If money were no object, it would be easy to decide which advertising medium to go with—all of them! Unfortunately, the reality is that even with a hefty advertising budget, it is a challenge to create memorable advertising. So, unless you have truckloads of money to spend, you should try one media option at a time.

What works for one product or service may not work for the next. There are so many different variables that can affect the results of an advertising campaign—from ad copy to the weather. You will simply have to test the effectiveness of your message in each media to find the best vehicle for promoting your product. Advertising is an art, not a science!

Where to Start?

The first place I’d look to test advertising is where my competitors are advertising. I wouldn’t assume that I would get great results even if all my competitors were advertising there, but I would assume that my odds are better than any other place. Sometimes customers tend to specifically go to places where they think they can find a lot of ads.

For example, customers looking for local service work might look at the service advertising section of the local weekly town newspaper or if considering buying a car they might check the car ads in the Saturday morning newspaper. Now you’re probably thinking, won’t the customers just search on the Internet? Maybe yes and maybe no. Are your competitors spending lots of their ad dollars there? If so, it is a good indication.

Really, Really Cheap

Another type of advertising I might test next would be really, really cheap advertising. In my first business, Bob’s Rent-A-Bike, it was a crudely drawn poster placed on a bulletin board. Maybe passing out flyers in a busy city center or placing them on car windshields would work for you.

Precise, Pinpoint Advertising

Then I might think how can I get the most mileage out of my advertising by zeroing in not just on prospective customers, but on prospective customers who might have a much higher propensity to buy from me than the average consumer. For example, if I were running a house painting business, I might walk up to every single door in the neighborhood and leave a flyer not only offering our services but also noting that we are just completing work at “your neighbor John Smith’s house at 99 Main Street” and “would be happy to give you a free quote while we are in the neighborhood.”

In fact this “while we are in the neighborhood” advertising approach is regularly employed by large cable and phone companies trying to line up new customers.

Use Internet Search Advertising to Pinpoint Your Audience

Internet search advertising is ideal for pinpoint advertising. Here, too, one key to success may be zeroing in not just on prospective customers but on prospective customers who have a higher propensity to do business with you.

Let’s say you have a retail store in Boston selling a wide variety of bicycles. You might find that buying the keywords on an Internet search engine of “Boston and bicycles” barely gives you enough response to break even on your advertising budget. But maybe you find that because you have an above-average selection of mountain bicycles, buying the keywords “Boston and mountain bicycles” will make your advertising response rate dramatically higher.

Match Your Advertising to Your Audience

Maybe only certain media can reach your core audience. How can you reach college students in Chicago, for example? They don’t tend to read the local newspaper or watch the evening news. You could try to reach certain radio stations that match their demographic. Or you could consider transit advertising.

Driving People to Your Website

Next, I might give extra effort to media that can most easily drive traffic to my website. Even for a tiny business, I would make sure that I have a great website that really “sells” new customers on the idea of doing business with me.

Of course, any advertising media can get people to click on your website. But without a huge budget, the easiest way to get people to your website is generally to reach them through a media where all they have to do is click and be linked to your site. Internet search ads, Internet display ads, social media posts, Internet publicity, and email allow someone to click through to your website.

Matching the Product or the Message to the Advertising

Many products and services are ideally displayed on television, and with local cable television, even small local companies can afford cable. But the cost per thousand is typically very high in comparison to other media. So the question becomes, “Does my product or service benefit enough from television to justify the premium cost, or will another media suffice?”

I would have thought an obvious candidate for television advertising is furniture. Doesn’t seeing it really make all the difference? Maybe not. In the Boston area, the most successful furniture retailer, Jordan’s Furniture, skyrocketed their sales not on TV advertising but on radio advertising. But their advertising didn’t focus on describing their products—it focused on their message and their one-word unique selling proposition: “underprices.” Low everyday underprices. If your basic message is price or something else relatively simply conveyed in a few words, then you don’t need to spend the premium money required for television ads.

Maybe you have a message that takes an unusually high degree of impact to get any response at all. Perhaps you need to buy extra long TV spots? Or maybe you need to send out elaborate direct mail packages?

Take a Wide Sweep

Finally, I would tend to test a variety of different media with a variety of different pitches. But for small business advertising, I would have one constant: all of my advertising would not be aimed at building an image for tomorrow—instead, it would be 100 percent aimed at getting a sale today.

And even when I found an advertising media or two that seemed to work okay, I would keep testing other approaches with very small amounts of money. Perhaps you will find a dramatically better solution, or perhaps the advertising media that is working okay today will not necessarily work so great in the future.

This is advertising. The only given is uncertainty!

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Look at where your competition is advertising.
  • Sometimes cheap alternatives are perfect.
  • Match the advertising to the audience, and match the product to the advertising.