The length of the "ramping up period" your ad campaign will require before you begin to see results is determined by the following factors, listed in descending order of their importance: product purchase cycle, share of voice, impact quotient of message and media delivery vehicle. Here, I take a closer look at each:
Product purchase cycle: How often is the customer in the market for this product? Due to the fact that we eat more often than we redecorate, ads for restaurants yield results much faster than ads for new carpet or furnishings. Nearly all the people reached by advertising will buy at least one meal this week, but only one in 2,000 is involved in any particular seven- to 10-year product purchase cycle. The longer your product purchase cycle, the longer you'll have to invest in advertising before you feel like it's working. Generally speaking, the ramping up period is 20 percent of the product purchase cycle to no later than 40 percent. In other words, the advertiser selling a product or service the average customer purchases once every five years will likely be one to two years into his advertising plan before he feels like it's "paying off."
The longer your product purchase cycle, the more important it is that you plant your message before the customer is actively in the market for your product. The simple-minded counterargument of an overly anxious advertiser is, "But someone out there is ready to buy my product today. I want to reach that person and get his or her money today. I'll worry about tomorrow's customer tomorrow." This advertiser is like the hare in that timeless fable in which the patient but relentless tortoise wins the day. The cheerful tortoise doesn't expect to win the race in a day, a week, a month or even a year. His goal is simply "to become the name customers think of immediately and feel the best about when they finally need what I sell." The longer the tortoise stays with his plan, the greater his likelihood of winning the race. Only when there is no tortoise in a category will the hare be the long-term winner.
Share of voice: What percentage of all the advertising done in your product or service category is yours? A share of voice calculation must include such benefits as the intrusive visibility offered by an excellent location with a good sign, previous years of consistent advertising, word-of-mouth recommendation by customers and so on. Your share of voice is loosely determined by the size of your ad budget compared to the collective ad budgets of your competitors. Bottom line: It's easy to gain top-of-mind awareness when you have more money to spend. An advertiser with a smaller budget must decide whether he will reach a smaller number of people with sufficient repetition to be remembered, or reach a larger number of people with less repetition and hope that his impact quotient is sufficient to overcome the deficiency. If he chooses the latter, he risks reaching 100 percent of the people and persuading them 10 percent of the way, when he might have reached 10 percent of the people and persuaded them 100 percent of the way. The path you choose should be determined by balancing the number of people you reach with how often you reach them.
Impact quotient: How persuasive is your message? Keep in mind that customers aren't hearing your message in a vacuum. They're comparing your message to those of your competitors. Urgent messages making "a limited time offer" raise the impact quotient for customers who are currently consciously in the market for the product, but the lower the impact quotient for customers who are not currently in the market. The brain is a very smart organ. It refuses to store information that isn't relevant. Therefore, you cannot establish a long-term brand position with a series of short-term "limited time offers." The only thing that will be remembered long-term is "never buy from these people unless they're having a sale." The best ads deliver a message powerful enough to be remembered even by people who are not currently in the market for your product.
Media delivery vehicle: A picture of your product-an iconic recall cue-delivered by a visual medium will attract the attention of readers and viewers who are currently in the market for your product (assuming your ad has reasonably good placement within the delivery vehicle). In other words, is your ad where it will be seen?
But never forget that eyes and ears are not only separate organs, but also connected to entirely separate parts of the brain that gather, process, store and retrieve memories in entirely different ways. One commonly held myth is that we remember "more of what we see than what we hear." In fact, the opposite is true. Visual memory is fragile and malleable, but auditory memory is involuntary and long-term. This is why the average citizen can sing along with more than 2,000 songs he never intended to learn.
From this, one could easily generalize that products with shorter purchase cycles should use visual media, and products with longer purchase cycles should use auditory media, but like most generalizations, that one would be flawed since there are two other factors-share of voice and impact quotient-that can easily override your choice of media delivery vehicle. Far more important than your choice of media is your choice of message.
As you can see, there is no perfect answer. The choices that yield the greatest results today will likely yield the lowest results long-term. And the most tedious thing in the short run is the most powerful thing in the long run. But that's just how life is, isn't it?
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.