Research BEFORE “Advertising”!

I recently received an e-mail from a reader that I found interesting but alarming at the same time. The question came from a new, small, start-up sign shop and the sender seemed to be a motivated and sincere new business owner. In a highly condensed version of the message I was asked what type of advertising should this new, small sign shop start using… what did I recommend? Should they advertise in the Yellow Pages, magazines, radio, flyers…? Now, this individual acknowledged the importance & power of Word of Mouth advertising but had also decided that it was time to start spending some money on “real advertising”.
Needless to say, my mental warning flags went right up!
In my opinion, starting an effective advertising campaign is NOT for the weak hearted or the unprepared. To dive into the realm of standard advertising can be both expensive and time consuming to do properly. If your sign shop is like most of the rest around the world, then you don’t exactly have $10,000+ to spend on radio ads, newspaper ads etc. in the hopes that they will result in more sales for your sign company. Not only do the regular, mainstream, advertising options require significant financial investment but their application is typically a shotgun based approach to the market.

In short, is this REALLY the most effective way for a sign shop to communicate with the local market…?
THIS is my response to the question regarding advertising for a sign shop…
“As for advertising, I would recommend that you back up one step and focus on your Marketing before you begin to worry about advertising (they are not the same thing). Marketing is the system of communication that creates the opportunity for you to sell your signs & banners. Keeping this in mind, it is vital that you first establish EXACTLY what types of products you are able to offer and maintain high profitability. Once you have identified your products and niche, you should then figure out EXACTLY who buys these products. THEN, you need to develop the best way, for your market area, to communicate specifically to those ideal prospects. Now that you have a target and a message, how will you make the sale & guarantee a happy customer? It is only at this point that you can determine the best use of your advertising dollars. You will notice that “Word of Mouth” is a perfect fit into this process and that is why it is so effective for businesses of all kinds.

As an example… if you determine that you can make an excellent profit on car club graphics and racing stripes then you first should determine who is buying these items. Let’s guess that it will be the local high school & college students as well as your area racing / car enthusiasts. What would be a better use of your advertising dollars… an expensive yellow pages ad for $200 per month or a low cost, highly targeted sponsorship in the local racing newsletter and the high school weekly newspaper for $50? Remember, highly specific and targeted beats a broad “shotgun” approach everyday for small business with limited budgets. This principle applies to every business and it is often a major cause of failure when it is ignored.”

The basic concept that I am trying to convey here is that it is useless to spend money on advertising if you have not conducted the necessary research before hand. If you don’t know who you need to talk to… what they are interested in buying… what their interests and issues are… what problems are they having that I can solve… how do they communicate… what do they expect from your offerings…

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then how do you expect your advertising to be effective?

Check out the Free Sign Buying Guide for the resulting advertising message I developed when I started asking myself these questions…