2 of 12 Causes of Advertising Failure: Big Reach Small Budget


Originally published 9-28-2015. Updated 9-11-2020

Let’s see if this story sounds familiar… a local business owner spent months researching her marketing options. She knew she wanted to be on a few radio stations. Her competitors were on TV, so she was interested in options on a local channel, and of course she knew she needed to be online, though she wasn't sure exactly where or how. Her employees insisted she should put a coupon in direct mail, and a close friend swore she'd regret it if she didn’t do billboards.

That's a lot for one small business.

When adding these up -- even after scrapping TV and direct mail -- her costs were still exceeding her original marketing budget. She decided to go with it and give it a shot. She figured “go big or go home.” However, she ended up spending way more than she wanted, and with lackluster results in the end. She ended up frustrated with marketing and more confused than ever about what actually works. 

Why didn't she get results? She invested heavily...so where was the ROI? 

This is one of the most common causes of advertising failure that we hear from small businesses here at Zimmer Communications. Businesses tell us they are disheartened with advertising in general after experiencing a high-investment low-return campaign. Fortunately, there are reasons why this happens and they are within our control.

With so many media platforms competing to be the number one place to advertise, even the most experienced business owners may be tempted to try to do more than their budgets will allow. More is not necessarily better. Embracing a few fundamental marketing strategies for small businesses will make all the difference:

1) Pick one station and dominate it.

If you are working with a smaller budget, the best route to take is often to focus on one medium, and even one radio station, and dominate it. If you can’t dominate a station, dominate a day of the week. If you can’t dominate a day of the week, dominate a daypart. It’s as easy as that. How many times can you deliver your message to one person with a time period? Then multiply that because no matter what time of day it is, people are listening!

2) Avoid the most popular day parts.

Commonly, we see smaller businesses (with smaller marketing budgets) thinking they need to run during the best times (with the highest reach) in order to get results. While with radio, popular drive times can account for larger listening audiences, this does NOT mean you must focus on these dayparts in order to find success. Sometimes that one commercial you could buy during the busiest, and most expensive day part, could be turned into 3 or 4 commercials in other dayparts that would increase your frequency… and ultimately your results.  

3) Focus on a target audience

The temptation is to reach everyone, and yet that is rarely the most effective strategy - especially for a small business. Clarify who your target consumer is and be relentless in talking to them. Spending too little on too many platforms is a recipe for disaster. Just because a marketing channel promises "the most' listeners is NOT a good reason to buy that channel. As a strategically minded business with small advertising budget, your best bet is to select the channel that delivers a higher concentration of the right audience. It's ultimately about quality over quantity. Omni-channel marketing only works when each element has enough frequency to become memorable. The most successful clients recognize the limitations of their budget and start small, building over time as their business grows. 

4) Be relentless

Frequency is the number of times a person interacts with an advertisement, whether they see it on television, it pops up while they are browsing the web, or heard it on the way to work. There is the Rule of Seven, a popular belief that a customer should be exposed to advertising at least seven times to become memorable. This has been borne out by hard data: a study by Microsoft puts the exposures between 6 and 20, with a 30% conversion rate. Your goal is to pick a target audience and be relentless about selling to that audience, over and over and over. Focused, concentrated and targeted messaging trumps "spray and pray" methodology any day of the week. 

That's good news for a small business owner with a limited budget. Granted, it would take a substantial budget to achieve a frequency range of 6 to 20 with 100% of a targeted audience. Instead, smaller marketers are better off staying within budget while building an effective frequency with only 10% of the audience. This makes a smaller segment of the audience more valuable than the 100% as a whole. 

Once these elements are secured, it becomes about the message.  Making sure your creative is written and designed well is the next critical step in the process. 

It's important to remember that there is no canned solution - where, when and how much truly depends on your individual goals. Are you looking for action and direct response? Or are you focusing more on brand exposure and building awareness in the marketplace? This is why there is no “one size fits all” with advertising. On one hand, a time-sensitive special event, like a grand opening, might need a much, much higher level of frequency (multiple ads within an hour even) compared to an ongoing branding campaign.

Preventing Advertising Failure Through Conscious Repetition

The business that wants to do too much with too little will hit an advertising wall fast. When budget is a major concern, it is important to understand why you should be more conscious of frequency over poor exposure. Finding the right audience and conveying a message the optimal amount of times will lead to better budget dollars spent, better brand awareness, and better return on your investment.

Learn about all 12 Causes of Advertising Failure by downloading our free eBook here

The 12 Causes of Advertising Failure courtesy of Roy H. Williams , author of The Wizard of Ads & Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads.


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