re targeting retirees, but if you’re targeting teens you’re more likely to reach them.

Also think about how long your ad will be ‘live’ on this media. Will it be long enough to make a meaningful impact? Can you remove it early if you have an overwhelming response and run out of stock or time? How much flexibility and control do you have (ie. can you make tweaks as you go?)

#4. Make it measurable

The most important thing you can do in your advertising is making sure that you can track your Return on Investment.

Set goals and a way to measure those goals with your media. Online advertising allows for great analytics - you can measure how many impressions (views) your ad got, how many interactions (eg likes, comments, shares - especially on Facebook,) how many clicked on your ad (click-through rate) and how many people then went on to make a purchase (conversion.)

With traditional media like newspaper or radio it can be harder to track how many people you reach.

There are ways around this, albeit manual ones. You could use an offer that is unique to that media, and track conversions by how many people take advantage of that offer, use discount codes, coupons, or simply ask where they heard about you. Or, take it from print to digital with a unique QR code specific to that ad and measure results from scans.

#5. Make a clear offer

I mentioned a problem earlier - the problem your customers have that you solve. When you’re preparing copy for your ad, make sure you write from the perspective of solving a problem, instead of selling your product (or service.)

Make what you offer very clear, specify the benefits customers can enjoy and the pain they can avoid. Address any concerns customers might have about your business with tactics to make the transaction as risk-free and painless as possible.

Is there limited parking around your take-away restaurant? Offer free delivery. Are you a new business? Share some customer testimonials as ‘social proof.’ Offer a guarantee or free trial to give customers peace of mind about buying from you.

#6. Make sure you can deliver

Before you start, take a moment to think through the practical aspects of running your ad.

How much money are you expecting to spend (including hiring services like designers, photographers or copywriters) and how many sales or billable hours do you need to make before you will break even? How many to make a profit?

Next consider demand - will you have enough stock or hours to cope with a very positive response to your advertising? If someone reaches out in response to your ad, only to find you’ve sold out already or are booked up for the next three months, your ad will have lost you customers and maybe even bring complaints against you.

Are your staff aware of the ad and able to respond to demand? If you’re offering a sale or special, make sure they know about it so they come across as helpful, knowledgeable and competent.

Think realistically about possible results. What would a low or poor result be? What would a positive result be? What would an overwhelming result be? Plan accordingly, taking into consideration any lead times for supplies and balancing cashflow with inventory.

#7. Always include a Call To Action (CTA)

You’re probably trying to get paying customers through the door, rather than making people aware of your general existence so giving a clear action for people to take will increase your chances of making a sale. Think about an incentive, like a discount, free delivery, or bonus item to make your offer a ‘no brainer.’

Your ad can have the most eye-catching design and compelling copy, but without a call to action you’ll leave people falling flat. Tell them what to do next, and make it easy for them to do it.

#8. Test Variables

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! But if your ad is not doing so well, try switching up certain elements to see if you can do better. Perhaps the headline isn’t interesting enough to get attention, or maybe your photo or graphic is uninteresting. Maybe your body copy isn’t clear enough about what you do, or maybe you’re trying to write for a too-broad audience.

Testing variables needs two things: time, and numbers. At the end of the day, it can be hard to tell what components went towards making something work or not, you just have to use your gut, ask for feedback and keep trying.

#9. Get analytical

You’ve set up the ability to track your results - once your ad has been running for a while it’s time to start making sense of the data. If your ad is running for a longer period than a week, it’s probably worth looking at the numbers a few times - at the start, towards the middle and after the ad has finished running.

Most digital advertising will give you a good breakdown of numbers - the costs per impression or click, as well as overall number of impressions or clicks. If you’re manually tracking, as with print, review how many people have come to you or took you up on your unique offer.

#10. Review, revise, repeat!

Once your ad has finished running, sit down and see what worked, and what didn’t. Review your goals, and measure whether those were met or not. If you met all your goals, great! You’ve found something that works. Think about repeating this for next time.

If you didn’t meet all, or some of your goals consider reasons why this might be. Sometimes the messaging, offer or design aren’t appealing enough, sometimes it’s just bad timing. Consider the greater economic situation, the area you’re targeting, your audience, and then the numbers from running your ad. Marketing is all about experimenting. Start from a logical place with your audience and platform, try different things and see what works.

Next time you run advertising, I hope you follow these practices for the best return on your time and money. An unsuccessful ad will teach you as much as a successful one, you just need to know what to look for.

Still want some help getting your marketing sorted? Check out my Think Like A Marketer programme for 3 months coaching to make your marketing more efficient, enjoyable and strategic.