Outdoing the Competition

“One of the most costly things a business can do is throw money down the drain on an ad budget that’s too anemic to be effective. Make no mistake, there’s a bottom line that must be met to get noticed.”

Advertising is a basic cost of doing business. You’ve probably accepted that. But, keep in mind, it’s also a shoot out — a place where you face competitors daily to conquer and defend valuable territory. The battle that’s fought here, if it’s to be worth fighting, is expensive. There are, however, ways to compete economically with companies that spend more than you can afford, and still profit from the investment. Listed below are 10 ways to get the most bang for your buck from your ad budget.

Spend Enough
One of the most costly things a business can do is throw money down the drain on an ad budget that’s too anemic to be effective. Make no mistake, there’s a bottom line that must be met to get noticed. If you can’t cross that line, you might as well spend your money on office supplies. Take the time to research your competition, compare ad budgets, and determine the cost per prospect you’re comfortable with. Then develop a realistic budget with measurable goals. Now you’re funding an investment rather than paying an expense.

Give your campaign time to work. As with any investment, the cost of a constantly changing course almost always outweighs any potential gains from sudden shifts in strategy.

Insist on an integrated campaign, carrying one unified message across all your communication platforms. This lets you develop all of your materials for trade shows, collateral, direct mail, print advertising, promotions and everything else as a package (think package deal) and saves you time and money spent controlling the process.

It also allows each piece to pick up where the last one left off, effectively multiplying the communications productivity of everything you develop.

Be Selective
Be selective with your market and start out with a smaller piece of the pie. Concentrate on reaching only the people from whom you stand to gain the most. You can use the growth from that market to fund your marketing efforts to others.

Market Inward
Target your existing customers to promote growth and up-sell products. Also, your own office, lobby or building can serve as a valuable advertising medium. Banks and retail merchants are constantly using the space they already have to display promotional materials. You can do the same, indoors and out.

Try Timelessness
Good marketing materials are expensive. Don’t spend a fortune on collateral that will be quickly outdated and need to be reprinted. Invest in timeless designs that are easy to update without enormous expense.

Trim Production
Extravagance has its place and purpose in advertising, but you needn’t rely on Hollywood effects or celebrity photo-shoots to deliver your message. Often, simplicity is the hardest worker you have. Keep in mind, however, that your message and image are critical factors in this contest of persuasion and any effort to cut costs should only follow careful consideration of the potential risks and results.

For instance, stock photography and graphics can save a great deal of time and money, but run the risk of being used by others in the same industry. Likewise, a big, bold headline can stand-alone and save even more, but it also needs to be a good headline to be effective.

Place Creatively
You want to appear to a select group as though you are everywhere, all of the time. If you work with an ad agency, it should be able to get some terrific package rates and long-term discounts from the media that will benefit everyone involved.

Consider the size of your ads as well. For instance, junior-page ads and half-page spreads can save you money while maintaining dominant impact. If television is on your menu, then consider local cable, market by market. With costs as low as $25 a spot (sometimes lower) cable can be a very cost-effective way to carefully target individual markets.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Many companies sponsor co-op ad programs to provide funds to local advertisers in exchange for a logo or mention. If none of your current partners offer such a program, you may want to try developing strategic alliances of your own.

Go Online
The Internet is an invaluable resource for business that should be exploited. It allows you to research and evaluate scores of solutions without the expense of additional staff or outside services. It also enables you to broadcast lengthy, detailed, and persuasive information to a global audience in a format that’s easy to customize and update.

You can develop even more suggestions on how to compete on a less-than-level playing field. Even if you don’t have the high ground, you can still take the hill with a sound strategy and some clever creative ideas. The worst thing you can do is go unnoticed while someone else takes the prize — simply because they tried.

by Chris Brantly