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Tue, April 23

Column: Understanding the whats and whys of advertising

Question: I know I need to advertise my business, but how do I find out the best ways to do this? I can't throw money at everything available, so how do I choose?

Answer: What you are really asking is how to develop a marketing strategy. And advertising is but one element of a business' overall strategy.

Your strategy can have several facets - print, billboard, online, broadcast, direct mail, etc. - but each element and the message it conveys should be carefully developed with a specific, targeted purpose in mind.

According to Ginni Trask, writer and graphic artist (www.WOWoftheWeb.com), content is what provides the foundation for marketing. "Content is much more than a jazzy photo or a cute tagline," said Trask. "Content is an overall message, both visual and written, that allows the consumer to understand the benefit your business provides.

"When working with clients, we go through an extensive process to understand exactly what the business is, who the targeted market is, and what purpose the business serves," Trask continued. "Building a strategy can include such things as creating a logo for a new business, designing and launching a website, and making a plan for implementation. We then avoid extraneous wording, develop uncluttered promotional materials and make sure both online and print messages are clear and concise."

Veteran advertising executive and SCORE mentor Tom Patty says a sound small business advertising strategy is built on three fundamentals:

• Know what you are trying to accomplish. There are several distinct stages to a customer's decision process, also called the "Purchase Funnel." You need to decide what part of that process you want to influence, and the best way to do it.

• Select a medium. Know who you want to reach, and where they get their information.

• Know what your message is. That message has to tie into what your target audience values. Is it responsiveness, quality, convenience, or something else?

• Make sure you can measure it. You need something that you can "see," such as more calls, greater use of coupons, traffic in store, etc.

Patty adds that entrepreneurs should not waste time and energy on things that don't matter, like stationery typeface, color of business cards. Instead, they should focus their message on what truly sets their business apart. "Orient your message to how your product/service solves someone else's need," he says. "The focus should be the benefit to the customer."

As for finding the most effective medium for your ads, Patty says it's best to start small, perhaps with a few keywords on Google AdWords. And don't overlook conventional channels such as print, broadcast, or direct mail. If that's where your potential customers are, your well-developed ads should be there too.

Regarding online marketing, Trask cautions that businesses should think of their web business like brick and mortar businesses. "Building any business takes time," says Trask, "but often, in today's world of rapid communications, web business entrepreneurs think that returns will be immediate. This is simply not so. Web promotions are often more difficult than traditional businesses because it has to reach a much wider market."

And remember to engage your SCORE mentor for help.

If your business needs a marketing strategy, the SCORE September Business Planning Workshop is for you. It's scheduled for five Wednesdays, Sept. 3 to Oct. 1, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Yavapai College. Cost is $90 for two people from the same business. Go to htttp://northernarizona.score.org/localworkshops, call 928-778-7438 or email scoreoffice@scorenaz.org.

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