Land of the “Lost” – Local Business and the Evolving Advertising Landscape

Couple standing in front of organic food store smilingRunning a successful small business can be a daunting task – keeping up with the challenges of advertising it can seem almost impossible. After spending the day fighting for every dime with suppliers, acting as the company’s judge and jury for all HR issues, balancing the books, forging partnerships, checking for product quality and inventory levels, and – oh yeah, acting as a marketing expert – who has time to keep up with all the advertising changes today. Fact is, for many business owners when it comes to advertising, they still go with what they know – and oftentimes it’s not the same story they once knew just a few years back.

But the Advertising Landscape Seems to Evolve by the HOUR!
And it’s not just the local business owner who feels this way – heck, there are multinationals with loads of resources zigging when they should’ve zagged when it comes to media – especially with “new” media. And when time is already not your friend, it’s that much harder to keep up with the changes. I can’t tell you how many small business owners have conveyed to me feelings of being “lost” when it comes to making advertising decisions for their business:

“Does the way I have advertised in the past still work?”

“If my competitor does it, how do I know it’s right?”

“What I’m doing now, how do I know THAT’S right?”

“What combination of media should I be using?”

“Where can I find my audiences most effectively these days? And how do I keep them engaged?”

“Can I really compete having a ‘local’ ad budget?”

“Multiple screen approach – what’s that?”

Traditional? New media? Social?

…and the list goes on!

Newer media like online display and social advertising aside, even traditional advertising has changed. For example, many business owners still operate under the assumption, that with television advertising you always have to buy the entire city/DMA, or you have to display your messages only to masses of people who would never buy you, or that producing a 30 second spot requires a full onsite production crew including a best boy and dolly grips – ALL MISCONCEPTIONS! Technology has helped level the playing field in television – yet so many local businesses still don’t look to it as an option, because many just don’t know any better (check out for additional insights).

Info Info Everywhere… but Nary a Definitive Answer
The mistake many small business owners and leaders make, is that they do not make time to consider the options. I know, easier said than done, especially in light of the multiple hats they are wearing. Sure, you can roam the internet looking for the answers, but what if you’re not asking the right questions? If you already perceive TV as being too expensive, are you going to check there for your options? You don’t see your competition using Social Media – does that mean you shouldn’t consider it?

A few things you can do as a local business owner/leader:

  • Define your value proposition, your specialization and differentiation from others and…
  • … Determine your key marketing challenge in communicating this value proposition to your intended target audience.
  • Use media experts when at all possible – talk to traditional advertising outlets and/or advertising agencies. Don’t rely just on what you know or what you think your competition knows, as sometimes it’s the blind leading the blind and everyone can wind up “lost.”
  • Assess the state of your current advertising efforts (here is a Marketing Heath Assessment you can use). Get an idea for what others are doing, not just in your industry.
  • Consider ALL options – yes, even the oddest of odd (I even once looked at advertising space inside city Department of Motor Vehicle buildings!) Remember, options are valuable – know them! Don’t discount things like sponsoring local events (i.e. – High School plays, sports teams). Again, a media expert can help here.
  • Exercise patience – if you commit to something for three months, don’t bail after three days, or even three weeks. Stick with the plan – it often takes time for a strategy to pay dividends. And at the same time…
  • ….Measure what’s working – at the very least survey your customers, even if it means knocking a % off the sale at the point of purchase to get that feedback. Their contact information alone can be worth the sale price! Nathan Furr and Paul Ahlstrom, co-authors of the book Nail It, Then Scale It, said it best: Which would you rather do — talk to customers now and find out you were wrong or talk to customers a year and thousands of dollars down the road and still find out you were wrong?”
  • If anyone tells you “traditional” is dead, run the other way. Likewise, if you hear that new media is “unproven” and to stay away, second guess them too. Your strategy should have a blend of the two.
  • Let Social be your friend – and once you start it don’t ignore it EVER! It’s where you get to wear both a marketing and customer service hat at the same time (like you need another hat!).


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