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Can't Afford a $4 Million Super Bowl Ad? Try These 3 Things Instead.

Can't Afford a $4 Million Super Bowl Ad? Try These 3 Things Instead.
Image credit: Keith Allison | Flickr

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This year 30-second Super Bowl ads went for a cool $4.5 million and that’s just for the airtime.

Consider all the related costs (filming, production, actors and a plan leveraging the media buzz into brand awareness) and this bill could double.

That’s well beyond what most small businesses can even dream of spending. I know for my company, Insureon, I couldn’t even imagine spending that much on one ad (nor could the company afford it). The good news? Small-business owners don’t need to spend $4.5 million to have an impact.

Here are three ways to realize results by marketing smarter:

Related: Social Media Is the Super Bowl Ad Every Brand Can Afford

1. Tap into other elements of the marketing mix.

A TV ad is all about building brand awareness. For many people, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the term “marketing.”

But whether it's Microsof or Uber, a company should tap these additional marketing elements: online marketing (SEO and search engine marketing), promotion, direct marketing (by phone and mail), public relations and social media networking.

Consider these questions:

How much unique content is added to the company's website each week?

What’s the return on investment for the words purchased for search-engine marketing?

What's the organization's open rate for emails sent?

Is there a prospect database?

What was the company's most effective promotion last year?

If a business owner can't claim “world-class” results in answering at least of the above questions, then the company is not ready for a TV ad, even if it can afford it. The most successful Super Bowl ads have elaborate support systems to make them work: media campaigns to engage viewers, rich interactive websites that offer more information, a robust presence in search-engine results and a plan for engaging existing customers with content related to the new promotion.

Treating a major investment as if it’s unconnected to other activities a great way to waste money.

2. Build the brand through customers.

Most small businesses would benefit from thinking of image promotion as something that happens through customer interactions rather than mass-media exposure.

At the scale that most small businesses are operating, word-of-mouth recommendations are the most powerful tool available. Even big companies want word-of-mouth recommendations.

For small businesses, though, a single referred customer can make a difference to the bottom line. And one really happy existing customer is likely to rave about the business to more than one friend.

Think about it this way: To have a positive return on investment from a Super Bowl ad, a business has to bring in millions of dollars in revenue. To have a positive return from customer referrals, the company might only need one.

Related: Keep Your Customers as Close as Family

3. Dive into data.

Obviously, any business contemplating advertising during the Super Bowl should look at the numbers. With so much money on the line, number crunching is essential.

But a careful analysis of customer data can be valuable to a business owner even if the company has no plans to make commercials.

For busy small-business owners, data analysis may seem like an unaffordable luxury. In truth, though, data should drive every decision an entrepreneur makes, from the products stocked and prices charged to whether to hire new talent.

Consider what you could do with a to-the-decimal understanding of the following metrics:

The number of clients or customers

The number of new vs. returning clients

The average revenue and profit from a transaction from a new (and returning) client.

The cost of generating a sales lead and then landing that client.

The return on revenue for every dollar spent -- on phone, mail, online and social media 

The average length of time and cost for a customer to traverse the sales funnel, from the point of initial consideration of the opportunity to the transaction

The lifetime value of a customer

The beautiful thing about investing time in analyzing data is that the raw numbers make nearly every decision easier. If analysis shows that the greatest return comes from returning customers who purchase service X, the business can focus marketing efforts on supporting repeat business while also encouraging customers to buy that service.

If the numbers show that customers derived through referrals have the lowest cost per lead, consider launching a process for asking existing clients to refer people in their network.  

Every business owner may have dreams of about the company being big enough to buy a 30-second spot during the nation’s most-watched TV event. In the meantime, though, most owners would do better to remember the less flashy maneuvers right at their fingertips: a comprehensive marketing strategy, engaged customers and data analysis.

Related: During Super Bowl, the Real Action Will Be on Social Media (Infographic)