How to develop an advertising strategy

Advertising is the most used marketing tool, but it is a science not an art

Advertising is the most used marketing tool, yet it is also one of the most ineffective because too many people, especially the creative types in bow ties, see it as an art. It is, in fact, mostly a science, and those who obey the rules should prosper.

For most small businesses, advertising is restricted to either print or radio, although outdoor poster sites may also be considered when targeting very specific areas.

The strategy

Regardless of media, a strategy is needed, the starting point of which is setting an objective. The clearer and easier to measure, the better. Examples include:

  • To create direct sales
  • To build brand/company image
  • To communicate specific messages e.g. product recalls, sales dates etc
  • To counter negative publicity/competitor activity

The objective should also be reasonably attainable. For example, it is easier to get people to change brands than to change such consuming habits as buying new product categories.

The target audience should be identified because, without knowing the audience, it is virtually impossible to choose a medium or a message. Define the customer profile by considering the following attributes:

  • age
  • gender
  • income
  • married or single
  • family or couples
  • housing type
  • car ownership
  • hobbies
  • holiday preferences
  • attitudes to the product and to competitors

The profile helps to personalise the message to an individual rather than an anonymous group.

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The advertising should fit an overall marketing plan. Acme Car Repairs might, for example, have spent years developing an image of friendliness, reliability and high quality.

Customers, possibly with expensive cars, use the service because they trust a thorough job will be done and are willing to pay extra for it. To suddenly bring in advertising based on cut price, while-you- wait offers could alienate the core market and cost the business its unique selling proposition (USP).

Advertising should, therefore, explain and enhance the USP and define how it differs from the competition.

A common mistake, however, is to emphasise the obvious, rather than the important. That Acme Car Repairs mends cars is obvious. That it specialises in certain models and guarantees work for two years is not.

Don’t insult the intelligence of the customer by making false offers. A claim that a product will remove red wine stains from a carpet should be true.


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