Choose the Best Media for Marketing Your Small Business

By Barbara Findlay Schenck

Selecting the best media vehicle for advertising your small business can be a hair pulling experience. However, you can easily convey your small business marketing message to your target audience through careful scheduling of ads and effective use of media choices, and still keep most of your hair.

Back in the day, advertisers chose from among three TV networks, a couple of local-market AM radio stations, and a single hometown newspaper. Because today’s advertiser faces additional choices, including cable TV channels, dozens of radio stations in even the smallest market areas, 7,500 consumer magazines (and another 7,500 online magazines), countless alternative newspapers, and constantly emerging online advertising options, placing ads sometimes feels like a roll of the dice.

The upcoming two sections help tip the odds in your favor with an overview of today’s advertising channels and advice about how to select the best vehicles for your advertising messages.

Small business media advertising choices

Marketing communications are delivered in one of two ways:

  • Mass media channels, which reach many people simultaneously.

  • One-to-one marketing tools, which reach people individually, usually through direct mail or e-mail.

When people talk about media, it’s usually mass media they’re talking about, which traditionally has been divided into three categories, with a new category recently added:

  • Print media: Includes newspapers, magazines, and print directories.

  • Broadcast media: Includes TV and radio.

  • Outdoor media: Includes billboards, transit signs, murals, and signage.

  • Digital media: A mere few years ago, the digital-media category was usually called “new media,” but it’s not new anymore, and its usage, popularity, and effectiveness increase almost by the moment.

    Exactly as its name implies, digital media includes any media that’s reduced to digital data that can be communicated electronically. To you and me that means Internet advertising, webcasts, web pages, mobile and text ads, and interactive media, including social media networks.

Each mass-media channel comes with its own set of attributes and considerations, which are summarized in this table.

Mass Media Comparisons
Media Channel Advantages Considerations
Newspapers, which reach a broad, geographically-targeted
market
Involve short timelines and low-cost ad production You pay to reach the total circulation, even if only a portion
fits your prospect profile
Magazines, which reach target markets that share
characteristics and interests
Good for developing awareness and credibility through strong
visual presentations
Require long advance planning and costly production; ads are
viewed over long periods of time
Directories, which reach people at the time of purchase
decisions
Increasingly available for free in digital versions; good for
prompting selection over unlisted competitors
Print versions are impossible to update between editions and
increasingly eclipsed by digital directories
Radio, which reaches targeted local audiences (if they’re
tuned in)
Cost is often negotiable; good for building immediate interest
and response
You must air ads repeatedly to reach listeners; airtime is most
expensive when most people are tuned in
TV, which reaches broad audiences of targeted viewers (if
they’re tuned in)
Well-produced ads engage viewer emotions while building
awareness and credibility
Ad production is costly; reaching large audiences is expensive;
ads must be aired repeatedly; options such as DVD, Tivo, and Hulu
erode effectiveness
Digital media, which reaches people on-demand via any digital
device
Allows two-way communication with customers; allows convergence
of content by linking among digital sources; low cash
investment
Requires targeting of customers and keywords and a significant
time investment to create, monitor, and evaluate online visibility
and interaction

Decide which media to use to market your small business

Your media options are seemingly infinite, but your time and budget aren’t. So before considering media proposals for any given communication or campaign, answer the following questions:

  • What do you want this marketing effort to accomplish?

    If you want to develop general, far-reaching awareness and interest, use mass-media channels that reach a broad and general market. If you want to talk one-to-one with targeted prospective customers, bypass mass media in favor of targeted online communications and direct mail or other one-to-one communication tools.

  • Where do the people you want to reach turn for information?

    When it comes to purchasing ad space and time, trying to be all-inclusive is a bankrupting proposition. The more precisely you can define your prospect, the more precisely you can determine which media that person uses and, therefore, which media channels you should consider for your marketing program.

    When in doubt, ask customers how they like to be reached with marketing messages. Ask whether they read the local newspaper, tune in to local broadcast stations, or notice transit or outdoor ads. Ask whether they use social media networks and which ones. Ask whether they like or dislike marketing messages sent by text message or e-mail.

    Talking directly with customers is your great advantage as a small business. Ask directly if you can or use the free survey tools available through sites like SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang to poll customers.

    By finding out the media habits of your established customers, you get a good idea of the media habits of your prospective customers because they likely fit a very similar customer profile. After you’re clear about who your customers are and how they use media, you’ll know which media channels to target.

  • What information do you want to convey, and when do you want to convey it?

    Be clear about your message urgency and content, and then match your objectives with media channels. For example:

  • If you’re promoting an offer with a close deadline, such as a one-week special event, you obviously want to steer away from monthly magazines that are in circulation long after your offer is history.

  • If you want to show your product in action, you want to feature video in TV ads or on your website or YouTube channel, to which you can lead customers by including the link in your promotional materials, ads, and social media posts.

  • How much money is in your media budget?

    Set your budget before planning your media buy. Doing so forces you to be realistic with your media choices and saves you an enormous amount of time because you don’t have to listen to media sales pitches for approaches that are outside your budget range.