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Advertising in the Right Places

Focus your marketing efforts where customers who are ready to buy look first.

Q: Our business is still fairly new, so not a lot of people know about us. What types of advertising should we do to bring in customers right away?

A: Your small business can't thrive if it's hard to find. Are you making the most of "search corridor" media? They're where customers look first when they've made a decision to buy and should be an important component of your media mix. Telephone directories are the most common form of search corridor media, but they're just a part of the story. There are also search corridors created by consumer and trade magazines. Newspapers provide classified advertising opportunities plus special sections that become effective search corridors, and online search engines have become overnight sensations when it comes to entrepreneurial marketing, thanks to pay-per-click ads.

Choose the Right Media

Where do your customers look first when they want to buy what you sell? Here are a few of your best search corridor options:

Directories: Of the $22 billion small to midsized enterprises spent on advertising media last year, 46 percent went to Yellow Pages advertising. That's nearly half of all ad dollars spent by small businesses. And it's easy to see why: For some types of products and services, telephone directories are the ultimate ad tool.

For example, let's say you sell something that customers only need occasionally (so they don't necessarily have an established supplier at hand) or that's needed quickly when a special situation occurs. You might own a retail store that sells party balloons, or perhaps you're a locksmith. You'd benefit by having a standout ad in your community telephone directory because you'd reach customers with immediate needs who are more likely to look there rather than wait for referrals from friends or take the time to do extensive research.

In addition to the Yellow Pages, there are many other types of directories that provide excellent media opportunities. There are industrial directories and others that fit the needs of all types of B2B marketers. A freelance cameraman, for instance, might advertise in creative directories that production companies use to find crews when shooting television spots.

Magazines: Many types of magazines offer special sections in the back designated for "direct response" print ads. These sections typically consist of small-space black-and-white ads clustered together under a special banner-thereby creating a search corridor. Subscribers come to rely on the special sections and use them to "shop" when they have a specific need.

Magazines that reach a wide range of target audiences all offer search corridor opportunities. For example, in addition to classified ads, Entrepreneur magazine provides an "Opportunity Mart" that advertisers use to reach entrepreneurs looking for new business opportunities. Boating World magazine provides a "Boats & Gear" section where readers can find ads for everything from drive-on docks for jet boats to remote-controlled bow lights. And Metropolitan Home magazine includes a "Gallery" in the back with small-space ads where readers can locate the manufacturers of spiral staircases and factory-direct table pads.

Newspapers: It's no surprise that newspapers ranked second (at 13 percent) after Yellow Pages when it came to claiming the largest percentage of advertising dollars spent by small and midsized businesses in 2003. Classified advertising sections in newspapers nationwide are among the hardest-working search corridor vehicles. But newspapers also offer much more. Daily newspapers have search corridors that meet the needs of all types of advertisers and consumers. Most publish business, home and leisure and travel sections, as well as special sections that may run only once per month or several times per year. These become search corridors because readers turn to them when they want information on where to buy products or services in those categories. The Washington Post, for example, seasonally publishes a specially bound dining guide that readers save to use time and again to find just the right restaurant.

Paid searches: More than 100 million Americans looked for product and service information online in the past year, and nearly three-quarters of them used search engines, according to a study from the Dieringer Research Group. Even consumers who plan to shop offline will research their purchases online prior to buying. In fact, for every $1 spent online, the Internet influences $1.50 in brick-and-mortar sales. So it makes sense that pay-per-click ads have become a workhorse for small businesses. With paid searches, you select keywords or keyword pairs, and your ad appears each time someone searches on them. Pay-per-click ads are offered by all the major search engines and are one way to guarantee your ad will show up at the top of search results.

Create Hardworking Ads

Search corridor shoppers are ready to buy-it's the job of an effective ad to persuade them to buy from you. For best results, create ads that specifically list all the important ways you'll meet your prospects' needs. If your deli offers free delivery, then your ad should say so. Got a bigger selection of DVDs than anyone else? Put it in bold letters. Get the picture? Help your customers find what they need quickly and easily, and you'll have standout search corridor advertising that will play a strong role in your marketing mix.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.
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