As a business owner, what do you do when you hunger for a Ferrari but have the budget for a bicycle? If it's an advertising bike-sized budget, then there is an answer ... you start peddling. And get creative.
Most small and medium-sized businesses work with tight advertising budgets. Often, the allocation is a percentage of sales or profit - a dangerous practice in some respects because if the market softens and sales drop, less advertising may result at a time when more is required. I advise clients to consider advertising as an investment in their company's health - not to be scrimped on when things take a turn for the worse.
I also tell businesses to sell themselves instead of the products or services associated with them. In other words, spend advertising dollars to sell the business as the destination or source for what is sold. This sounds logical, but the concept eludes many business owners.
Take car dealerships, for example. Most just slap the manufacturer's ad on a newspaper page and tack their dealership's name on the bottom. This is a mistake.
Manufacturers provide ad templates to encourage and facilitate this (for branding and other reasons), but you, gentle dealership owner, should not fall for their guise. You see, the manufacturer's goal is to sell their brand to consumers.
Your goal (as a retailer) is completely different. You want to sell your dealership as the most desirable place to buy these vehicles, so although ads should support the manufacturer brand, the main focus is your dealership and its own brand.
Where the manufacturer headline says "Our snazzy car fits your lifestyle" or "Our trucks will make you feel like a big, strong man," the dealership's headline should say, "Our dealership has the best selection of trucks and they're sale-priced here today!" The same concept applies across all industries. Let the manufacturer create demand for the product or service, while you sell your business as the place to shop for it. Of course, that means your business must have an advantage over the competition, but that is usually easy to find and sell. Customer service excellence, awards, longevity, selection, price, location, parking (in Toronto), trustworthiness, online sales, and free or speedy delivery are a few options to choose from. Make the most of the company assets that differentiate your business from others.
Small-business owners should also realize that everything they do can be considered "advertising," so should be treated as such and branded accordingly.
Business cards, stationery, signs, package design, uniforms, invoices, brochures, newspaper/magazine ads, TV commercials, website, etc. should all look like they belong to the same company. Otherwise, they are a waste of money.
One way to achieve consistency is by using a logo (Nike swoosh) or wordmark (IBM). An effective logo/ wordmark is highly complex but looks simple - and is one of the best investments any company can make. My advice on logo design spans three words that say it all: Hire a professional.
Now, taking cues (colours, design elements, etc.) from the logo/wordmark, all printed material can be developed to match. With consistency comes recognition - the desire of every company.
A strong company brand or image will also "grow" a company in the minds of consumers. Immediately, the impression of "larger, more professional and more trustworthy" is created.
If you had a choice between two companies, and one gave you a quote scribbled on the back of their flyer, and the other printed the quote on a sharp letterhead, attached a matching business card and directed you to their website (which also matches), your choice would be obvious.
These companies could be identical in every respect, but the impression created by their images is very different indeed.
Most businesses benefit from a functional website.
I say "functional" because it is not enough to have just a web presence or a flashy, slow-to-load, short-on-substance site. You require a web workhorse that is well organized and easy to navigate. It should combine form with function to sell your company like your other advertising.
Include, for example, testimonials, photographs, a sitemap, forms, contact info, catalogues and/or an online store. And keep it dynamic, fresh and up to date.
On a small budget, you have to take a carefully targeted approach to your choice of media. Make sure the people who want and buy your products or services frequent the media you choose. Go local.
If you or an employee are of an ethnic origin, do not be afraid to target others in the ethnic group through media directed to them.
Choose higher frequency over larger ads. Negotiate for free colour if you sign a contract. Target direct mail using your customer lists or postal codes.
As a capsule review of what has taken me many columns and thousands of words to convey: Make sure all advertising is intrusive, motivational to a targeted audience, consistent in presentation throughout the same publication and with other publications, a carrier of simple and direct messages, a reflection of your image and an effective sales tool.
Spend your bike-sized budget wisely to get powerful, Ferrari-like returns. Sometimes it takes creative peddling and a lot of hard pedalling, but it is possible to make a bicycle budget work.
(Brenda McMillan has more than 10 years of experience in advertising. She can be reached at email@example.com)