Small Business Advertising Basics

In the broadest sense, anything that promotes your business might be considered advertising, whether it's a radio spot, a brochure, or a booth at a trade show. But the term advertising usually refers to paid commercial messages in newspapers or magazines or on radio, television, the Internet, wireless devices, or billboards.

Be creative and effectively consider your target audience: where they live, work, and play, and the stores and restaurants that they frequent. What sets your business apart? What are the key benefits of your product or service? Advertising shouldn't focus on features but on benefits: what your product or service will do for the customer. Your audience wants to know what's in it for them.

Here's a rundown of the key media options for advertising your small business:

  • Newspapers: An inexpensive way to reach a mass audience, they are flexible and the ads are reasonably priced. They are ideal to promote a sale or a special deal on your product or service because you can usually get an ad inserted into a newspaper within a very short time frame. Newspapers carry a lot of ads, however, so there's a risk that yours may get lost in the clutter. Something else to consider: Most newspapers have an online edition and you can often get a better deal when you buy space in both the newspaper and on its website.
  • Magazines: They offer a slightly better opportunity than newspapers to catch a reader's attention, but they typically cost more. Magazines are good for promoting your company's image and building its credibility. Trade magazines and general business publications are worthwhile for business-to-business advertising.
  • Radio: A relatively low-cost, high-impact choice for local advertising, it's one of the best ways to reach a targeted market; however, its cost is slightly higher than print ads. Repetition is especially important in radio advertising.
  • Television: It is extremely high-impact, but spots on major networks are expensive. Cable channels that will air your ad in select markets are more affordable. There are services that will help you produce and air spots in local markets. You can check out Google AdWords to find out how to create your own TV ad and how to buy advertising space.
  • Outdoor advertising: It offers high visibility, and the cost per viewer is relatively low. But outdoor ads, such as billboards and public transit ads, are best used in conjunction with other forms of advertising.
  • Internet: This offers a means to rapidly adjust your advertising reach. Tools such as Google Adsense enable you to analyze a broad number of metrics such as click-through rates.
  • Mobile: This is the fastest-growing ad category. Advertising that can be sent to and viewed on cell phones will continue to grow as more people purchase smartphones with increasing video capabilities.

It's better to be dominant in one medium than to have a minimal presence in many. So try one advertising medium at a time, and give it a chance to work. When it does, make sure you have the inventory and staff to handle increased demand.


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