Are you a person who seeks instant gratification with one-shot wonders or are you an investor in longer-term relationships? I'm referring to your advertising strategy, of course.
Many businesses believe advertising should be linked to a sale or event. Car dealers, for example, hope for instant results every weekend. They advertise a big sale, bring in balloons, slap on sale stickers and wait for buyers to flock to their stores.
It often works, but innovation is required for the strategy to be effective over the longer term because consumers are a savvy bunch. If they see the same people holding the same sale, week after week, they become desensitized. A fresh sense of urgency is required, and that takes creative thinking.
One way to make an event compelling is to give it a time limit. A two-day sale, for example, means that consumers must act or miss the opportunity.
Many retailers have a "seniors' day" where they offer discounts on one day of the month (presumably after the pension cheque arrives). Restaurants offer "early-bird specials" to entice diners to an earlier seating. Time-sensitive offers are an effective strategy.
A well-promoted annual sale event is one way to move merchandise, build business and keep customers happy.
William Ashley China in Toronto has held an annual warehouse sale for 31 years. People mark it on their calendars and patiently line up at the door, day after day, year after year. In plenty of time for Christmas shopping, this sale keeps consumers coming back. For William Ashley, this is a winning strategy.
So irresistible sales result in an instant shot in the arm, but do they help in the long run? "Maybe," is the answer.
If you attract new customers to your sale, then you have an opportunity to grow your business by inviting them to come again. Collecting an e-mail or snail-mail address and their permission to notify them of future events will guarantee you some sort of return, because most businesses need to see customers more than once each year.
To obtain and maintain a more regular flow of business, consistent, non-event advertising is also needed.
This advertising focuses on what is unique, special or desirable about your business. Dependable delivery, a convenient location, extended hours, an unequalled product, award-winning service and expert staff are all aspects of a business that could attract new customers and keep current clients happy. Consistency is key.
Targeting your market is vital. And serving up a clear, compelling message is an absolute necessity.
This form of advertising could be on postcards, radio or TV, billboards, sidewalks, soccer shirts, webpages, newspapers, magazines or grocery carts. It should be somewhere.
Outside of its annual sale, William Ashley also advertises consistently in print. When I think of the name William Ashley, I instantly associate it with the back cover of a Toronto newspaper's TV listings magazine. It doesn't rely exclusively on its annual sale to entice new business, but works at it every week.
So, how do you know your efforts are paying off? It is never easy to be sure, but if you have some comparison figures, it helps. Take a Toyota dealer, for instance, who advertises regularly in a local newspaper.
Its ads, always a full page, are markedly different from all other dealership ads. When sales for other Toyota dealerships in the district dropped by almost three per cent, this dealership enjoyed an increase of 10 per cent. Although sales are not directly attributable to advertising, it was certainly what drove prospective buyers to its door. Its advertising strategy works.
Sometimes as an advertiser you just have to keep at it even though there are no clear indicators that your efforts are noticed.
A general contractor whose only advertising was one ad on the same page of the same monthly local magazine in an upscale Toronto neighbourhood didn't really know if it was effective. It took a couple of years, but gradually at first, then more quickly, his business grew.
Some of his work came from word of mouth, but most was directly attributable to his advertising.
His new customers had seen his ads for months, so when they wanted a contractor, they already knew who to call. He called the publisher to pass on his thanks along with a warning not to tell his competition.
Unless you are advertising a sale or event, it is unlikely that you will notice an immediate increase in business. How, then, can you improve your odds of being noticed sooner and growing faster?
Both the Toyota dealer and the contractor secured prominent, up-front spots in publications that went to their target markets, and they were committed every week/ month.
Both used professionals for their creative work, and both communicated clearly in their ads. The car dealer chose sale/event themes and the contractor image ads, but in both cases their individual brands shone through. The same thing applies to William Ashley.
Successful advertisers often consider their advertising budget to be an investment rather than an expense.
They plan for long-term relationships with publications, gain favoured pages and brand themselves powerfully.
And occasionally, they go wild with a huge sale campaign and enjoy the instant gratification that advertising provides.
(Brenda McMillan can be reached at email@example.com)