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Develop Effective Marketing Communications for Your Small Business

All marketing communications or advertising for your small business, whether delivered in person, through promotions, or via traditional media, direct mail, or e-mail, need to accomplish the same tasks:

  • Grab attention.

  • Impart information the prospect wants to know.

  • Present offers that are sensitive to how and when the prospect wants to take action.

  • Affirm why the prospect would want to take action.

  • Offer a reason to take action.

  • Launch a relationship, which increasingly means fostering interaction and two-way communication between you and your customer.

Good communications convince prospects and nudge them into action without any apparent effort. They meld the verbiage with the visual and the message with the messenger so the consumer receives a single, inspiring idea.

Creative types will tell you that making marketing communications look easy takes a lot of time and talent, and they’re right. If you’re spending more than $10,000 on an advertising effort or developing a major marketing vehicle such as a website, ad campaign, or product package, bring in pros to help you out.

Communicate your small business' big idea through advertising

After you establish your objectives by defining what you want to accomplish with your advertising, and prepare a creative brief that defines how you plan to meet your objectives, it’s time to develop your creative message.

No matter which target audience you’re reaching out to, the people in that audience are busy and distracted by an onslaught of competing messages. That’s why great communicators know that they need to project big ideas to be heard over the marketplace din.

The big idea is to advertising what the brake, gas pedal, and steering wheel are to driving. (See why they call it big?) Here’s what the big idea does:

  • It stops the prospect.

  • It fuels interest.

  • It inspires prospects to take the desired action.

Advertising textbooks point to Volkswagen’s “Think Small” ad campaign as a historic example of a big idea. Volkswagen used it to stun a market into attention at a time when big-finned, lane-hogging gas guzzlers ruled the highways. “Think Small” — two words accompanied by a picture of a squat, round Volkswagen Beetle miniaturized on a full page — stopped consumers, changed attitudes, and made the Bug chic.

More recently, “Got Milk?” was the big idea that juiced up milk sales, and “Smell like a man” worked like magic for Old Spice.

But big ideas aren’t just for big advertisers. In my hometown of Portland, Oregon, quirky Voodoo Donut’s big idea that “The magic is in the hole” has gained international appeal for a two-outlet (though expanding) enterprise.

Big ideas are

  • Appealing to your target market

  • Attention-getting

  • Capable of conveying the benefit you promise

  • Compelling

  • Memorable

  • Persuasive

An idea qualifies as a big idea only if it meets all the preceding qualifications. Many advertisers quit when they hit on an attention-getting and memorable idea. Think of it this way: A slammed door is attention-getting and memorable, but it’s far from appealing, beneficial, compelling, or persuasive.

Brainstorm your way to effective small business marketing communications

Brainstorming is an anything-goes group process for generating ideas through free association and imaginative thinking with no grandstanding, no idea ownership, no evaluation, and definitely no criticism.

The point of brainstorming is to put the mind on automatic pilot and see where it leads. You can improve your brainstorming sessions by doing some research in advance:

  • Study websites and magazines for inspiration. Pick up copies of Advertising Age, Adweek, or Communication Arts (available at newsstands and in most libraries) for a look at the latest in ad trends. Also include fashion magazines, which are a showcase for big ideas and image advertising.

  • Check out competitors’ ads and ads for businesses that target similar audiences to yours. If you sell luxury goods, look at ads for high-end cars, jewelry, or designer clothes. If you compete on price, study ads by Target and Walmart.

  • Look at your own past ads.

  • Think of how you can turn the most unusual attributes of your product or service into unique benefits.

  • Doodle. Ultimately, great marketing messages combine words and visuals. See where your pencil leads your mind.

  • Widen your perspective by inviting a customer or a front-line staff person to participate in the brainstorming session.

If you’re turning your marketing project over to a staff member or to outside professionals, you may or may not decide to participate in the brainstorming session.

If you do attend, remember that a brainstorming session has no boss, and every idea is a good idea. Bite your tongue each time you want to say, “Yes, but . . .” or, “We tried that once and . . .” or, “Get real, that idea is just plain dumb.”

At the end of the brainstorm, gather up and evaluate the ideas:

  • Which ideas address the target audience and support the objectives outlined in your creative brief?

  • Which ones best present the consumer benefit?

  • Which ones can you implement with strength and within the budget?

Any idea that wins on all counts is a candidate for implementation.

Simple advertising rules for effective small business marketing communications

The following rules apply to all ads, regardless of the medium, the message, the mood, or the creative direction:

  • Know your objective and stay on strategy.

  • Be honest.

  • Be specific.

  • Be original.

  • Be clear and concise.

  • Don’t overpromise or exaggerate.

  • Don’t be self-centered or, worse, arrogant.

  • Don’t hard-sell.

  • Don’t insult, discriminate, or offend.

  • Don’t turn the task of ad creation over to a committee.

Committees are great for brainstorming, but when it comes to developing headlines, they round the edges off of strong ideas. They eliminate any nuance that any committee member finds questionable, and they crowd messages with details that matter more to the marketers than to the market. An old cartoon popular in ad agencies is captioned, “A camel is a horse designed by committee.”

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