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Advertising Basics for Small Businesses

by Renee Fellows

Renee Fellows

It’s the bane of every small business owner—you know that to spread the word about your product or service that promotion is a necessity, but the mere thought of ‘advertising’ sends chills up and down your financial backbone. Rest easy. There are many options and ways to advertise your business without running a very scary deficit.

1) Consider your options. The key to positive advertising results is identifying and understanding your target markets (who are those elusive customers?) and where they go for information on your business type and industry. If you’re a restaurant, try local newspaper advertising. Trends show that a majority of a restaurant’s customers live within a 3-5 mile radius of the establishment. For a retail shop, investigate coupon magazines and coupon-incentive offerings. Coupons are an easy-to-track offer, so you’ll be able to quickly gauge the success of your efforts.

Other advertising options include:

  • Radio
  • Television—broadcast and cable
  • Online—via Web banners, Pay-per-click (PPC) and Pay-per-view (PPV) ads, and email campaigns
  • Outdoor advertising—billboards, mass transit, outdoor furniture
  • Magazines
  • Yellow Pages
  • Sponsorships / charitable events
  • Direct Marketing—telemarketing, catalogs, direct mail, inserts

2) Return On Investment—Before you spend one dime of your budget, make sure you can determine the return on your advertising dollars. Question the following:

  • Will your format (outdoor, direct mail, newsprint, radio/tv) allow you to effectively communicate your message? Also realize that not all messages can be conveyed in one space or ad. A billboard’s purpose isn’t to explain a complicated offer, but rather to reinforce a concept or brand image.
  • Will the cost of the advertising effort exceed the possible return in customers and their spending? If the answer is yes, move on to another marketing tactic.
  • What percentage of the population seeing your ad will potentially be interested in your product, and then, more importantly, what percentage of the target will potentially respond? Industry response rates vary depending on the medium used. For direct mail, the response rate is anywhere from 1-3% when utilizing a large, targeted list. (2.7% according to the Direct Marketing Association’s 2004 Response Rate Report). If you’re mailing 100,000 pieces, you can expect a solid 2,000-3,000 responses, but the numbers drop drastically with smaller distribution sizes.

3) Try Co-Oping—Co-op and co-brand opportunities are a cost-effective way to boost your brand while riding on the popularity of a national or international brand.

  • How do co-ops work?
    If you’re a reseller of Michelin tires, you can contract with Michelin to receive an advertising reimbursement when utilizing their brand and logo in your advertising. Be sure to verify these programs directly with your national partner and notify advertisers of your arrangement in advance. Advertisers and yellow page publishers will often assist or handle the necessary paperwork to submit for your reimbursements.
  • Co- marketing
    Learn a lesson from America ’s favorite foods ketchup and French fries. Granted, they are owned by the same parent company, but they had the great idea of joining forces with two of their most powerful brands, Heinz Ketchup and Ore-Ida French fries – a perfect marriage in advertising. The ketchup augments the French fries with its weight and flavor, the French fry is so crispy that it can ‘stand up’ to the hefty richness of Heinz’s ketchup. Their brands and product uses are synergistic and substantiate each other’s products. In sharing the commercial limelight and the marketing dollars, both brands benefit in the end.

4) Contract media buying to save costs—Most advertisers offer bulk purchase contracts. The client receives a discount based on a certain volume of advertising to be purchased. Some smaller local media such as newspapers or radio stations will also work with you on trade arrangements where you can exchange product for promotion. Talk with your marketing representative or use an agency to negotiate the contract for you.

5) Develop a clearly written, well-designed, consistent ad—Spend your limited ad dollars on a well-designed ad that you own (often newspapers will develop ads for you, but you cannot ‘take’ them to another paper) the investment will pay off in consistency and good design that engages your audience. Make sure your ad includes a well-placed, easily identifiable version of your logo, a strong call to action and a solid offer of product or service. Then use this ad design (with text variations or minor graphical changes) consistently across all print media employed. Even if you think the ad is becoming over used, odds are that the public is just starting to tune in and recognize it. Follow the same process for radio or television to carry your brand across multiple marketing channels and create brand awareness.

No matter what vehicle you decide to implement, remember that repetition is critical. Be consistent and give the campaigns a chance to work before you move on to another medium (at least one month per effort). An advertising campaign is only one part of an overall marketing communications effort.  

Renee Fellows is principal and owner of ClearPoint Marketing Communications in Derry, NH. To learn more about advertising basics for your small business, call her at (603) 434-9433 or visit the web site at



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