Planning advertising for any business is nothing to be taken lightly. Advertising, after all, is the method by which a business gets its message out to the world. How, and how well, a business advertises its products or services can, and does, make the difference between business success and business failure. Thus, planning and evaluating advertising are critical business activities.
Most successful business advertising results from four basic considerations: connecting with the customer, adhering to legal and ethical norms, the methods of communication with customers and measuring advertising effectiveness.
Connecting with the Customer
How the business wants to present itself, what the business products or services the business provides, and who the customers of a business are all effect how advertising connects to the customer. The first way a business connects with the customer is by way of branding.
In the old west, a brand served as a symbol which quickly communicated a message of who owned that brand. Today, a brand performs the same function and much more. A company’s brand communicates the company’s image or how the business wants to present itself to and be perceived by the public.
Ford Motor Company ( F), for example attempts to communicate a different image with its Ford branded cars than it does with its Lincoln brand even though both companies belong to Ford Industries Incorporated. Ford’s brand strives for an image of reliability, safety and value which attempts to connect with the common working people trying to make the most out of every dollar. Meanwhile, Lincoln’s brand image attempts to communicate an image of luxury, comfort and elegance to a wealthier or more demanding customer base.
The Advertising Concept
How advertising communicates these images is by the advertising concept, or the underlying theme of the advertisement. The advertising concept determines how well the business connects both emotionally and rationally with its customers and can determine the effectiveness of any advertising campaign.
The television commercial starring Matthew McConaughey illustrates the idea of concept exceptionally well. The smooth jazz music, to the suit McConaughey wore, to the decision to film the Lincoln speeding across a tidal flat, and the calculated decision to leave McConaughey unshaven all worked to establish a concept which, “conveys exhilaration and the visceral feeling of driving,” according to Lincoln’s own website.
The products and services a business sells guide decision-making for the brand, their image and concept because what a business sells often determines how to sell it. Ads from the candy company Mars focus on the fun and pleasure of a little sweet indulgence, whereas ads for Tyson Foods ( TSN) emphasize the quality and purity of their chicken. These differences reflects the different concerns of the customers, and those concerns become the base of the advertising plans for those businesses.
Likewise, who a business sells to changes both the image and the concept of how a company advertises. Advertising may be different if a business sells to a wide customer base than to a specific market. The customer chooses whether or not to buy what a business is selling, so knowing who the customers are, what they want and what they will pay for is key to advertising success. Hershey ( HSY) and Ghirardelli sell chocolate to customers of different economic strata; thus, their brand images and the concepts used in their ads reflect those differences.
Who your customer is changes how and what you communicate; what images will influence the customer’s emotions, what messages reach their intellect, what values do the customers respect and what value will the customers pay for?
Adhering to legal and ethical norms
The most critical legal and ethical issue regarding advertising is honesty. Ethically, businesses should avoid any statement or omission of information which may mislead their customers when planning their advertising. First, this is just good business. Companies caught lying to their customers normally lose customers. Second, federal, state and local governments have established various “Truth-in-Advertising” laws which come with hefty fines. Thirdly, because aggrieved customers are likely to sue dishonest businesses in court.
Another ethical and legal issue in planning business advertising is copyright infringement. This occurs when a business purposefully or inadvertently uses legally protected images, trademarks, or other material in advertising without the permission or remuneration of the protected material. Using a photograph taken from the internet for an ad may represent the image you want, but the photographer who took the shot and owns its copyright will probably sue you.
Also, businesses need to avoid any charges of discrimination based on the material or placement of their ads. Very few businesses could withstand the uproar caused from alienating one or more minority group because of an insensitive image or implication in their advertising.
The methods of communication
The methods, or media, that a business uses for its advertising changes how the company’s brand, image and advertising concepts are delivered.
Today, businesses utilize four general methods of advertising: print, broadcast, electronic and event advertising. Each method possesses its own strengths and weaknesses; therefore, most businesses utilize most or all methods when planning advertising campaigns.
Print advertising focuses mainly on placing ads in newspapers, magazines and fliers, posting ads on billboards, park benches or city bus stops and reaching out to customers directly through direct-mail campaigns. The sign outside of a business is yet another form of print advertising as is the company’s logo or trademark. More importantly, each type of print media reaches different regional, economic, cultural, ethnic, demographic or interest groups, and businesses must plan for this reality when hammering out a solid advertising plan.
Broadcast advertising includes, AM and FM radio as well as broadcast and cable television. Each of these media methods appeal to varying audiences and therefore their use must be part of a comprehensive business advertising plan. For example, AM radio stations hold a different demographic of listeners than FM radio stations. Cable news networks possess different audiences than cable movie channels, and broadcast stations seek a variety of viewers.
The advent of the internet created yet another media method for business advertising. No serious business can long survive in today’s interconnected world without having its own, professionally-designed and managed website complete with links on how to buy what the business is selling and secure methods to pay for it upon demand. This does not happen by accident; business professionals must plan their business website with the same rigor that they use when advertising on the internet.
The power of including internet advertising as part of an advertising plan comes from the fact that computers and computer programs give the business professional the ability to target specific advertising to demographic groups based on region, religion, race, national-origin, to any number of interests or even to specific individuals.
Advertising can be placed on applications for smartphones, on social media sites, on blogs and a number of other electronic media forms. Business planners therefore must weigh almost unlimited options against costs and the company’s brand and image and the ad concepts they wish to adhere to.
Finally, event advertising presents its own planning concerns. Every sport, race, concert or show draws a different crowd. Some are regional events and some are national. Some are televised, and some are broadcasted over the radio. Planning advertising to take advantage of this can effectively double the reach of your advertisements and increase its effectiveness.
Which leads to the final consideration in planning business advertising: measuring the effectiveness your advertising.
Measuring advertising effectiveness
The bottom line for planning advertising must include a means for measuring the return on the advertising investment. Whether the company possesses millions of dollars to spend on a comprehensive multi-media advertising plan or a budget barely enough for a small plastic sign on the door, no business willingly writes a check for anything that does not make a profit.
This means a good advertising plan needs a yard stick, or a way to measure if it’s working.
One of the simplest methods for measuring advertising effectiveness is product or account tracking. Supermarkets often track items offered for sale in weekly newspaper fliers to determine if customers are buying more of the items advertised. Retailers count returned coupons printed in various print media to measure response rates.
One more modern method of measuring print advertising response is the Quick Response or QR code. Businesses use these computer-generated digital images for various purposes, but they prove highly effective for measuring advertising response for print media. Most product packaging (a form of print media) possess a QR code which customers can scan on their smartphones. Most QR codes contain the company’s URL web address giving customers access to special offers or content, but they also provide nearly instant feedback to companies who planned ahead and insisted on placing a QR code on labeling or advertising.
Adaptations of the QR code came into vogue for other media not long after the print version. Both radio and television advertising refer to the company’s website and offer discounts or additional services for entering a specific “Promo Code” upon entering the site or at checkout.
Various software companies offer “Click Tracking” programs with the capability of tracing all the way back to the individual computer used to click on an ad, and most companies offering modes of digital advertising possess the ability to route additional advertising for similar products and services directly back to previous customers.
Planning for advertising at events should include accounting, coding and tracking methods as well if the professionals responsible are to evaluate its effectiveness.
All of this may seem daunting even for a large business, but advertising firms, television and radio stations, cable providers, ad sales representatives, and individual professional consultants stand ready to provide much of the talent, knowledge, capability and skill necessary to help any business that has a message and is planning on getting it out into the world.