Advertising: the basics

Advertising is a way of marketing your business in order to increase sales, attract new customers or make your audience aware of your products or services.

Guide

7 min read

1. Overview

Advertising is a way of marketing your business in order to increase sales or make your audience aware of your products or services. Until a customer deals with you directly and actually buys your products or services, your advertising may help to form their first impressions of your business.

This guide gives advice on where and how to advertise, and what advertising can achieve. It also shows you how to manage the advertising process and ensure you get value for money.

2. Advertising: the benefits

Advertising can:

  • provide basic information such as your contact details and website address
  • increase sales by telling potential customers about your product or service
  • tell customers about changes to your service, new product launches, special offers and improvements
  • prompt specific action - perhaps getting customers to visit your premises or website, or use a discount voucher by a specified time
  • remind existing customers about your business
  • change people's attitudes and perceptions of your business
  • help to create or develop a distinctive brand for your business
  • generate awareness of your business
  • develop a particular market niche or position

Target your customers

Decide whether your target audience is local or regional, national or international, or a mixture. Before selecting a type of media, you should find out from the media business and other independent sources about their circulation or audience figures. Basically, you need to know how many, where and who to. Figures can normally be broken down into age groups, average income and other useful indicators.

Remember you have a duty to ensure that your advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful. The Advertising Standards Authority has information on advertising codes.

3. Types of advertising

Local advertising

Advertising locally can benefit any business, especially small businesses and sole traders. Examples of local advertising include:

  • leaflet drops
  • supermarket boards, postcards in shop windows
  • advertising space rented at railway stations, bus stops or on buses, roundabout islands, leisure centres or doctors' surgeries
  • local organisations' newsletters, programmes and magazines
  • a sign outside your business premises
  • local and regional newspapers, magazines and directories

Internet/online directories

Advertising on the internet can be cost-effective and gives national and international coverage that you may otherwise be unable to afford. Examples of internet advertising include:

  • Advertising on your own website - ensure your website is up to date, relevant and geared towards increasing sales. Make it easy for your customers to find their way around their website, and order from and contact you.
  • Advertising your business on other websites - use banner and pop-up advertising to promote your business and link through to your own website.
  • getting into an online directory - you get set up entries with directories like Yell.com and ThompsonLocal.com, as well as more specialised directories.

Trade and technical press

If your business sells to other businesses, advertisements in these publications can be a useful way of gaining sales, product enquiries, higher profile, trade partnerships and even potential investors.

Radio

Most people listen to the radio for music or comment - often while doing other things - and so your advert will rely on repetition to have any effect. You could consider sponsoring certain features, such as the weather or travel news to make your adverts stand out.

Cinema

Local cinema advertising offers a captive audience with a long dwell time for your advertisements.

Outdoor advertising

Outdoor advertising includes every outdoor medium from static billboards to moving adverts, eg on buses. You may need planning permission for some types of outdoor advertising, ie most posters and some types of signs.

National papers, magazines and TV

These can be costly but can help you reach a wide audience. You should get guidance on readership and audience figures before deciding to advertise nationally.

4. Advertising campaign planning

Advertising can increase sales by telling potential and current customers about your new product launches, special offers and improvements. Apart from reminding current customers about your business, advertising can also help to create or develop a distinctive brand for your business.

Target your customers

Many businesses launch advertising campaigns to boost sales, increase brand awareness or launch a new product. You could consider an introductory offer to give people an incentive to visit or call.

However you will need to decide whether your target audience is local or regional, national or international, or a mixture. This will affeect the type of media you select. You should find out from the media business and other independent sources about their circulation or audience figures. Figures can normally be broken down into age groups, average income and other useful indicators.

Remember you have a duty to ensure that your advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful. The Advertising Standards Authority has information on advertising codes.

Can you plan the campaign yourself?

You should think carefully about what you want to achieve and the message you want the reader, viewer or listener to take away. Advertising is only effective if you reach your target audience with a message that makes them want to buy or at least find out more.

You may be able to design and produce an advertisement for printed media yourself. But if your advertising needs are more demanding than an occasional, low-priced local advertisement, you may want to outsource your advertising to an advertising agency. This is only suitable if you are prepared to pay the extra cost, but having your adverts professionally designed can improve their success.

5. Advertising: value for money

Work out a maximum budget. Identify which options give the best possible return - it could be one or two adverts in a more expensive medium, or several adverts in cheaper outlets.

If it's your first campaign, reduce your risks by seeking advice from other people in your industry and finding out what works for them.

Get information about the media you're considering - particularly figures for the audience or readership and how close they are to your target market.

Negotiate for a better advertising deal

All advertising media companies produce rate cards - information on the rates they charge for advertising. But it is usual to negotiate on the final price, according to the type of campaign you want. Negotiating could get you a price reduction, a repeat that's free or discounted, or a better position in the publication.

Ensure any print advertisement is in the best possible position. Remember that:

  • right-hand pages, especially early right hand pages (those in the early part of the publication), catch the reader's eye the most
  • an advertisement selling greenhouses, for example, should be on a page devoted to gardening
  • the most effective place for your newspaper advertisement is either page one or three - preferably in the bottom right-hand corner
  • if your advertisement has a coupon - for readers to cut out and send in - make sure it is placed at the edge of the page

6. Advertising campaign monitoring and management

A good advertising campaign can pull in the orders - but make sure you can deal with the response. You should determine the expected response level and check you have enough resources to meet it.

You may need a system to ensure leads aren't missed. For example, you could design a standard enquiry form to be used by people fielding calls. The main aim is to find out as much as possible about what the caller wants.

Monitoring an advertising campaign

Each time you take an enquiry or make a sale, ask how the customer heard of you. This lets you know which advertising or other marketing activities are most effective. Check to see if there are any patterns in enquiries relating to when and where your advertisements are displayed.

If you include vouchers in print advertisements, use a different code for each publication they appear in. This allows you to pinpoint where incoming vouchers have come from.

You should look at the kind of sales each advertisement generates and whether they have a good profit margin.

Note that some advertisements may have delayed results. One person may order the next day, another might wait a few weeks or even months. More expensive products may not be purchased very often by consumers, and so your advertising may be targeted at keeping your brand at the front of people's minds for future reference. Advertising aimed at increasing brand awareness is always harder to measure because it does not transfer directly into sales.

7. Write an advertisement

An advert should be tailored to the type of print media and the potential reader's interests and habits. For example, if you sell gardening equipment, you might write a longer advert for a gardening magazine - where you can assume that the reader is already interested in the subject and so is more likely to read all the text. Likewise, you might write a shorter advert for a more general newspaper.

A good advertisement should have:

  • A well-targeted headline - this should catch the reader's attention and make them want to read on.
  • Clear design - don't clutter the layout and avoid small or complicated typefaces. Make sure your contact details are easily visible.
  • Well-written text, or 'copy' - good copy draws attention to the benefits of the product or service and should answer the question, 'what's in it for me?'

Remember that businesses have a duty to ensure their advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful. The Advertising Standards Authority has information on advertising codes.

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