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Sad About Your Ads? Then Read This

By: Marcia Yudkin

Marcia Yudkin's nine books include Six Steps to Free Publicity, Persuading on Paper and Marketing Online, all from Plume/Penguin Books. Based in Boston, she serves as a commentator for WBUR radio, and her Marketing Matters column is syndicated by Paradigm, The Syndicating Agency. Her Web site is at

Here's a common lament from people promoting a small business: "I just spent $700 on advertising and got only two responses. Help!" And from those who've grown a business successfully I've heard: "I've built a half-million-dollar business without advertising. I guess it's time now."

Both of these comments derive from misconceptions about advertising -- as if it's the obvious and only choice for gaining new customers. Not at all. If something about your business is newsworthy, media publicity can bring you more credibility and visibility than advertising. If your product or service requires that customers trust you, personal networking, publishing articles that demonstrate your expertise and public speaking pay off better than advertising.

Effective advertising begins not with a knee-jerk assumption that it's the only way to attract buyers, but with an analysis of the typical decision cycle with respect to what you're selling. What is the way in which people typically realize that they need your service or product, and how do they usually go about making the decision to buy it? Given that, can advertising can reach prospects at a crucial point in their decision cycle and influence them to come your way?

For a service like plumbing, people usually decide to buy when a problem of or by sending their fingers walking through the Yellow Pages.
Advertising plumbing services in a magazine or through sales letters most people would receive when they weren't experiencing a problem wouldn't work. Yellow Pages ads are the plumbers' #1 marketing vehicle.

For something like computer software, people generally have the leeway to investigate options over a period of time, and might look to magazines that cover software for leads and recommendations. Here advertising consistently in magazines read by your target audience makes perfect sense.

For products and services people may want but not urgently need, like self-help books, exercise equipment or vision improving surgery, attention-getting ads in magazines, newspapers and on television can create interest and with repetition, inspire people to act. However, this works only with a careful match between the product or service and the audience of your chosen advertising vehicle.

For advertising to pay off, avoid impulse buying of ads. When I ask people why they chose their advertising vehicle, I sometimes hear, "It seemed like a good idea" or "I subscribe" or "They offered me a good deal." Instead of this haphazard approach, be specific about the population you're trying to reach and investigate which options will actually reach that population at the best price. A reference work on advertising media called Standard Rate & Data Service, available at many public libraries, will be helpful, as will statistics in the media kits provided free by any medium that sells advertising.

Be strategic in your advertising approach and your new lament may be "The phone is ringing off the hook. Help!"

© Copyright 1999 Marcia Yudkin. All rights reserved.

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