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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

Advertising strategy FAQs

Eleven FAQs on advertising strategy.

  1. What is an advertising strategy?
  2. Does my business need to advertise?
  3. What can advertising do for my business?
  4. What are the steps in planning an advertising campaign?
  5. How much should a business spend on advertising?
  6. Where should my business advertise?
  7. Where are the best places to advertise online?
  8. Should we use an advertising agency?
  9. How can I make my adverts stand out?
  10. How long does it take to see results from advertising?
  11. Should we try to match our competitors' advertising?

1. What is an advertising strategy?

An advertising strategy sets out how your business will use advertising to reach your target customers. Your strategy should include:

  • what you are trying to achieve (for example, raising brand awareness or boosting traffic to your website)
  • who you are trying to reach (potential and existing customers)
  • what message you want to put across (for example, your product's unique selling proposition)
  • which media you will advertise in
  • when and how often you will advertise
  • how much you plan to spend
  • how you will measure the effectiveness of your advertising

Your advertising strategy should fit in with your broader marketing strategy. The advertising strategy focuses on getting your message out through the media. The marketing strategy includes how you set about understanding your customers and positioning your business against the competition, and what alternatives to advertising you use for promotion and sales.

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2. Does my business need to advertise?

Most businesses need to reach out in some way if they are going to get new customers – and for many businesses, advertising is the obvious choice. Alternatives can include PR, events, direct selling, email marketing and use of social media. You need to decide which options are best for you.

Advertising can be a good choice if:

  • you want to reach a wide audience (rather than contacting potential customers individually)
  • you know who your target customers are, and which publications or media they view
  • you want to put across a relatively simple message (for example, if what you offer is easy to understand)
  • you want short-term results (for example, if you want to run a seasonal promotion to boost sales during a quiet period)

Advertising can be a bit hit-and-miss – it is difficult to be sure that the right people are seeing your advertisements and that the ads are having the effect you want. However, online pay-per-click advertising helps overcome this risk, as you only pay when people are interested enough by your ad to click through to your website.

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3. What can advertising do for my business?

A well-designed advertisement can:

  • generate sales or enquiries
  • improve your company image
  • create awareness of your products or services
  • get the word out about a sales promotion or offer
  • help establish you in a new location

Decide what you want your ad to achieve before you start writing it. Lead with a customer-focused proposition - what problem can you solve for your audience? Clear is better than clever.

A good advert might bring in a lot of enquiries, but lead to few sales because it is poorly worded or badly targeted. Measuring the effectiveness of your advertising will help confirm that you are getting it right.

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4. What are the steps in planning an advertising campaign?

The best time to advertise is when your target audience is most likely to buy. Building awareness of your offer when (or shortly before) people would naturally want that product or service could pay dividends.

Alternatively, advertising during quieter times can help to boost sales when you're struggling. If your customers are other businesses, you may need to consider their buying cycles and when their budget becomes available.

Set out what you want to achieve from your adverts, which might include:

  • launching a new product or service;
  • letting customers know about a change of premises or expansion;
  • targeting a new market segment;
  • promoting a special offer.

The campaign should cover the placement of adverts, budgets, design, timing and follow-up. Also think about how you will handle the enquiries that come in, and how a surge in orders might affect how much stock or how many staff you need to have to hand.

Try to make your adverts stand out so that your limited budget goes further. It's important that your advertising is memorable.

Who do you want to talk to?

Draw up a profile of your target group. For example, are you contacting prospects or regular customers? Are they mainly male or female? Are they from a certain age group? Do they have a particular lifestyle?

If you recognise that you have three different audience segments, with different needs and preferences, accept that you may need three different campaigns.

Where are these people?

Decide whether your target audience is local or regional, national or international, or a mixture. The advertising channel you choose should suit the target.

You might want to try newspapers (local, national, trade or freesheets), magazines (general interest, specialist, in-house or local), local radio, cinemas, posters (on public transport), brochures and leaflets, point-of-sale displays or directories.

The internet allows you to target your advertisement specifically at people who are searching for a product or service like yours, or those who have already shown an interest in them.

Why?

The objective of an advert is not always to increase sales. It might be to educate people about new products or special offers, to create awareness of what you do, or even to reassure existing customers.

If you are not clear what you want to achieve, the confusion will show through in your advertising.

What do you want to say?

Keep your message simple. Stress the benefits, not the features, of your offer. Try to build in a unique selling proposition and make a claim your competitors cannot match.

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5. How much should a business spend on advertising?

Consider how much you normally spend on marketing, and how effective it is in relation to your business objectives. Assess what your competitors are doing - if they are advertising heavily, you might need to do the same to ensure your message is heard.

Consider how far you are from achieving your objectives. For example, if you are launching a new product, you may need to spend heavily to create awareness.

Consider what your advertising is worth to you. Calculate how many extra sales you need to make to justify your spend.

If you want to get value for money, only undertake campaigns that can be tested and revised as you go. Online advertising allows you to manage and control costs. By measuring results you can refine your online campaigns and improve their return on investment.

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6. Where should my business advertise?

Always match your customer profile with what the target segment reads or visits online. If you are uncertain, speak to a few target customers and find out.

Find information about newspapers in your area and how to advertise in them on the News Media Association website. Check circulation figures verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulations on the ABC website.

Look in the BRAD directory (available in good reference libraries) for lists of newspapers and specialist magazines. Look for publications whose readership is close to your target niche or segment.

Ask for a media pack, which should include a rate card and a back copy of the publication. Check the circulation figures (which should be ABC-audited) - but be aware that this may be very different to the number of people who will actually read it and see your advert. Freesheets may be widely distributed but often discarded unread, while paid-for trade publications may be read by several professionals in a business.

You want to compare the different options in terms of the number of target viewers reached, and how many will actually take action. For example, a poster in the high street or an advertisement in a national publication is likely to be widely seen – but not necessarily by your target audience.

By comparison, a small ad in a specialist magazine may initially be more costly - but if it reaches the target audience effectively it may work out cheaper on a cost-per-thousand basis.

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7. Where are the best places to advertise online?

You want to advertise on web pages that your target audience are likely to see. Your choices for where to advertise online include:

  • search engines like Google
  • social media platforms like Instagram
  • individual websites that match your customers’ interests
  • digital advertising networks that automatically place your ads on relevant websites

A digital marketing agency can tell you more about the costs of advertising online, including pay-per-click advertising, and what you can expect to achieve.

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8. Should we use an advertising agency?

As a rule of thumb, only consider using an advertising agency if you plan to spend more than £10,000 on advertising. Typically, agency fees will amount to around 15 per cent of your advertising budget. If you have a smaller budget, you might consider using a freelance copywriter to help create your ads.

Look for an agency that has experience of your industry. Look at samples of their past work and ask whether there are any satisfied customers you can speak to, or testimonials you can read.

Ask for initial ideas to get a feel for what they can offer you - but don't expect too much without a full creative brief.

Whether you decide to do your own advertising or use an agency, remember that your advertising creates an image of your company. It is better not to advertise at all than to have a poorly thought out, mediocre advert that damages your reputation.

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9. How can I make my adverts stand out?

Writing an advertisement is a skill. On average, a casual reader will spend about two seconds looking at your advert. If it has not caught the eye or grabbed their attention in that time, this reader will move on to something else. How your ad looks is therefore very important.

An eye-catching headline is essential. It may be in the form of a question, a statement, an invitation or even a customer testimonial. In the same way, well-chosen illustrations and the use of colour can help your advert stand out from the competition.

Always leave design to the professionals; poor design can tarnish your reputation. The image of the advert should reflect your market position and values.

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10. How long does it take to see results from advertising?

It depends on the campaign you are running and what you are trying to achieve. An online ad offering a short-term discount might have almost immediate effects. Building your brand image might need an advertising campaign that is sustained over several months.

You may need to run an ad for a sustained period to reach a significant proportion of your target audience. Not everyone will notice your ad when it appears, and people may need to see the ad several times before it has an effect.

If you monitor the effectiveness of your campaign, you will get an idea of how long it needs to run to achieve its objectives. If you are not getting the anticipated results, tracking what is going on will show you when and how your advertising needs to change. The quickest results tend to come from online advertising.

Advertising should not be used as a quick, short-term fix, only brought into play when something is going wrong. It should be planned to support your overall marketing strategy and to complement your other customer communications.

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11. Should we try to match our competitors' advertising?

You should keep an eye on your competitors' adverts, as this can give you valuable insights into their marketing strategies. But don't try to copy them.

Marketing is all about creating a competitive advantage. Just doing the same things as your competitors does not put you ahead of them. Either do better, or be different - but above all, work to your own strengths and don't feel the need to create a rivalry for the sake of it.

It is much better to put your energy into creating a customer offer that is attractive and profitable.

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