Advertising for Small Business: Do Print Ads Still Make Sense?

When it comes to small businesses, does print advertising still make sense? The short answer, of course, is yes: print advertising still makes sense for plenty of small businesses. The question you need to ask is this: do print ads still make sense for your business. That answer isn’t so obvious because, like so many things in marketing, the answer depends on a variety of factors. Which brings us to the purpose of this post—let’s talk about those factors and how they might influence your decision.

1. What are your expectations? First, it’s important to be clear about your expectations going in so that you have a way to measure success and evaluate the print campaign’s effectiveness. Second, it’s important to state your expectations and share them with some others (e.g. a board of directors, a marketing person, people in your networking group) so you can get a sense if your expectations are realistic.

2. Have you had success with print advertising before? How recent? This might be an obvious consideration, but it’s easy to wax nostalgic about past advertising attempts and think they were more effective than they actually were. Do you have metrics you can review? How many leads came in (that you know of) from your print ads? How many of those leads converted into customers? How recent was your print campaign? If your print campaign circa 1998 was extremely effective, don’t expect the same thing to necessarily happen in 2012. Remember, Google, Facebook, Twitter, smart phones, and tablets didn’t exist then (in other words, the number of distractions has increased dramatically).

3. Will your audience see ‘em? Again, an obvious point, but it’s worth stating here because the best print advertising “deal” in the world won’t make any difference if your audience doesn’t see the ads. All publications have media kits. You can often download these directly from the publication’s website (look for “Advertising” in the footer links or “About” section). If it’s not available on the site, ask your sales rep to email it to you. The media kit contains a wealth of information, including demographic info like gender breakdown, household income, education levels, etc. In other words, it will provide a good snapshot of who reads the publication. If you’re selling spa services, you won’t want to run print ads in a hunting magazine (an extreme example, but you get the idea).

4. Are you ready to negotiate? The good news about print advertising is this: today, you’re in the driver’s seat. Print publications have gone through a transformation over the last decade, and some of have survived better than others. Big businessesthat used to spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on print ads every year have taken a good chunk of that money online. This, obviously, has hurt print pubs (specifically newspapers; read this report about how newspapers lose $10 in print for every digital $1). What this means for you is the price you’re quoted isn’t always the final price. There’s room for negotiation on cost, but also added-value items like ad space on the website, banner ads on newsletters, or a longer flight in the print pub itself. Don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions, and—as we’ve all been counseled to do when buying a new car—walk away if you’re not satisfied with the ad package. More than likely you can land a deal that really is a deal.

5. What’s the publication’s “shelf life”? Advertising in anything with the word  “guide,” “annual,” or “specialty issue” in the title can be worthwhile simply because of the publication’s shelf life, meaning it’s not necessarily something that will be read and then tossed. People might keep it on hand and come back to it time and time again until the next annual issue is released. For example, a publication’s annual wedding issue might be worth advertising in if you’re a wedding photographer, limo company, or florist (but be prepared—these sorts of issues also command higher prices). The media kit we mentioned in the point above will often indicate specialty issues and their themes.

6. How will you measure results? This is critical. There’s no sense in running print ads (or doing any sort of other marketing/advertising program) if you don’t have a way to measure results. (Relying on gut instinct isn’t an effective way, either.) You needn’t have complicated processes for measuring results. Focus on the action you want people to take when they see your ad (yes, your ad should have a call to action). Do you want them to call and mention the ad? Great. You might think that’s enough and you’ll simply record who mentions the ad. But what about the people who forget? Or what if you’re running an ad in multiple publications? How will you know which ad is bringing in results? Instead, get a dedicated phone number or extension, one that’s used only for one ad. Or if you want people to take action on your website, create a specific landing page around the ad’s offer. You’ll be able to measure the number of visits and, if there’s a form to fill out, how many of those visitors convert into leads (free analytics software like Google Analytics is something we recommend all business owners install on their websites).

7. How important is added exposure and branding to your business? Print advertising can be an effective way to reach more people and brand your core messages or tagline. The rule of thumb used to be that someone needed to see your message seven times before it began to compute/register in the person’s head. This number has no doubt gone up thanks to the increased number of channels vying for people’s attention: the Internet, social media, cable channels, smart phones, etc. If you’re looking to solidify your brand, a print campaign can help, but keep in mind that branding is a harder thing to measure.

8. Is your business equipped for a hi-tech print ad? QR (quick response) codes can be the way to bridge the more traditional print ad with something hi-tech. A QR code is something people scan with their smart phones and then they’re brought to a special landing page, video, or something else that further expands on the print ad’s content. Peruse almost any national publication, and you’ll see examples. Scan them with your own phone to check them out. The jury is still out on how effective QR codes are, but according to ScanLife, “QR code scans increased 300% in 2011 compared to 2010.” Remember, your mileage may vary. The key is to make the QR code’s landing page/content truly remarkable. This isn’t always easy to pull off.

9. What other marketing and advertising do you have in place? There’s rarely a good reason to have all your eggs in one marketing/advertising basket. Your marketing budget should include a solid mix of programs, including those that you know for a fact work, some that you’re still measuring, and others that you might consider “wild cards.” Obviously, the biggest chunk of your budget will be geared towards the stuff that works. And yes, it’s possible some of those “still measuring” and wild card programs might eventually work their way onto that list. Determine which bucket print ads fall in for your business and plan your spending accordingly.

Remember, when making a decision about any sort of marketing or advertising program—be it print ads, online ads, radio ads, social media, you name it—you need to determine whether it works for your business.

How about you? Do you still run print ads? Why or why not? Do you have any other things people should consider when evaluating whether print ads are right for their business? Share in the comments.

Chris Wallace

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2 Responses to Advertising for Small Business: Do Print Ads Still Make Sense?

  1. Christine says:

    I do still use print ads especially that most of my target audience is local based. I sent them postcards and greeting cards occasionally. I find these materials effective in making initial contact with prospects. Some marketers and small business owners, though, find print media pricey as presented in the infographic in http://adcreative.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/is-printing-too-costly-for-small-businesses/ that’s why most of them turn to online ads. But with the right approach, say creating a digital template for recurring prints, there’s a huge chance that printing cost will be reduced greatly.

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