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Advertising Ideas on a Small Budget

By Joel Handelsman | July 03, 2012

To be effective, advertising must be interruptive--that is, it must make you stop thumbing through the newspaper or thinking about your day long enough to read or hear the ad. Advertising must also be credible, unique and memorable in order to work. And finally, enough money must be spent to provide a media schedule for ad frequency, the most important element for ad memorability.

Advertising Checklist:

  • Communicate a simple, single message. People have trouble remembering someone's name, let alone a complicated ad message. For print ads, the simpler the headline, the better. And every ad element should support the headline message, whether that message is "price," "selection," "quality" or any other concept.
  • Stick with a likable style. Ads have personality and style. Find a likable style and personality and stay with it for at least a year, to avoid confusing buyers.
  • Be credible. If you say your quality or value is the "best" and it clearly is not, advertising will speed your demise, not increase your business. Identifying and denigrating the competition should also be avoided. It is potentially confusing and distracting and may backfire on you by making buyers more loyal to competitors.
  • Ask for the sale. Provide easily visible information in the ad for potential customers to buy: location, telephone number, store hours, charge cards accepted.
  • Make sure the ad looks professional. If you have the time and talent, computer graphics and desktop publishing software can provide professional-looking templates to create good-looking print ads. Consider obtaining writing, artistic and graphics help from local agencies or art studios who have experienced professionals on staff, with expensive and creative computer software in-house. Electronic ads (e.g., TV, radio, Internet) and outdoor ads are best left to professionals to produce.
  • Be truthful. Whatever advertising medium you select, make sure your message is ethical and truthful. There are stringent laws regarding deceptive practices and false advertising.

There's an old adage that holds that at least 50 percent of all advertising is a waste of money. It's probably true--and if you can figure out which half of your ad budget is useless, you'll save a bundle. But until you achieve this wisdom (which has so far eluded most marketers), you'd be wise to continue advertising full tilt and not take a chance on eliminating something that just might work.

Low- and No-Cost Advertising:

  • Print attractive and informative business cards that include your logo and hand them out everywhere, consistently! If you use letterhead stationery in your business, have it match your business card. Keep your identity as consistent as possible.
  • Print up some gift certificates. These let your customers introduce you to new customers. Since you get paid up front for the product or service, they are good for your cash flow.
  • Brochures let you provide a lot of detail about your product or service. Simple three-fold brochure stock may be purchased from mail-order suppliers such as Paper Direct (800-272-7377) in small quantities.
  • Flyers can be created very inexpensively on your computer, or by a local print shop. You can use as much color as you like, with a color printer or old-fashioned colored paper stock. They can be used as bag stuffers or inserts to include with billings.
  • Doorhangers are very effective and widely used by fast-food and home-delivery and service businesses. If you choose this medium, use heavy stock so it won't blow off doorknobs and litter the neighborhood.
  • Inserted ads include mailbox inserts and free-standing inserts. The science behind the mass distribution of inserts is beyond the scope of our discussion here. If you think that inserts could successfully reach your market, call one of the big distributors and learn how much it would cost you to try this kind of program. The industry leaders are ADVO (call 860-520-3200, and they'll give you the local contact) and Val-Pak, which is so big that you can find it under "V" in most local phone books.
  • Paper or plastic bags and packaging make economical billboards. Print your name, logo and message on anything you can, on all sides. Mailing labels are another perfect medium. Everyone who handles your mail will see your ad at no cost to you.
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