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3 min read

Top Secret: You Get Results with Strategic Advertising



Advertising works. Businesses get results with strategic advertising. Why else would so many businesses spend so much money if it didn’t? And big businesses have the proof it works. They track everything from views, clicks, calls, mentions (social media), and especially sales. Using this data, advertising messages and channels are honed, tuned, tested, retested, and refined.

Since 1994 headlines have read: "Is Advertising Dead?" But I’m sure you’ve seen something like this lately. You search on something you yourself wouldn’t normally search for, maybe looking for a gift for a family member like “silver earrings”? Next thing you know, almost every website you visit seems to have silver earrings on sale. Then you’re cruising Facebook and up pops a promoted post for some jewelry designer. The granular reach of targeted advertising is seemingly endless.

So, how do you get results with advertising? Does it feel especially challenging because you’re a small business in a small market? The answer lies in approaching it like big business does: strategically focusing your advertising into an integrated effort to achieve your goals.


Start with the basics: know your customer. Who, where, and how: you can target your advertising and refine your strategy to reach your target. If you are seeking twenty-somethings in town you may want to use Instagram or radio. Meanwhile, if your typical customer is a home owner – they tend to be older, you may want to use more traditional media – it might be television or newspaper. To target your audience(s) successfully, you need to understand them. Build a profile of typical characteristics of your customers (a persona) and research where they like to get their information.

I once knew a small electronics store owner that primarily used radio to create awareness. Unsure of the advertising results, he decided to split his advertising for the month between three stations. Each station ran the same ad for 10 days. He asked everyone that came in his store that month, “How did you hear about us?” Station C had created the most visitors. However, Station A, which brought in the least number of visitors, generated the most sales. While the message was the same for all three stations, the listeners to Station A were his customers.

You want to select advertising channels (not TV channels) where the demographics and geography match your customer base.

Useful and Informative

Make your advertising work. Be sure you are answering your customer’s questions. Don’t just say “buy, buy, buy”, but tell why. What sets you apart from the competition? Emphasize the unique value you can provide. We all see and hear too many ads every day. But, we will pay attention to any information that helps us.

Recently I shopped at a store I hadn’t visited often because their ad offered expert assistance with a home project. I was pretty sure of what I needed and had checked out the big-box store, but the local shop had someone there to help me and I was sure to buy the right product for my project. I could have spent hours wondering around the big store looking at labels and searching for help. It is the difference that makes you valuable.

Features, Attributes, Benefits (FAB)

It’s all about the features, attributes, and benefits. Sure, if you’re Coca Cola you promote brand identity (like, it's cool, hip, rad, or some other silly buzz term to drink that soda). But if you are a typical business around here, it is more likely you need to let folks know what you do, who you do it for, and why someone would want to be your customer. Even if you are a new- hot- start-up microbrew, telling people your story and about your product is important. So, find out what your customers need to know and then let them know.


Not all advertising is about immediate sales – at least not directly. It is about awareness.

How many times have you decided to make a purchase of something you’ve never tried from someplace you’ve never shopped?

Advertising is one way to let potential customers know about you. And one ad alone won’t do it. Advertising is about numbers. You need reach (how many people hear your message) to create an audience. You need frequency (the number of times one person hears your message) to create action. And the action is more likely to prompt someone to search than to purchase.

Content and Context

While not limited to advertising, content and context are important. You don’t advertise snow shovels in summer. Content is the message you have, and context is getting that message in front of potential customers when they most need it. Sometimes this is easy and obvious. Sometimes you need to test your messages and refine your advertising. Thankfully with online advertising, it is fairly easy to test messages and make minor adjustments. You may want to test different headlines or even different colors.

Advertising remains a potentially effective marketing tool, and when done strategically can yield measurable results — whatever the size of your business.

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