Creating Ads that Communicate Your Brand

With the rarest of exceptions, advertising does not sell your product/service.  While you can strike gold every once a millennium (think – Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” campaign) and actually author an ad that creates a need and desire to make a particular purchase, the typical role of advertising is much more mundane (and less satisfying) –communicating the availability of your product/service to the right targeted audience via a well-chosen media vehicle at the right time (i.e., buying time).

That said, everyone who has ever created an ad dreams of producing the perfect one that entertains, sells, evokes a brand identity, and remains memorable years after the campaign is done.

As these remarks imply, good advertising involves a combination of contributions (especially at large companies) ranging from those who correctly identify an audience to those who understand the media outlets that best serve that audience to those that finalize the right cost-effective media buys that balance the often conflicting demands of size, frequency, cost, and placement.  Of course, the final contributor to the process is the person or teams of people producing “the creative.”

As the typical small business owner, you will often be the party wearing all of those hats!  Therefore, you may be comforted to know that most ad designs encompass a handful of typical elements, which – when known – will be helpful in creating your ad copy and deciding upon the ways in which these elements interact . . . and perhaps even enable you to determine the ones that must be eliminated on a specific occasion for a particular reason.

How does brand factor into this equation?

Well, advertising is one of the many ways in which you can promote your brand.  Conversely, your brand generally provides the vast majority of the content to be included in your ad copy while also defining the visual elements that get incorporated into the design.

The basic parts of an ad include:

  • Headline
  • Illustration
  • Caption (and/or Sub-Head)
  • Body Copy (including the Sales Pitch)
  • Contact Information, Logo, and Call to Action

That said, understand that the only real rule is that the art of creating a successful ad has no real rules, only exceptions.  While 90% of the ads I created probably involve most or all of the elements mentioned above, my favorite one broke all of those rules.  Specifically, I created a half page black-and-white ad done in reverse (white text on a black background) that basically included a single, huge, lowercase word (i.e., because) as a well as a logo and contact information.  While I could write volumes about the reasons I like that ad, I’ll simply explain that lots was communicated very simply in a manner that captured the attention of a person leafing through the publication.  While the piece did rely upon some prior brand presence to automatically communicate certain details to the reader upon seeing the company name, I also believe the ad helped define our style and attitude . . .  and, therefore, became part of the brand.

 The ad was (as I already mentioned) very much an exception.  The vast majority included the various traditional structural elements that I will now briefly describe.

Sample ad for our blog that highlights the basic elements. (I used CorelDraw to create this ad for reasons previously discussed in other articles; however, many other graphic arts programs will work equally well!!)

Headline

With the competition for attention very intense across all media, the first job of your ad is to be seen (not passed over), and your headline and illustration are probably the elements best suited to the job.  Three quarters of all my ad designs have started with a headline I thought was capable of grabbing our share of the readers’ attention.  (Yes, I’m tempted to list the top 10 headlines I’ve created that succeeded . . . but decided to spare you that exercise and move on to the next key element.)

Illustration

The photo or drawing included in your ad is obviously key to grabbing attention.  Some people – particularly graphic designers – would argue that the illustration is the most important factor. That said, the artwork can be essentially descriptive and show an attractive image of your product or service in action, OR the graphic can grab attention by being clever or arrestingly different in some way – perhaps even relying upon humor  (i.e., “Where’s the beef?”).

If you personally have artistic skills, this element of the ad can be great fun.  If, on the other hand, you are more of a writer or pure businessperson, you can still create a successful ad on your own – using photos or artwork available from some of those free sources already discussed in earlier blog articles.  (See FREE Pictures Are Also Worth a 1,000 Words (and Can Help Promote Your Brand)!

If you are going this route, be prepared to spend lots of time paging through stock images until you’ve found just the right one to make your point.  (Also, don’t forget that most phones now include cameras able to produce sufficiently high-res images that can be the key to capturing your product/service in action;  if you have the eye, the equipment is already in your pocket.)

Caption (and/or Sub-Head)

Your caption obviously relates to the illustration you’ve chosen and generally provides a key opportunity to introduce brand qualities most likely to result in a sale.  That said, you will no doubt find times when the caption is eliminated either because the artwork is self-explanatory or does not offer the opportunity to highlight your brand. If people are shown, the caption may be the best chance to provide identification and further humanize the brand while giving a face a name that might be memorable to all or a portion of your audience.

The ability to include sub-heads is obviously dependent to a large degree upon the size of the ad.  For a half page or less, chances are you will skip this element.  For larger sizes, your sub-head provides an extra opportunity to grab attention.  Or, perhaps the sub-head just gives you a chance to continue your major headline further down the page – pulling the reader into your content.

Body Copy (Including the Sale Pitch)

You use your body copy to describe your product or service to the audience, being sure to employ language that highlights those qualities that define your brand.  Frankly, repetition of that information in circumstances like advertising is one of the ways in which brand identity is created.  In selecting the words to include, you want the most sales worthy qualities of your brand and repeat them in every ad you create.  Also, be sure to use this space to highlight and explain any special promotions that might be happening at the time.

How many words should you use?  Frankly, long copy vs. short is one of the age-old debates in advertising among designers, business owners, experts, and amateurs.  You’ll find everyone has a firmly held opinion . . . and the jury is still split even among the luminaries in the field – all of whom are recognized as the best and most reliable source of information.

Frankly, I’m a word person . . . so I tend to think “more” has a better chance of being effective than “less.”  In support of this position, I’ll turn to David Ogilvy – one of the founding fathers of advertising – who was an advocate of long copy, especially for more complicated, technical, and expensive products.  He stated:  “All of my experiences say that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short.  I have failed only twice with long copy.”  (David Ogilvy – Ogilvy on Advertising.)

 My preference/bias duly noted, I’ll offer the following to balance my prejudices:

  • My favorite ad that I’ve created has (as already mentioned) basically one word (without further explanation) as the focus.
  • My blogging partner probably has a belief that (at least in comparison to me) less is more when talking about ad copy.
  • More of my ads probably ended up having less copy than I preferred because my bosses generally believed that more words than could be counted on 10 fingers were probably suffering from “wordiness.”

In the end, my advice is to include just the amount of language that seems right for a particular ad.  I believe each will be a bit different, and you will inevitably have a sense of the right quantity to make your point and pitch your product or service because – in the end — sales and reinforcing brand identity are the point of this exercise.

Contact Information, Logo, and Call to Action

The final elements of your ad are very basic ones that should never be forgotten.  Include your logo, address, phone, fax (WHAT’S THAT??!!??), e-mail, and/or web site.  (Exception:  If you are channeling all responses in a certain way, all other contact information can be excluded.)

You should also make some sort of statement that clearly tells your audience what to do next.  For example:

  • For more information, contact us at ____________________.
  • For more information, visit our web site at _______________________ and be sure to submit a customer service request form.
  • To order today, please __________________.
  • To speak with a live representative, ________________________.
  • Etc.

You get the idea.  Worth mentioning is that the nature of responding to any advertising and promotion should be determined in advance and used in all situations.  Perhaps, that process will involve setting up a special phone extension, a post-office box, or web landing page used exclusively for that purpose.  The advantage in taking such a systematic approach is better collection and assessment of data resulting from your efforts and immediate recognition of an inquiry coming from a sales lead that, therefore, enables a high level of customer service to help close a potential sale.

Branding and Your Overall Design

The elements discussed above are the ones at your disposal to mix and match in creating your ad.  When employing them, you must be absolutely certain to remain consistent with the rules described in your Style Guide, which will outline the fonts, colors, and perhaps even available types of illustration as well as highlighting key boilerplate language to be included.   Your ad must always conform to these rules while expressing the brand qualities you want to highlight as memorable and sales worthy. 

While much of the discussion in this article is applicable to both print and electronic advertising (especially electronic ads that basically mirror print equivalents), be aware that e-banner ads have typical very small sizes that create their own special challenge . . .  and call for a separate future article to discuss some of the techniques to be employed and pitfalls to be remembered.

Meanwhile, good luck and have fun.  Ads provide you with a great opportunity to explore your creativity and to benefit from customer responses/sales leads!

Is Brand a Scam . . . or the Real Deal?

Before a business owner invests the time, energy, and resources to systematically build a brand, some skeptics need to be persuaded that all this talk about branding is not a scam on the part of ad agencies and other marketers out to make money.

For starters, no less an authority of the business world than renown entrepreneur Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame was recently quoted as saying about the power of brands:  “Give me a $10 billion budget and ask me to bring out another Coca-Cola that makes a dent in Coca-Cola and I can’t do it.”  By inference, this statement seems to suggest that the branding of Coca Cola has a value of at least $10 billion (perhaps more).

Frankly, branding has a longer history than most people realize.

Do an Internet search for the term “history of branding,” and you get an extremely wide variety of responses.  Some talk about the cattle branding done in the 19th century wild west. An organization called Skyward traces the origins back further, saying, “The term derives from the Old Norse word brandr or ‘to burn,’ and refers to the practice of branding livestock, which dates back more than 4,000 years to the Indus Valley.”

Most sources seem to agree that some form of the concept can be attributed to the Egyptians (and ancient B.C. times) with some credit being given to the Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans, and more due to the marks put on items such as pottery to provide information about the creator and creations.  (For a good historical overview, read Skyward’s essay, “What Is Branding? A Brief History” found at https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/branding-brief-history/.)

Obviously, the term branding has assumed a much different and more complex identity during the second half of the 20th century.  As Taylor Holland notes in the Skyward essay, “The meaning of the word has evolved so much over the centuries that even people who do it for a living have never made the connection between modern marketing and livestock.”

Contemporary branding is a 20th century phenomenon.  The advertising industry is generally credited with broadening the definition to include establishment of a corporate identity and promotion of sales.  During the “Golden Age of Advertising” in the 1950’s and 60’s, the concept started to encompass the creation of a unique personality for products – giving them qualities that often elicited an emotional response that helped foster brand loyalty.

More recently, we have seen the concept expand even further to focus on something called “the brand experience” with customer service and ease of use playing increasingly prominent roles in effective branding.  (For a quick overview of this process of evolution, see “20 milestones in the history of branding” – https://www.creativebloq.com/branding/milestones-history-branding-91516855.)

So . . . What Conclusions Can Be Drawn?

If the act of branding is, indeed, an elaborate scam, the charade is one that dates back thousands of years, has hoodwinked one of the 20th century’s most astute businessmen, and has evolved to reflect the needs of a changing world.  While the act of branding has certainly become more complicated (as has the modern world), the process still involves quick identification of a product through visual symbols such as a logo and the association of those symbols with positive attributes.  These characteristics will, in turn, always be useful to companies that must continually reprove themselves to their existing customers . . . while constantly being on the lookout for new ones.

Not Convinced?

Perhaps you are one of those people who need some numbers before you can believe.  For instance:
“Consistent branding across all channels increases revenue by 23%.”
From 80+ Branding Statistics You Should Know For 2020
– Ryan McCready, June 19, 2019.

If you are one of them, check out these 80 facts and many others found in articles made available by searching “data proving the importance of branding.”

Press Release to Introduce Ourselves as Part of National Small Business Week in May

In an earlier article (Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding), we promised to do our first press release on Brand Building for Small Business, using the occasion of National Small Business Week May 3rd through May 9th to formally announce our blog – believing we now have enough content across many basic business areas to warrant introducing ourselves.

brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com/2019/12/26/press-releases-as-another-opportunity-for-branding/(opens in a new tab)

With the dual hook of this national celebration plus the rollout of our site as a free resource to the targeted audience, we believe we have enough substance to interest an editor. 

Selecting our media targets on a budget was not easy.  For this initial round, we have contacted about a dozen business journals (all of which serve a substantial small business readership) and an inexpensive distribution channel – IssueWire.com – that also circulates the first press release free.  Clearinghouses such as this one can be very useful in getting the message out to a broader audience, though in a less targeted way than developing your own list of carefully selected publications.  That said, this approach makes the processing of releases much easier, and feedback about the distribution is tracked and easily accessible.  In addition to the most basic level of distribution, several special promotions can be added (at an extra cost) that target social media connections and Google search.

Our goal – we hope to gradually increase the readership of our blog and gain some valuable reader insights.

We will keep you posted about our results . . . and will write a follow-up article on the analysis of the results.  Until then, feel free to review our press release piece and provide us with any feedback in the comment section below.

Read our press release.

https://brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/celebrating-national-small-business-week-in-may-new-branding-resource-for-small-businesses-issuewire.pdf

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

Social Media: One More Reason to Bother! (Betting on the Long Shot)

Recently, my blogging partner published an article about getting started on Facebook, and she also set up a page for our blog – Brand Building for Small Business.  If you followed our lead and did similarly (creating your own site), you’ve probably posted several messages by now . . . and seen little tangible reason for continuing this exercise.

Well . . . the entire message of this article is “Stay the Course!”; you never know who might be paying attention and the kind of impact that person might have on your ultimate success.

Who knows? One day, you just might get kind words from the Oracle of Omaha or some other noteworthy individual that you’d like to pass along!!  Keep posting to get your social media platform ready.

My best real-world example that offers proof of the wisdom of this advice happened just a few short years ago.  I was working for GUARD (my employer at the time and an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway).  We were just getting started with social media (an intentional delay on the part of our company), and we were experiencing slow growth in the numerical results usually used to measure success – likes, followers, visitors, shares, etc.

We had established a regular schedule (at first weekly; then twice a week shortly thereafter) for posting new content.  At that time, my employer was in the middle of a five+ year stretch of 25% per year growth and had new infrastructure needs to accommodate hiring.  As part of that process, the company had applied to the state for a significant economic development grant.  While that request seemed to have a decent chance of success because many new jobs would be created, lots of viable projects were competing for the same dollars.

Fortunately, we had just closed the books on a very good year. In fact, our run of success had been good enough that the Chairman of our ultimate parent company (Berkshire Hathaway) had elected to give us a “shout out” by name during the heavily publicized and well-attended Annual Meeting of the Shareholders in Omaha, Nebraska.  Turns out that when that gentleman, an individual by the name of Warren Buffett, chooses to praise you, people stop and take notice.

Recognizing an opportunity, we transcribed the sound bite and posted a social media mention of the message, quoting Mr. Buffett’s generous remarks.  While this content generally got more attention than our low norm at that time, the first person to “like” our message was the individual who would be responsible for evaluating our worthiness for the grant we were seeking!

Did our social media posting make a difference?  While we will probably never really know, I can’t help but believe some good was done that more than justified the entirety of the time and effort we had devoted to date to social media.

So . . . the moral of the story (especially during the early stages) is this:  you don’t have to produce eye-popping numbers for your effort to be worthwhile and totally justify the invested time and energy.  You just have to keep using the platform you’ve created to communicate your message (. . . AND YOUR BRAND!) in a number of new ways . . . and hope that somewhere along the line the right set of eyes will read your words.  (Rem:  Strong preparation creates opportunity.) 

Frankly, I’m an optimist . . . so I’m always imagining all sorts of interesting people reading my words on the other end.  Every once in a while, the imagined even becomes reality (and that IS fun)!! 

I hope you have a happy and successful New Year in 2020.   My partner and I would love to hear from you and explore suggested ways in which we might be of help.