What is the most effective advertising a small business owner can do in order to reach local customers?

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Answered by: Ravi, An Expert in the Small Business Advertising Category
Advertising gurus were first asked that question in 8000 B.C., when the ambitious inventor of the wheel tried to market his new product to cave dwellers he felt would be willing to venture outside of their safety zone. He was certain he had the “first big thing”; he just wasn’t sure how to tell everyone about it. And, the savvy businessman was well aware of advertising’s first principle: “Half my advertising dollars will be wasted, but I’ll never know which half.”

With that in mind, let’s look at your adjective “effective”.

“adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result”

If you, as a small business owner, memorize this definition and acknowledge the first principle, you would rate many more of your local ad campaigns as the most effective advertising. Keep in mind there is no universal answer to your question without first asking:

     What is your objective? Are you trying to sell a new product? Move excess inventory? Provide a new service? Or do you simply want to announce the opening of your new business?

     What type of return are you expecting on your advertising investment? What is your budget? Is it realistic? (If you’re like most new small business owners, your expectation for the initial return on investment is probably higher than England’s GDP.) Are you hoping to at least make back what you spent on the advertising? Or, are you simply trying to get new customers to inquire about your service, and then your sales force will take it from there?

Without knowing the nature of your specific business, here are several of the most frequently used mediums by small business owners, each of which has the potential to be your most effective advertising for reaching local customers. All have some advantages, depending on your goals and budget.

1.     Local radio - This is effective if you know your target audience well AND the local stations they listen to. Don’t use radio if you have a long message that needs to be heard multiple times in order to sink in. Remember, a customer can review a printed ad as many times as they need to, but they can’t rewind your radio ad. Radio is also very difficult to target geographically. If your business involves going to your customers versus them coming to you, radio is more viable.

2.     Billboards/Outdoor Advertising - This will give you very high visibility, but it is extremely limited in the quantity of information you can provide. Not many people can read a paragraph at 60mph, or even write down a phone number. This medium can be very effective to announce a Grand Opening.

3.     Yellow Pages - Rates and usefulness drop almost hourly, but it is still practical for some businesses that are targeting an older population, some of whom still tend to prefer reading a printed directory over a computer screen.

4.     Cable TV - TV is very useful in giving you the ability to provide a greater amount of information, and it allows you to target your message for a niche product/service. However, it may get expensive if you want to reach a high percentage of the population, as each cable station only reaches a small segment of the total market.

5.     Local newspapers - Print can be effective and inexpensive, but it generally only works well to reach people who have a need for your product/service at the moment the newspaper arrives. Keep in mind that newspapers are discarded quickly and many smaller ads are almost invisible.

6.     Direct Mail - Though it may seem archaic in terms of technology, and can be quite expensive when done properly, it still offers the highest penetration of any medium. Consider how many people you know with a mailbox! Postcards specifically are extremely effective.

7.     Online - Internet search engines are rapidly gaining in popularity for the small business owner. They give you the ability to reach very specific geographic areas, and you pay only if the customer clicks on your ads. You can also change your ad text quickly while running multiple campaigns simultaneously. Online advertising may finally offer the possibility of decreasing that infamous 50% waste in your advertising dollars.

While this list isn’t meant to earn you an MBA, it lays out the best options available to you to develop your most effective advertising. The more thoroughly you research your customers, and the more realistic your expectations and objectives are, the more successful your campaigns will be. Each of these mediums should always be used in conjunction with your other marketing efforts, not as a single solution to becoming an overnight sensation.

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