5 critical questions for effective Small Business Advertising

in On Entrepreneurship

If you honestly evaluate your advertising using the five questions in this message, one of two things will happen:

  • You’ll discover that your advertising provides compelling and powerful answers to each and every question. If so, congratulations—you’re in the top 1% of all small business advertisers, and you’re achieving amazing results from your advertising.

or

  • You’ll find that your advertising is totally focused on the wrong person—it’s focused on you or your business instead of on the perfect client in your target market. If this is you, don’t feel too badly—99% of all small businesses fall into this category. Their advertising isn’t very effective and earns, at best, a small “fair share” of available business … and it only gets that much because the competition’s advertising is equally horrible.

Let me stress one very important point before you continue: do not make this an intellectual exercise.

Think of your image of the perfect client. Then physically pull out your advertisements, sit down, and answer the following five questions as if your perfect client were asking them.

These questions will make demands upon your advertising that are very different from traditional advertising. Answering may seem strange at first, but stick with it. If your current advertising doesn’t provide compelling answers, start to think about how you could change it so that it does.

Small Business Advertising Question #1: “Why Are You Bothering Me?”

FACT: Advertising is an interruption.

Your ideal clients didn’t wake up this morning, get out of bed, and proclaim, “Wow, I sure hope someone advertises to me today.” The real world simply doesn’t work that way.

Your ideal clients, however, did get out of bed with business problems, goals, and other things that are important to them. If your advertising doesn’t grab their attention with a compelling reason that’s important to them (not you, but them), it will be thrown in the trash or just ignored.

If you don’t know what’s on your ideal client’s mind, you have no business putting together an advertisement … yet.

Go back to market research, and learn more about your target market. The research and understanding are key to generating responses to your advertising.

Small Business Advertising Question #2: “What Does It Have to Do with Me?”

After you capture your clients’ attention, you must get their interest.

Every once in a while, an advertisement will run in the Wall Street Journal with a huge, bold headline that simply says:

SEX!

Does it get people’s attention? Sure. But the next line is, “Now that I have your attention, let me tell you about my worn-out, dusty shoes.” Well, unless you’re interested in worn-out, dusty shoes, your interest in the advertisement stops right there and you move onto the next page.

So you see, once you grab their attention, you must get them interested … immediately! You can do this by telling them what the advertisement’s information has to do with the things they consider to be important. Again, this is about what they consider to be important, not what you consider to be important.

A tried-and-true way to capture interest is to state the biggest possible benefit or promise you’re able to make to your target market. If you know your market well, this is a sure-fire way to keep prospective clients reading.

Small Business Advertising Question #3: “Why Should I Believe You?”

Prove it!

Decision makers default to skepticism, not belief, about your claims. If you don’t give your prospects powerful and compelling reasons to believe what you claim in your advertising, they won’t.

It’s your job to provide the proof they need to believe what you’re communicating. If your advertising doesn’t provide proof, get to work and add it in.

For every promise you make and every benefit you list, ask the question: “Why should I believe you?” Then answer the question using one of the seven methods of adding overwhelming proof to your advertising (my three favorites are testimonials, case studies, and photographs). Or answer the question as if you were sitting in front of a prospect who asked you that very question.

Small Business Advertising Question #4: “What Should I Do About It?”

Just listing a phone number or website URL isn’t enough. I’m consistently amazed by the number of advertisements I critique that lack a compelling offer and clear directions for how to act on it.

Have you given prospects a specific step to take in order to begin the process of becoming your client? The key word here is “specific.” Tell the prospects exactly what to do, how to do it, and what they’ll get as a result.

Small Business Advertising Question #5: “Why Should I Do It Right Now?”

A “cute” theory espoused by many so-called advertising gurus is that decision makers will remember you or your firm when it comes time to take action, even if they don’t take action right away.

But “reality” (you know—studies, statistics, and empirical evidence) shows that notion to be utterly false.

If your prospects don’t take the action you want when your message is in front of them, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll come back to it at a later date.

Sure, they might “mean to” take action later. They might file the ad in the pile of things to do, put it on a corkboard, or stick in the pile of “really important” stuff on their desk. But the end result is usually that your message is put aside and forgotten.

Your advertising must give prospects a compelling reason to act immediately. What will they gain if they do? What will they lose if they don’t?

Wrapping It Up

While advertising salespeople like to talk about image, exposure, and awareness, your focus belongs on making sales and on results you can deposit in your bank account. These questions will help you create advertising to do just that.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 D.Wallace November 1, 2011 at 12:27 am

As I began reading this post, I paused to right my own synopsis of what I thought was important in advertising for our company. After writing it all out, I came back to read the post and was very happy to find that I said almost exactly the same things. The only differences were that I was more specific with our own needs. It was reassuring to see that my thought process was in line with what you suggest especially at this digital time that we are embarking on online and offline advertising. Thanks for the reassurance that we are in the right track to being a 1%’er!

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2 Anonymous September 21, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Great advice!  It just goes to show how much thinking goes into creating advertisements.

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3 CJ Smith April 29, 2011 at 9:39 am

I agree! – Great article. We do small business consulting and this is the approach we take when outlining marketing and business plans, and also during our consultations. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you for the refresher. It also nice to hear other professional perspective.

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4 Govi Reddy November 6, 2010 at 6:53 pm

A great help for a small business owner like me as to how to approach the advertising. Very convincing to me, if I put myself in the shoe of my potential customer. Immpressive analysis.
Govi Reddy

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5 Dareen September 20, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Excellent synopsis of what it takes to use advertising to improve small business marketing.

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6 JimmieBlake July 29, 2010 at 3:31 pm

While other fashion magazine sites have been struggling to hold an online audience, Polyvore has tripled its traffic in the last year. Its 928,000 registered users create 28,000 new sets a day.

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7 coco1212 June 29, 2010 at 8:00 pm

I analysed my advertising by asking these questions and it was incredibly helpful. It helped me realise that mistargeted advertising was the source of all the easysaver complaints that came in lately. I took the necessary measures and I'll get back to you after the situation improves.

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8 juliacassidy May 14, 2010 at 9:53 am

I completely agree, and unfortunately, @bawright, you can see examples of small business lacking the conscience on the importance of advertising every day. I still cannot believe it when both newbies and people that have been running their businesses for a long time now, insist on getting to know “the use of advertising for small businesses”, and it is also incredible how they expect that, after creating a blog or website, things will just happen naturally, thousands of customers will appear from nowhere. But no, an advertising strategy is crucial and it has to be carefully planned according to the business nature so as to reach the target market.

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9 bawright February 18, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Decent article but lacks examples and follow-through. Give us some examples and pictures! Expound on your thoughts, some of your points leave me with, “okay…good point, but how do you fix it?”

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10 Anonymous February 9, 2010 at 10:00 pm

i think in business, it all comes down to returning customers, many people only depend on one time visitors, weather its online or walk in shop, little do they know that eventually the hype will die out if there is no reason for your customers to return back to you for more business.

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11 Club Penguin Cheats September 23, 2009 at 9:53 pm

I have gone through this site it was very good i got more information on small business and i have seen similar site it is also a very good in giving the information on small

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12 Sofort Kredit July 15, 2009 at 6:10 am

It is really a nice post, its always great reading such posts, this post is good in regards of both knowledge as well as information.Great advertising means putting your product in front of potential buyers exactly when they are looking for it.  On the internet, this means that you often have to provide something of value like information before offering to sell your product.  Then, you have to be flashy and catch their attention.  Thanks for the post.

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13 Anonymous June 27, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Even as a Website Designer, I cannot believe the amount of small businesses that are now blowing the majority of their limited advertising budget online. So many businesses are clamoring for better positions in the search engines and willing to spend every penny to achieve it yet there so many untapped offline markets still available which are becoming less and less competitive.
Bottom line small business owners….it’s the cost per enquiry that counts, nothing else.

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14 Lighting June 17, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Advertisement is considered compulsory for small business. I will try this question in near future. This may also help me in advertising my lighting business. Thanks

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15 Anonymous March 13, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Nice article, keep them coming.
Paul

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16 Asset Finance March 13, 2009 at 10:21 am

Nice article, keep them coming.

Paul

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17 The Tax Man January 25, 2009 at 5:46 am

Great advertising means putting your product in front of potential buyers exactly when they are looking for it.  On the internet, this means that you often have to provide something of value like information before offering to sell your product.  Then, you have to be flashy and catch their attention.

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18 Anonymous December 3, 2008 at 4:00 pm

I think I’m the second person that is my advertising is totally focused on the wrong person

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19 Anonymous December 3, 2008 at 6:00 am

I think I’m the second person that is my advertising is totally focused on the wrong person

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20 Anonymous November 2, 2008 at 3:54 am

Great article.  Writing a killer headline is critical to grabbing attention – but it has to be relevant to the product, service or what comes next.  If it doesn’t relate it doesn’t matter if you grab attention since the person is likely interested in something else. 

Here’s a great article on how to create an attention grabbing article.

<a >How You Can Create a Killer Headline</a>

Surprised you didn’t mention testamonials as a way to drive belief…

- John
http://www.sbimonline.com

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21 Anonymous November 2, 2008 at 8:54 am

Great article.  Writing a killer headline is critical to grabbing attention – but it has to be relevant to the product, service or what comes next.  If it doesn’t relate it doesn’t matter if you grab attention since the person is likely interested in something else. 
Here’s a great article on how to create an attention grabbing article.
<a >How You Can Create a Killer Headline</a>
Surprised you didn’t mention testamonials as a way to drive belief…
- John
http://www.sbimonline.com

Reply

22 Anonymous September 21, 2008 at 12:16 pm

The best part of this article is about the Small Business Advertising Question that how to promote the business, i really like the way its describe the complete information they have provided that one small businessmen should adopt to get in success in all departments specially in Marketing.

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23 Anonymous September 21, 2008 at 5:16 pm

The best part of this article is about the Small Business Advertising Question that how to promote the business, i really like the way its describe the complete information they have provided that one small businessmen should adopt to get in success in all departments specially in Marketing.

Reply

24 Anonymous September 5, 2008 at 4:58 am

Another great post.  Lots of great information.  I really appreciate it.  Thanks!

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25 Anonymous September 4, 2008 at 6:58 pm

Another great post.  Lots of great information.  I really appreciate it.  Thanks!

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26 Anonymous July 31, 2008 at 4:51 am

I have really gotten frustrated lately with my business.  I guess I need to get more compelling when sharing my business with others.  Thanks for the info.

Dave
http://www.ElectricHomeBusiness.com

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27 Anonymous July 31, 2008 at 9:51 am

I have really gotten frustrated lately with my business.  I guess I need to get more compelling when sharing my business with others.  Thanks for the info.
Dave
http://www.ElectricHomeBusiness.com

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28 Anonymous June 29, 2008 at 8:11 am

I love the post. This is the first time to your blog and I have really enjoyed reading your information.
I will be back. Thanks again. Jill

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29 Anonymous June 29, 2008 at 1:11 pm

I love the post. This is the first time to your blog and I have really enjoyed reading your information.
I will be back. Thanks again. Jill

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30 Anonymous February 17, 2008 at 5:15 pm

What a great post!!  Thank you for sharing this information. I am very impressed!
You make it sound so easy!  Hopefully as I start using your examples it will be as easy as it seems.
Thanks again.
Tony Snow
http://www.ambetenergy.com

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31 Anonymous April 30, 2007 at 12:30 am

Excellent synopsis of what it takes to use advertising to improve small business marketing.

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32 Anonymous April 29, 2007 at 2:30 pm

Excellent synopsis of what it takes to use advertising to improve small business marketing.

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33 Anonymous April 20, 2007 at 12:31 am

This is a great post! We’re trying to counter a lot of small business frustration with our advertising service we’re developing at OnCard Marketing. We’re also conducting a survey study to understand better what business owners feel about advertising and frustrations they have around marketing their good or services. Please help us by providing some invaluable insight. You can check out the survey at
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=862633577249

Reply

34 Anonymous April 20, 2007 at 5:31 am

This is a great post! We’re trying to counter a lot of small business frustration with our advertising service we’re developing at OnCard Marketing. We’re also conducting a survey study to understand better what business owners feel about advertising and frustrations they have around marketing their good or services. Please help us by providing some invaluable insight. You can check out the survey at
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=862633577249

Reply

35 Anonymous April 11, 2007 at 6:58 am

Totally on target. Client centered marketing is much more effective than me centered marketing.

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36 Anonymous April 10, 2007 at 8:58 pm

Totally on target. Client centered marketing is much more effective than me centered marketing.

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37 Anonymous March 14, 2007 at 8:49 am

Good one!! I think it really answers the questions of the majority of small business owners

Great blog!! I love it. I would be flattered if you would like to visit and commnet on my blog. Is it possible to exchange link?

Thank you,

David Herlambang
MarketingFirst
http://www.marketingfirst.blogspot.com

Reply

38 Anonymous March 14, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Good one!! I think it really answers the questions of the majority of small business owners
Great blog!! I love it. I would be flattered if you would like to visit and commnet on my blog. Is it possible to exchange link?
Thank you,
David Herlambang
MarketingFirst
http://www.marketingfirst.blogspot.com

Reply

39 Anonymous March 4, 2007 at 9:40 pm

Great article, concise and to-the-point. Look forward to reading more!

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40 Anonymous March 4, 2007 at 11:40 am

Great article, concise and to-the-point. Look forward to reading more!

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41 Anonymous February 27, 2007 at 10:05 am

I have gone through this site it was very good i got more information on small business and i have seen similar site it is also a very good in giving the information on small

http:// www. businessbooming.com

Reply

42 Anonymous February 27, 2007 at 3:05 pm

I have gone through this site it was very good i got more information on small business and i have seen similar site it is also a very good in giving the information on small
http:// www. businessbooming.com

Reply

43 Anonymous February 12, 2007 at 6:54 am

Great posting! Sorry it took me so long to find it. This sums it up nicely for the small business client.

Reply

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