Smart Ad Strategies for a Tough Market

Rather than cut your ad budget, think about how you can do a better job of targeting your message.

April 1, 2009

The typical knee-jerk reaction in a down market is to slash advertising and then rebuild it when the market recovers. A more effective technique is to be smarter in how you advertise. Here’s some advice from advertising guru Paul Evers, owner of the ad agency TBD in Bend, Ore.

  1. Target, target. Constantly reevaluate whether advertising in traditional media is still doing the job. "Look at local, regional, and national online news sources," Evers advises. "Consider social media as well. Facebook use is escalating exponentially because it offers affordable regionally targeted advertising programs. Twitter is also very effective. But be careful in how you advertise on those sites. They were developed for social interaction, and if users feel the sites are being hijacked by advertisers, you’ll receive rejection."
  2. Do a listening tour. You can’t be certain of consumers’ needs without hearing from them. "Focus groups and surveys are OK for top-of-mind results," but for the most insightful feedback, Evers recommends a strategy called "account planning," which involves conducting research in consumers’ environment by gathering small groups of friends in their homes. "Consumers can draw from their surroundings to trigger responses on a more meaningful level," says Evers, who adds that the conversation tends to be more fluid and natural than a traditional off-site focus group. "Friends can build on each other’s responses and hold each other accountable for honesty." Account planning can give guidance for new ad messaging and help you learn what types of media consumers use.
  3. Remember, message first. Even if you run high-visibility ads during the Super Bowl, they’ll flop if your message doesn’t connect with your target audience. "The key is saying something meaningful to your customers," Evers says. "A lot of advertisers want to focus on what’s important to their message, but the way through this economy is to make sure you focus on your customers’ needs."
  4. Avoid price comparisons. "Don’t turn your services into commodities by focusing merely on your commission structure or other aspects of your service that are directly comparable to the competition," Evers says. "That creates a dialogue strictly on the money aspects of the proposition. That’s got to be part of the mix, but consumers are looking for services and solutions that are deeper than a price proposition." You might tell consumers: ‘We’ll find you a home that’s the best value in today’s market, and at every stage we’ll be there to answer your questions.’"
  5. Be sincere. "Advertising is going from ‘tell and sell them’ to ‘join us on our journey,’" Evers says. "It’s more about conveying a higher sense of purpose, communicating the values that drive your brand, and being inclusive, which creates a more meaningful relationship with consumers." For example, Rainmaker Properties in Palo Alto, Calif., publicizes the fact that it donates 10 percent of every commission to a local charity of the client’s choosing.