Successful advertising takes research

Featured Friday, October 7, 2011, 3:00am PDT in the Sacramento Business Journal

Customer input, message strength determine campaign effectiveness

Does advertising work? All business owners have asked themselves this question at one point or another. The answer? Yes. And no.

Yes when advertising is done right. No when companies either dabble in it or are not committed to their advertising. For advertising to work, there are a number of important elements that must come into play.

The first is knowing your customer. Have you ever done research to validate the assumptions you have about who your customers are or what they really want? Professional research isn’t cheap, but it’s invaluable to creating a successful marketing program. If budgets are a constraint, you can conduct your own research with easy and cheap online tools such as SurveyMonkey. Your results might not be statistically valid, but at least you can get an idea of where you stand with your clients.

Second, what is it you’re selling? For example, what does Mercedes sell? You might answer “cars.” But, with so many different cars on the market, how could it possibly compete? Beyond its product, it sells a lifestyle choice, service and prestige. Similarly, you must determine the intangibles that set you apart from your competitors. If you don’t know what makes you different from them, then it’s time to carve out a niche of your own.

Third, craft a compelling message. Is it memorable? Does it mean anything? Two great consistent and compelling messages include, “Just Do It” and “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” What makes these so great? I don’t even need to tell you which companies those taglines belong to ­— you already know. Now granted, those companies have spent millions to tell their story, but those messages speak to the brand and resonate with its target audience. Find out what message resonates with your target audience, and then own it!

Fourth, have a unified plan. Advertising is not the end all and be all. If you advertise, you need to live up to what it is you’re promising. Every point of brand interaction needs to be consistent and support your brand promise. If your company is selling great service, you’d better sell it at every level — from the way your receptionist answers the phone to the experience your customers have on your website.

And last, be sure to establish a realistic media budget that provides your business enough frequency to be effective. What’s enough frequency? About the time you start getting tired of hearing or seeing your campaign is about the time your target audience begins to take notice. No matter how well you know your audience, what you’re selling, how compelling your message is or how unified your plan, if you’re not investing enough to get it noticed, heard and most importantly, remembered, then no, your advertising will never work.

So, the question you need to ask as a business owner is not whether advertising works but, rather, does YOURS?

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