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Here’s a view of advertising that is a blend of high-level thinking from a couple of independent consultants I know, and a couple of world-famous advertising agencies. It’s an opinion piece, within which sit a number of proven facts, as well as the original ideas of the contributors. You can decide which bits are most relevant to you, which bits you agree with, which bits you don’t agree with, and the way your business or brand embraces and approaches advertising in the future as a consequence.
This five-minute read takes the conversation about advertising much further than the all-too-common narrative of, “Here, place an ad – any old ad you want to give us – in our magazine, and you’ll sell more.” This is how a lot of publications speak to you, of course. Particularly their commission-hungry sales departments.
Let’s go a little deeper than that.
First Things First.
Before we take a look at advertising, let’s talk about public relations (PR). As a general rule, early-stage businesses should not advertise at all. They should invest in public relations instead. Why? Because young, fresh, new brands should have a story to tell. They should be able to focus in on, and tell great stories about, the change they want to make with their new venture. New businesses should be storyful, excitable, inspirational and rich with tales of ambition and what the future holds for the founders and their potential customers. And all of this and more is PR-able. PR in the early stage of a business is the way to go because PR stories will help you to forge a position. To own a position. To become famous for the change that you want to make, in the way that only you can.
So when should a brand use advertising?
A short / headline answer is this. Use advertising to reenforce or strengthen an existing or emerging brand position or owned messaging. Use advertising to – creatively – say the same few things about your brand over and over and over again. Use advertising to keep you front of mind – but not just in such a way that people simply ‘know you are there’. (That’s simple ‘awareness’. And chasing simple awareness is sub-optimal). Use advertising to remind people about your existing, owned point of difference, in new and interesting ways. As I say, over and over and over again.
And what can we expect from advertising? This is where it gets interesting. This is where we can turn to the writing of one of the world’s most respected advertising teams, Adam and Eve. The following is (largely) extracted from some of this agencies’ thinking.
How Advertising Works.
Before we start, the biggest message about how advertising works is that we should be realistic about what it can and probably will achieve for you. It is unlikely that any advertising activity – ever – will transform you. It does happen. But very rarely.
What you should expect from good quality advertising over time is a small increase – or at the very least maintenance – of sales and margins. Your existing customers will be reminded of your presence and continue to buy from you, at the price you’ve set. And a few new customers will join them, thus increasing your customer base. So, no hyperbole here. No over-exaggeration. No getting carried away. Advertising done consistently well can help you to maintain your position, levels of brand awareness, sales and margins.
Now, at this point, particularly because advertising can be quite expensive, we might ask ourselves – what’s the point? If the impact is that small, why bother? Well think about it like this. Imagine you don’t advertise at all. Imagine you don’t storytell. Imagine you don’t do anything that reminds people what you are about or what you are doing right now. If you neglect to communicate - you’ll slide. And of course, advertising will be part of a wider mix. Social media for example. So you can blend your messaging according to your budget. But don’t do nothing.
Manage Your Own Expectations.
Advertising will slightly increase the chance of people choosing your brand. This is a pretty accurate statement. So again, no fireworks – just a constrained statement for us to digest. Yet once more, think about what happens if you don’t advertise at all. No chance of people choosing your brand? Maybe, yes.
Now let’s look at what the advert itself should be and say. When you are developing advertising, keep in mind that you should be making your brand easy to think of and easy to buy. Be clear. Keep things simple. Think about how a target will recommunicate what you are saying to other people. Make your language mirror their language. Inspire don’t (over)educate. Engage don’t embarrass by using confusing or complex terms. And be consistent. Your ‘next’ advert should – at a brand level – feed into, and from, your ‘last’ advert.
Making your offer easy to buy requires a great degree of understanding of your target customer’s buyer behaviour. How do they want to buy? Online? Or do they have to actually see and experience what you are selling? How fast do they want it? It’s very often not as fast as you might imagine. And do they want to speak to you before they buy? Make your call or calls to action what they’d want and expect.
It’s a Feeling.
Here’s something to think about too. If you have a brand as opposed to just a business. (For simplicity let’s say that businesses are interested in the mechanics of short-term sales and margins, and brands are interested in finding people that believe in the change they want to make so they can build relationships over time that lead to more predictable, longer term sales and margins).
If you are a brand, use advertising to create positive feelings and associations with your offer. And you have to be specific and (normally) singular with your associations. Good advertising will make you feel something about the brand. So what is it? What do you want to make people feel about you? That you can be trusted? That you will shift actual perceptions of your customer just by them being seen using your brand? That a customer is automatically contributing to a secondary greater-good by choosing you? Do think about this.
And just as important, is to not be too serious in your messaging. Have fun! Think about achieving a broad reach amongst target customers and sometimes even non-target customers too, by creating advertising that people find interesting and enjoyable. Some of the greatest advertising ever is funny! And (importantly) born from what the brand is about. Lynx and it’s stories of seduction. Smash mashed potato and its patronising aliens (ask your mum). Early Phileas Fogg and its timelessly brilliant stories from Medomsley Road, Consett (ask your dad). And by the way, reaching non-target customers is strategically useful if, for example, you are an aspirational brand. Rolex watches should be coveted by those that can afford them, and those that cannot.
A final check for your advertising is to obviously make sure that you are activating the message in a targeted way. Understand the audience – who they are and where they are. And these two final words are important – relevant and useful. Is what you are claiming and saying relevant and genuinely useful to the targets you want to influence?
Advertising. How It Really Works.
In summary, do advertise when the time is right. But do take heed of the guidance, the ideas and the checks mentioned in this article.
Keep your expectations in check, too. Many-a-time, brand owners will set an ad campaign in motion then wait with bated breath for the effect to hit. This almost always ends in disappointment. Advertising should be part of a wider strategic and layered communications strategy anyway. With a range of activities feeding into and from each other. So do keep that in mind.
It’s hard to find people and even agencies that really do understand the relationship between business, brand, marketing, advertising, design, copywriting and more. But when you do, and when you commit – properly and over time – it can make a big difference.