How to Get Started with Advertising (Online and Offline)

Advertising seems deceptively simple. A creative person creates an ad, and then you pay someone—a magazine, a radio station, Facebook, Google, a billboard owner—to run your ad. If that was all there is to it, getting started with advertising would be simple.

But of course it isn’t that simple, because the goal isn’t just displaying an ad. The goal is to create an advertising campaign that helps drive revenue. Doing that means thinking through who needs to see the ad, where they will be most receptive to it, and how much investment it will take to get noticed.

So, even before you get your designer and your copywriter lined up to create a killer ad, you will need to do a little strategizing. Approaching your advertising in this way will eliminate a lot of blind alleys and help you to see a return on your advertising dollars sooner.

Note: The advice I am about to share here covers advertising both online and offline. Although the mediums are different, the basic principles are the same. In fact, part of getting started with advertising is thinking through what your channels are—that is, where you plan to advertise. Some companies do best advertising solely online, some do better with more traditional ads, and most will do best with a mix.

To get started with advertising, you need to determine five things:

  1. Your goals and purpose of your advertising,
  2. Your audience,
  3. Your channels,
  4. Your budget, and
  5. Timing.

Goals and Purpose: Having Realistic Expectations for Your Advertising

Before you start thinking about the when, where, and how much to advertise, consider why you are paying for advertising in the first place. Every piece of advertising should have a purpose that ties in directly with your marketing goals

Too often, I have heard business owners say that the purpose of their advertising is “just to have the phone ring.” (And who doesn’t want that?) But think for a moment: Is that a realistic goal? How many times have you yourself seen an ad and immediately called the business? Probably precious few.

The purpose of most advertising is not to make the phones ring or usher customers through the door. The purpose of most advertising is awareness. For most businesses, clients and customers go through an entire process before they buy—a customer journey. Ads play a key role in that journey: They reinforce the brand and help aid in recognition during other parts of the journey.

This does not mean that advertising doesn’t prompt any action. To the contrary: Business ads work best when there is something specific they bring to the viewer’s attention. For example, ads are commonly tied to:

  • The launch of a new product or service
  • A special offer or discount (20% off, a special sale, etc.) 
  • A specific event (for example, a new location opening, a charity event, etc.)
  • Seasonal trends/offers
  • A rebrand

For getting started with your own advertising, ask yourself: What do I want my audience to think, feel, and do when they see my advertisement? How does that tie in with my overall marketing plan and marketing goals?

Audience: Who Your Ads Need to Reach

Remember: Your audience is not “everyone.” Even if everyone could use your product or service, that doesn’t mean it will appeal to everyone.

For example: I once met a marketing professional for a company that made customized mattresses. They insisted that they need to advertise to everyone, because “Hey, everyone sleeps!” While true, they were missing what was appealing about the ability to customize. While a student might buy any old mattress “off the shelf” if the price were right, a customized mattress might be just the ticket for someone with a medical condition. Or someone with an odd-shaped bed. Or a hipster who just loves the idea of bespoke bedding.

This is the time to drill down and figure out the personas that you want to reach—and the more detailed, the better. Who has a problem that your product or service solves? Who would pay their hard-earned money to make that problem go away?

Determining your audience is an exercise you should have done for your marketing plan anyway, but when you are looking to advertise, it’s a good idea to brush off that research and make sure everything aligns. Remember: Different ad campaigns can appeal to different personas. Ads allow you to fine-tune your messaging and your offer for specific audiences.

Channels: Where is that Audience Paying Attention?

To be effective, good ads have to get the audience’s attention. But, speaking metaphorically, a person standing in the middle of a wide open field can flail their arms and scream their head off, but they will never be noticed if no one is around to hear them. Likewise, you might have the best ads in the world, but if they aren’t where your audience is, it won’t matter.

So where can you find your audience? A good way to start answering this question is to ask your current clients. For example, suppose you are a medical device company that sells to clinics and small practices. Take some time to interview your top 20 or so customers and ask them:

  • Where do you go to find the latest information in your industry or trade?
  • Where do you go to find information about the latest products and services?
  • When you are (or were) in the market for a new product, how did you begin your search?
  • Where have you noticed other brands being advertised recently?
  • (One of my personal favorites): If we were to disappear tomorrow, where would you go to find a similar vendor?

Your best clients will tell you when and where they are most open to advertising opportunities. For example, they might tell you that they do a Google search, or that they frequent trade shows, or even that they see ads for things they might try on billboards while driving.

Outside of interviewing current customers, you can do a little sleuthing on your own. For example, on which platforms (or in which venues) do your competitors advertise? How are customers currently finding your website or business entry? (Hint: Look at your web analytics.) Talk to influencers in your space. All of these will give you some clues as to where your audience is both online and off.

Budget: Determining What You Can (Reasonably) Spend on Advertising and Get a Return

Let’s be honest: Advertising can get expensive.

That said, the more you advertise, the more you will build awareness for your brand. This is why many experts will answer the question “How much should I spend on advertising” by saying “As much as possible—while staying profitable.”

Of course, it’s that last part that is tricky. All marketing tactics have diminishing returns at some point, and going beyond that point means you won’t see a return on your investment. Then again, all tactics also have a minimum investment too; if you don’t make that investment, you won’t move the needle.

A good way to determine your budget is to start by looking at your ideal marketing spend. Every industry is a little different, but the average marketing spend is about 9.1% of gross revenue. Of that marketing budget, roughly 20% should go toward advertising costs. Again, this is a rough guide—your actual needed spend might vary depending on your audience, your product (or service), your industry, and market conditions.

Once you start advertising, you will want to measure the effectiveness of that advertising by looking at impressions, share of voice, and ultimately return on ad spend (ROAS). Metrics are much easier to collect for digital ads in their various forms, but keep in mind: They are a double-edged sword. Ads are easier to track and evaluate, but it is also easy to get hung up on “vanity metrics” that don’t tie into revenue in any meaningful way. And even if they do tie into revenue, they might only measure ads that drove a “last step” action—for example, an immediate click or purchase. In reality, purchases likely happened because a customer saw many ads over time, in many different channels and mediums. Many memorable and effective ads would be overlooked today by marketers only considering first step/last step attribution.

Timing: When Should Your Ads Run?

In some cases, the timing of your ads will be obvious. For example, if you are advertising an upcoming sale happening on a certain date, you will want your ads to run in the weeks prior to that sale. (And you will want to have your creative done and approved a few weeks to a month before that, which means planning out your ads at least a quarter in advance.) This is true of many of the examples given in the “goals and purposes” section above.

In other cases, the timing might not be so obvious. For example, advertising a 20% off special could happen at theoretically any time. In these cases, consider the following:

  • When will the impact of the ad matter most? For example, your ads might be most helpful when sales are slow, or when competitors are advertising, too.
  • When will the ad be seen most often? For example, if you are in the B2B space, summer might be a tough time to advertise as many people take vacations and are disengaged from their usual channels. Those same people might re-engage, however, as an industry trade show draws near.
  • What pace will your budget allow? If you have the budget, use it. But if you know you will need that budget for an upcoming event, it makes sense to save some reserve funds for a bigger push as that event draws near. Pace yourself.

Getting Started on the Right Path

Spending money on advertising is not hard. But actually planning out your advertising so you see a return on your ad spend takes some planning and thought. The above steps will start you on the right path for thinking through your advertising. Audience, channels, budget, and timing are critical elements for ensuring you are not simply throwing money down the drain.

Oftentimes, it helps to have a partner with whom to work through these elements and bounce some ideas off of them. If that’s you, why don’t you schedule a roadmap call with us?

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