How to make small-form print ads work well

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From the Business Marketing Institute’s Tuesday Marketing Notes e-letter

Most of my company’s business revenue results from print ads. As deadline approaches, we co-ordinate and proof dozens of ads, checking to make sure they meet clients’ specifications and objectives. This involves some rapid creative decision-making and error-catching.

Although we have plenty of checks and balances, sometimes the production process (in energy level) reflects the sort of stuff a contractor’s estimating team experiences on bid closing or a sub-trade might encounter at a key deadline-sensitive point on the job site. Yes, we have to be careful to get things right and often combine speed and genuine creativity, but there isn’t time for fooling around and we need to focus the attention to detail on specific elements of the work that impact on the bottom line:  In this case, making sure the ad appears as specified and key information (phone numbers, email addresses and company logos) are right.

But what about the finer decisions that can determine whether your print ad is successful or not? Obviously, unless you have an urgent last-minute challenge, you should not be making these decisions on the deadline rush. Advertising should be planned, both for timing, media and content, and while you certainly can listen to ideas and advice form media sales representatives and independent consultants, you should be able to make your own decisions about what, why, and how to promote your business.

For example, should you use print ads, should you use colour, what size should you use, which media, and when (and how long) should your ad run?

Each of these variables impacts on the budget. However, print media advertising in the construction marketing world still has real value (thankfully), at least according to this Construction Marketing Association survey:  (Look at the difference in success levels (defined by ‘most effective’) between “Social Media” and “Trade Print.”)

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The challenge with print advertising is (a) giving it enough time to assess its results and (b) figuring out a strategy that allows you to manage your costs and achieve your objectives.

This posting by Eric Gagnon: Starting Smart: Using Small Print Ad Formats to Generate Big Sales Response for New Product Launches and Marketing Programs, provides some worthy insights.

Gagnon advocates that smaller sized ads (less than a full-page) can often be more effective than larger ones, especially if you are making a trade-off between budget and frequency. While publishers like large full-page advertising orders, we realize that a one-time big ad is less likely to provide us with repeat business than smaller, sustainable ones.

Smaller ads, especially when you are seeking response, require a combination of a story, a call-to-action, and of course the information for which that call can occur. Gagnon rightfully points out that the smaller you go, the less room you have for the story, and the more the ad needs to focus on simply allowing the reader to connect with you.

(At its smallest form, such as in our publications’  Directory of Construction Products and Services), you really only have room for basic information, but this is still a valid form of advertising, especially if your services are only occasionally required — Gagnon calls this sort of advertising the “Rolodex” ad — if you know it is running on a regular schedule you’ll look it up when you truly need the service.)

Larger ads can tell a story, and attract interest, and really large ads can make good use of visuals to combine branding and selling messages.

The big challenge is to combine all of these elements in an advertising message that is effective and resonates with readers. Here, everyone runs into the combined problems of time and money.

Few readers here represent multi-million dollar direct response advertising businesses where they can spend significant amounts of money and time on professional copyrighting, testing, and tweaking, to make sure each advertisement performs at the highest level possible. Publishers like us can help with these services, but you should give us enough time (and commitment) to do it right. (You won’t get the same level of creative service if you order a one-time 1/8 page support ad the day we are closing the publication, as you would if you contracted for a year, and allowed us a few weeks before deadline to work on the strategy with you.) Specialized agencies can be helpful, especially if they are familiar with the AEC industry, though you should budget for agency fees. Finally, you can get 70 to 80 per cent “there” by reading and learning about the basics, clearing time for what you need to do, and subbing specific services such as copywriting and graphic design, if you don’t have these in-house.

But note that survey infographic.  Print advertising in business-to-business media is still the most effective advertising out there for construction marketers, even in the social media age.

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