How to get results from newspaper advertising?

This has been in the queue for a while, and the source of the discussion is BizJournals.com, which I’ve read regularly for years (yes, that’s a hint).

While there are some good points in this piece, some parts of it read as if it was written by a Yellow Pages salesperson (not traditionally a person experienced in running a small business, nor in results-oriented marketing).

Here I quote the author’s advice (which isn’t all bad) in plain type and include in bold my thoughts on their “6 fundamental points”.

  1. People buy based on familiarity. That said, the primary value of advertising is branding and name recognition. In other words, you cannot control timing â?? when a person needs what you sell â?? but you can heavily influence who they think of first. This means that you should not invest in any advertising media unless you are willing to commit to a minimum of six months, and preferably a year, of consistent, repetitive messaging to your targeted demographic. Print publications are still king when it comes to reaching the local audience â?? but people need to see your message repeatedly if they are going to remember you when it is time to buy. We’re familiar with a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean we buy them. Give me a compelling case to buy, not “familiarity”.

    No question that timing advertising to purchase time is difficult (exception: search-based advertising), and no doubt, you can and should be invested in influencing who people think of when they consider what you sell (what I call “top of mind” positioning). Consistent messaging to your targeted demographic is part of creating that top-of-mind positioning. This is one of the reasons I remind you to consider using direct mail (among other things).

    But to claim that newspapers do such targeting is crazy in most cases. Further, the implication that you shouldn’t expect success for 6 months to a year is unacceptable. In some markets, large papers (often via national newspaper insertion service vendors) have successfully used insertion technology that lets you target demographics quite narrowly. In most markets, this kind of targeted marketing is not available to newspaper advertisers.

    The real shame is that this kind of targeting does not extend to display ads or classifieds, though given the nature of newspaper print technology, it is understandable. The large service vendors I mentioned above are not built to service your local town daily or weekly newspaper.

    Newspaper advertising performs best in small communities. The why should be obvious and it explains the numbers you see on the continued success of weekly papers vs. big city dailies.

  2. Mix up your marketing channels. Print publications today are the only media resource that can provide you with multiple reach products â?? print ads, inserts, online campaigns, Post-It notes, specialty magazines, etc. â?? in ways that are customized to attain specific marketing objectives.The “only” resource of multiple reach products? Direct mail houses, web designers, email vendors and a number of others would be surprised to learn that. You don’t “mix up your channels” just for the sake of doing so. You choose them strategically. Who reads that? Who watches (and when)? Who listens to that (and when)?

    Each media/each piece, while integrated with the overall plan/message still needs to perform. It still must be measurable and produce a desired result (financial or otherwise). It still must make an offer or induce the next desired behavior.

  3. Work with a qualified expert. A skilled, well-trained newspaper ad rep can replace your need for an ad agency by providing well-designed, targeted ideas to attract new customers to your door â?? at no additional cost to you. While it is true that using their design department can save you some money in the short term, newspaper ad reps are primarily concerned with design from a designer / artistic perspective. Sure, the agent wants you to come back and buy more ads (see #1 above) so they are tangentially vested in your success, but they are not typically well-versed in direct marketing, and have rarely owned their own business. The mindset is important.

    Small business owners know that results are what matter over all else. Winning ad contests and design awards mean nothing if the ad DIDN’T produce an acceptable ROI.

  4. Utilize a combination of print and online media. Contrary to conventional wisdom, newspaper readership is not declining, it is simply migrating. More people are reading the newspaper than ever before; the growth in readership is coming from people who are reading the news online instead of in a print product. The point? Newspapers still deliver excellent results, but you must advertise in both print and online to attain maximum reach of your message. Depends on who you are trying to reach. This has traditionally been the difficult thing about newspaper advertising. They have largely been unable to deliver (and thus charge) for ads (for example) that should be sent only to married women 35-55 with a household income of $xx,xxx or more. Instead, they charge a lower rate to advertise to a large portion (or all) subscribers with very little if any targeting.

    In many cases, a zip code, a specific section or a certain day of the week is the best you can get as far as targeted marketing in much of the newspaper world. In some cases, it’s all or nothing. That’s OK, but you must take that into consideration when designing your ad, much less deciding whether or not to place it.

    To business owners that understand and leverage direct marketing and expect more than the tired “1% is typical” response, the inability to target specific types of readers is not acceptable.

    As for the assertion that readership isn’t declining, ask your newspaper to show you Google Analytics to back up their claim that they are recovering lost print readers via *their* online site. Don’t take no for an answer. Ask for references, as you would with any other advertiser.

    Pick a few ads for similar markets and be sure to choose those whose ads are sized much like yours will be. Call them and pin them down. Ask them if their ad is performing, but don’t settle for “yes”. Ask what the return on investment is. Ask how many new customers the ad brings in each issue (or each week). What are your criteria for calling the ad “successful”?

  5. You will get much better results by running a smaller ad for a longer period of time than by running a large one for a shorter duration. When budgetary constraints are an issue, the duration of the campaign is of paramount importance.In general, I agree with smaller ads for a longer period vs larger ads for a shorter period, but the duration of the campaign isn’t the paramount issue. If you put $10 into an ad and get $20 back each time, wouldn’t you want to run the ad until it stops working? Producing results is what matters.

  6. When using online advertising, always include a link to your website in the form of a â??clickâ? button, and include a special offer in your message. This serves as a portal to drive traffic to your website. A button and a text link should both be tested (response varies depending on the audience). The ad’s job is to get you to do the next thing – click through. The page where the click through goes had better be a specific landing page for that ad’s offer, NOT the home page of the website.

    The landing page is your responsibility. The link is theirs, so make sure they include the right analytics parameters and landing page address so that you can measure response, know exactly where it came from and present the proper in-context offer that matches the ad that the prospect clicked. If the paper wants to send clicks to your main website page, they don’t understand online marketing.

  7. During your ad campaign, change your message every four to six weeks, but always include your logo, and maintain a consistent look to your messages. This serves to reinforce your brand. Remaining consistent is fine as it concerns your logo and look (think “Apple”). However, changing your message just because the calendar says so is foolish. There are successful marketing campaigns that have been in use for decades with only trivial changes after initial fine tuning.

    If your ad is returning 20-30% ROI consistently over a long period, why would you change it just because the calendar said so? When you make changes, test them. Every single one of them. Always be trying to beat the current “best performing” ad, not simply swapping it out because you’re tired of it.

  8. Newspapers employ highly skilled design professionals who create thousands of ads for customers â?? at no cost to you. Work closely with your advertising rep and their design team to create high-quality copy that you can utilize in other marketing efforts for your business. Yes, the newspaper does usually have highly-skilled design pros, but are they highly-skilled / trained in direct marketing as well as graphic design? Hopefully so. Would you rather have an ad that wins design contests or an ad that brings in 10x what it costs each week? Id prefer both, but I’ll choose the 10x response if I can only have one of the two.

  9. Take advantage of appropriate special sections as a â??booster shotâ?? to your overall ad campaign. This is an inexpensive way to reinforce your message in a product that has a highly targeted audience and an extended shelf life. Make sure your message and the audience fit the ideal audience for the special section. Ask for placement in the section that complements what you’re selling.

  10. Be patient. Look at any quick sales that you make as a bonus, but not as the primary measurement of advertising effectiveness. Recognize that it takes time to build brand recognition, particularly if you are a new business or are entering a new market.Horsehockey. This is about setting low expectations so they can sell a long ad placement. There’s nothing wrong with a long ad placement that works. Your ad, your offer should be compelling enough to create business the day it appears. If it doesn’t, then it needs work.

  11. Finally, remember that it is the newspaperâ??s job to bring new customers into your door; it is your job to keep them. Word-of-mouth marketing and repeat customers are the lifeblood of your business. These do not depend on advertising; they depend on your ability to provide an outstanding, memorable experience to your new customer. Advertise to bring them in, and the rest is up to you. Couldn’t agree more.

(end of point/counterpoint)

If you think I’m anti-newspaper, keep in mind that I write a successful newspaper column. I’m not anti-newspaper (and in fact, was recently involved in a successful newspaper insert campaign). However, I am against wasteful, ineffective advertising.

Make your advertising decisions for the right reasons so that you can advertise even more. When you can afford to advertise more than your competitors because every advertising dollar produces positive ROI, you’re on the right track.