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Make the Most of Your Advertising Dollars 4 tips to make the most of your money in a buyer's market

By Brad Sugars

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

These days, most U.S. markets are buyer's markets, meaning that consumers have great leverage to get a lot of value for their dollars.

Right now, this is especially true in the advertising world. Which is good news if you're just starting your company or revamping your existing marketing strategies.

In fact, this is in stark contrast to a few years ago, when advertisers in some markets were being bumped in favor of higher-paying advertisers for the same TV or radio spot, or were stuck on waiting lists for outdoor billboards in high-traffic areas.

We're also shifting from an economic winter to an economic spring. This means you can pump your ad budget up with loads of added value that could result in increased reach and frequency--both of which are key to getting more business and profits for your company.

So to make sure your ad budget will be a wise investment as opposed to an unnecessary expense, here are a few things to remember:

  1. Leads are more important than branding. No matter what the media or ad agency experts tell you, generating leads for your business is more important than building a brand at this point, especially in startup mode.

    No question that a strong identity can help, and a simple logo can accomplish that these days less expensively than ever before. But don't waste your dollars buying weeks of ads looking to "build your brand." Building your brand starts at delivering outstanding products or services under your company name to a lot of customers.

    So it's important that your ads generate a response by including a call to action. Prospects should feel compelled to do something, be it calling in on an offer or visiting a website. This will enable you to track the effectiveness of your ads. Remember the formula: target, offer, copy.

    The most critical component of your campaign will be drilling down to find media that deliver your message to people actively looking to buy your product or service, as well as those looking for a new, lower-cost or better service provider. To truly build your brand, you need to be that provider.
  2. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Since it is a buyer's market right now, you're in a good position to push for as much value as possible. In TV, this may mean additional mentions into or out of commercial breaks. For radio, it may mean more frequency or co-sponsorship of a local promotion or event. And for print, it may mean a bigger ad or additional placements, or even space for an advertorial.

    You won't get what you don't ask for, so, consider any packages you're presented and see how you can leverage that package to get as many leads as possible.
  3. Remember PR. These days it's great to be contrarian: optimistic because everyone is pessimistic, or opening and running a business when everyone else is getting laid off or is fearful of starting his or her own company.

    Use your own story to your advantage by incorporating it into your pitch to local business publications or TV morning shows. You'll have a better chance of being mentioned if your story or business is especially unique or is operating in an interesting niche.

    Great stories are always in demand by outlets looking for contrarian or contrasting points of view to the media narrative of the day. Right now, the narrative in the U.S. continues to be doom and gloom. Be a bright point of light, and you can reap the PR rewards now and for years to come.
  4. E-mail is a necessity, but don't forget direct mail. E-mail marketing has taken off in the past few years, but there are limitations. Double opt-ins--where people have to confirm twice that they want to receive your emails--are the norm these days. Even so, click-through rates average less than half of 1 percent.

    That means there is opportunity to leverage your budget the old-fashioned way: through direct mail. You may consider this counterintuitive, but there are some definite advantages to a highly targeted direct-mail program right now. First off, due to higher paper and postage rates, a lot of direct-mail competition has fallen by the wayside. That means a compelling letter or postcard has a better chance than ever of getting your prospect's attention. Direct mail can also yield one of the best returns on investment if you have a great offer and a good list, the latter being most important. That said, take care in building your list. If done correctly, over time your list/database will be your business's most valuable asset.

    While typical direct-mail response rates range from 1 percent to 2 percent for general lists, a mailing with a great offer to a targeted list in a specific industry can increase these rates many hundreds of times.

    I recently came across a Las Vegas company in the narrow niche of pavement striping that ran a very successful direct mail campaign. The first step was to develop a series of postcards that each addressed a single problem the company's target audience faced--such as faded lines in parking lots or cracked pavement. This positioned the company as the one to handle the specific jobs. Then the company sent a postcard every week to a small list of highly targeted prospects.

    Each of the 300 postcards was addressed by hand and included a personalized message and signature. The firm also put a postage stamp on each card--yes, more expensive, but again, something that added to the personalized touch.

    Simple stuff (too simple, you may think)--but very effective.

    As a result of this campaign, the sales reps received more than 50 calls each week following the mailing, a fantastic response of more than 18 percent. The increased responses enabled the company to experience its best year of profits and even hire new employees. Not bad in a recession, in one of the cities hardest hit by the real estate meltdown and nationwide downturn.

Remember, marketing is all about numbers. Be sure to test, measure and track your ads to determine how many leads they generate.

It may be a buyer's market, but as always, it's important to know what you are buying and to make sure you are getting ROI and strong leads from your advertising dollars.

Brad Sugars is the founder and chairman of ActionCOACH. As an entrepreneur, author and business coach, he has owned and operated more than two dozen companies including his main company, ActionCOACH, which has more than 1,000 offices in 34 countries.

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