Role of Advertising in Successful Branding

When some people hear the word branding, they automatically picture advertising campaigns aimed at familiarizing the world with the merits of a specific product (i.e., a brand).  While advertising can certainly play a part in successful branding, this article will start by asking a basic question that should help provide perspective: 

Do you need to run ads to build a successful brand?

The answer, of course, is “NO.”

In fact, traditional advertising can be a pretty expensive proposition – the equivalent of using a cannon to kill a mosquito.  (Well-known national magazines can charge six figures per placement for an ad.  According to The Balance Everyday, “The cost of running a full-page, four-color ad in Vogue is $180,324 as of 2019.”)

That said, a consistent, modest, investment in an ad campaign overtime can make a difference in the success of branding your small business.  You just need to be smart about the way you pick and manage your effort.

  • Find ad vehicles that specifically serve your targeted audience. For instance, trade publications are frequently less expensive than general-interest vehicles . . . and typically speak more directly to your audience. (Think of a three- or four-figure cost per placement as opposed to five or six.)
  • Don’t see the costs stated on a rate card and assume that’s the amount you must spend.  Special packages can often be negotiated that reflect considerable savings – especially in return for a long-term commitment.  (Worst case – You have nothing to lose by asking!!)
  • Have realistic expectations.  Since advertising is not cheap, you naturally expect a sizeable return on your investment.  However, conversion rates tend to be low.  (Just search the Internet for the term “ad conversion rates” to glance through some of the discouraging measures being discussed.)  If you have a clear sense of what an ad can and cannot contribute to your business, you will manage the effort more successfully.
  • Set up systems to track the performance of your campaign.  Unless you have a way of identifying those leads originating from your ads, you’ll never know whether or not you’ve been successful.  For example, use the contact information included in the ad to channel responses (perhaps offering a specific phone extension appearing only in an ad to route calls or creating a special Internet landing page to collect ad inquiries). 
  • Understand that size matters . . . as well as frequency and originality in determining just how well an ad campaign performs.   For example, don’t expect to reach a significant portion of your potential audience from a single appearance of an ad.  Perhaps after three placements you can assume you’ve been seen by everyone likely to pay attention.  Rem:  Every ad faces a tremendous amount of competition and clamor to gain even part of the attention of your audience.  Frequency, including duration, can help ensure that your message is eventually seen as well as size (much harder to miss a full-page ad than a quarter!).  Furthermore, the quality of the creative does play an important part – you want an ad that refuses to be ignored perhaps because the headline or artwork is so arresting that a person just cannot flip the page without looking.
  • Contemplate the use of different media, knowing that tastes vary greatly.  Some people will only see or hear a video or audio ad, totally oblivious to messages in print.  Similarly, you probably want to include a mix of print and online advertising to reach the greatest possible audience.  Typically, you should plan an ad campaign, not just an ad.  In other words, build a multimedia effort for the greatest possible likelihood of success.  Run ads that are reinforced by web site messages, supported with direct mail, enhanced by telemarketing and events, etc.  You want to get your message out in as many ways as possible to ensure the widest possible reach AND support your investment of ad dollars.
  • Follow through.  Ads alone seldom consummate a sale.  Typically, an ad will generate some interest that requires further contact in a timely way with additional information and the superior customer service needed to close a sale.  The success of your ad campaign may, in fact, hinge on the careful orchestration and preparation given to your follow-up efforts.

So . . . how much of my annual budget should be devoted to marketing in general and advertising in particular?

I will not even try to offer a general answer to that question.  (If you search the Internet, I’m sure you’ll find a percent of gross revenue quoted as a recommendation of the Small Business Administration.  However, you’ll also see lots of opinions that state that benchmark is not good enough in all circumstances.  However, be aware that your marketing budget must cover a multitude of activities:  advertising, public relations, promotions, social media, sponsorships, collateral, events, etc.)

That said, I will offer an example from my personal experience.  I worked for a company that – during a period of 25% per year growth in sales – had a modest advertising budget that was national in scope, relied heavily upon regional trade publications (over three dozen in fact), and never came close to the kinds of expenses I’ve seen associated with ad budget recommendations.  So, you CAN make advertising work for you by being careful and managing all aspects of the process.

Since much more can and should be said about advertising, we have two additional articles planned on (1) the basic elements needed when creating an ad and (2) the preparation of content for on-line advertising, including a breakdown of the various sizes you need to accommodate when developing your ad copy.

Know Your Audience

Duh!!

Ok.  So maybe you do (and maybe you don’t) have a sufficiently good understanding of just whom you think that group is.  If you do, consider this posting a chance to quiz yourself to be sure.

A brand becomes memorable when the values being communicated resonate with people.  In other words, the product, service, or company you present match the personal perception and experiences of your customers.  Otherwise, your message becomes suspect and easily dismissed as just another example of “sales hype(rbole).”  Therefore, an honest, clear-eyed self-awareness is critical.  However, equally important is an understanding of whom your audience really is.

In some cases, that group might be your customers.  In others (such as this blog), your audience is your readers.

Why does this matter?  Why do you really need a clear perception of the people on the receiving end of your branding efforts?

  • The clearer your understanding, the more directly you can speak to their concerns.  (Ex:  If your audience is small businesses, you don’t offer branded sales strategies costing millions and millions of dollars; this group won’t have GEICO’s advertising budget!!)
  • You’ll pick language that identifies you as a peer and colleague, enhancing your credibility.  (Ex:  If your audience is other small businesses, then use of jargon is acceptable and perhaps even useful.  Conversely, such words would be lost on a general retail audience.)
  • Demographic details help you present your message in the most meaningful possible way.  (Ex:  If your know your audience is young, you don’t expect them to remember circumstances from 40 years ago;  if you know your audience likes sports, don‘t waste time drawing analogies to opera!)

In figuring out whom you are trying to reach, develop quick profiles that you can keep handy as a reminder.  For instance, prepare a description that addresses items like the following:

  • Age
  • Interests
  • Geographical location
  • Occupation or industry
  • Affiliations/affinity groups
  • Marital status
  • Income/earnings
  • Education
  • Hobbies
  • Gender
  • Etc.

Examining characteristics such as these can often yield a clearer picture (feeling free to add or subtract categories to match your specific circumstances).  Then, you must begin incorporating this understanding into your branding efforts.  However, a word of caution.  Be sure to ask yourself whether you are being sufficiently honest with yourself to create an accurate portrait.  In other words, are you right?   Sometimes, forcing yourself to look beyond your immediate assumptions can lead you to consider other targeted niches that might expand the scope of your audience AND sales.

For instance, Carole and I went through such an exercise.   While some obvious qualities kind of slap you in the face (i.e., our audience most certainly does include small businesses with an entrepreneurial bent!), we had to guess a bit about other qualities that might apply (such as sales savviness, technological literacy, size staff, etc.).   However, most interesting to us was the realization that we had a whole other potential audience not originally targeted when we began this blog.  Specifically, we realized that certain communications professionals (especially those young and inexperienced or perhaps still in college) might benefit most from our experience in learning how to get needed tasks accomplished. 

Both of us could remember receiving requests on deadline that we had absolutely no clue how to get started (much less completed).  We can remember turning to the Internet and asking, “Where can I find a free source for photos of giraffes to use in an ad campaign?” or “What items are included in a survey used to determine the audience of a product?”

(BTW—That later question – much to my surprise – just yielded a remarkably well-aligned answer:  “Using Web Surveys to Determine Audience Characteristics . . . ; https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1060290.pdf .)

In closing, never underestimate the value of very specifically targeting your message to your audience.  However, intellectual honesty is critical.  Make sure you know who your audience is . . . and are not wishfully imagining that group is who you WANT your audience to be.  For instance, you may think your product or service is perfectly aligned to those with unlimited funds and discriminating taste when – in reality – you speak more clearly to those on a very tight budget.

Toward that end, performing simple surveys, meeting with formal or informal focus groups, and implementing other forms of research can only help get a clear understanding while simultaneously being a reality check on yourself.

Good Luck!

Have a couple extra minutes? Read the next story in our “The Beginning” series: How to Create a Mission Statement (Including Definitions, Examples, and a Mission Statement Generator).