Write a Basic Advertising Plan
An advertising plan is a basic part of a marketing strategy. It helps a business to establish smaller goals as part of a larger marketing strategy. For example, an advertising plan may be created for a few months to a year, where an overall marketing strategy may aim to corner a portion of the market in 5 years. An advertising plan lays out exactly how and when a business will reach out to potential customers through various types of media. This includes setting advertising goals, identifying a target audience, defining a message to that audience, and clarifying a plan of action to achieve those goals.
Setting Advertising Goals
- Review your business plan. Your business plan should have an overview of marketing objectives, along with financial, website support and a calendar of company objectives. Review your broader marketing timeline and goals for your marketing team to be sure that this advertising plan will be in sync with overall company goals.
- Review your marketing plan. The marketing plan takes into account all modes of business strategy to increase sales, referral and repeat business. Advertising should be a subheading of the marketing plan, along with a website and original content.
- Create an advertising direction. Sit down with your team and develop 1 to 5 things that need to be accomplished by the current advertising plan. These are the marketing objectives that advertising will target, such as broader product placement, partnership with high-quality brands, identification with a certain demographic, sponsorship of charity events or another way of increasing sales through print, radio, online or television advertising.
- For example, imagine you own a car dealership that specializes in performance trucks. For your advertising campaign, you would want to set a goal like reaching the 18-35 year old male demographic with your advertising. Or perhaps you already have this demographic and want to see if you can also reach similarly-aged women or older men. Whatever you decide to pursue will help you shape your advertising to this goal.
- Set measurable goals. The easiest way to determine advertising plan success is to set goals that can be checked off or measured during and after the duration of the ad campaign. This clarifies your advertising direction into actionable goals. Whatever your goal is, make sure you can go back later and measure whether or not you reached that goal.
- Continuing with the truck example, if you decide to pursue the 18-35 year old male demographic, don't set a goal of simply "reaching" this audience. Rather, you would want to measurably increase your sales to this demographic by 20% over 3 months, or something similar. That way, your success (or failure) can be more measurable.
Targeting Your Audience
- Know your customer base. The most important part of an any advertising campaign is that it reaches the right audience. This intended audience must have an interest in your product (whether they know it yet or not) and be able to be converted into customers for your advertising to be effective. You may already sell products to your intended audience or may be branching out into a new customer base, but you still need to know exactly you are trying to attract. This will allow you to tailor the rest of your plan to this group.
- To get started, try identifying which general levels of consumers you are trying to reach. These can be separated by numerous metrics, but try starting with gender. Are you trying to reach men, women, or adults in general?
- Another common separator between markets is age. Typically, advertisers will target one of more of the following age groups: children, teens, young adults, adults, middle-aged adults, seniors, and retirees.
- You can also target specific markets like single people, college students, men and women in the military, or other types of businesses.
- Don't try to please everyone. A common mistake is to try to create a generic ad that attracts every type of customer. This doesn't work. Your advertisements should speak to your potential customers on a personal level. This approach requires more focused marketing.
- For example, recall the truck dealership. If you're advertising direction calls for you to focus on 18-35 year old males, you don't have to worry about catering to every age demographic or gender in your advertisements.
- This may affect specific advertising decisions. For example, in your truck ads you might have to decide what type of music to play in the background. Focus on your demographic and play something they would like (maybe newer rock or country music), rather than a more generic track geared towards the public as a whole.
- Identify your target location. After you've identified who your target demographic is, you'll have to focus your advertising to actually reach them. You want to be sure first that any radio, television, or print ads that you plan to place will be available in geographic areas that your clients live in. Consider expanding your target area if you offer a unique product or service that is hard to acquire in nearby areas.
- Consider which types of media to use. In addition to getting geographically close to your target audience, you'll want to advertise in media that they interact with frequently. This can be anything from social media to radio stations to trade journals. Consider both your target audience and their habits when determining what forms of advertising to purchase.
- Determining which types of media to use can be difficult. Think about asking your clients directly what kind of news source they use, how often they listen to the radio, or how connected they are through social media. If all of your clients read the newspaper, for example, that would be a place for your advertisements.
- Continuing with the truck dealership example, think about what types of media your potential customers will be tuned in to. It would likely be a good idea to research widely-read vehicle customization magazine or specialized blogs and advertise there.
- Think about timing. Even if you get everything else perfect, you still need to advertise to consumers at a time when they are thinking about buying. Analyze your previous year's sales and try advertising in anticipation of peak sales months or weeks. Develop a schedule that hits your consumer base at just the right time of year.
- In our truck dealership example, imagine that you experience a bump in sales every winter, or more specifically every December. If this is the case, it would be a good idea to increase your advertising spending in the late fall and continue to do so through December. This would hit your customers at the right time.
- If you're just starting out, you have several options in determining your peak season. You can research competitors, look for data on your whole market or industry, or just try an advertising campaign and see if and when it brings in customers.
- Consider advertising frequency. Your customers may miss your ad on radio or television if it only airs a couple of times. It's generally better to purchase a substantial amount of airtime on the right radio or tv station than to spread it out over many different ones.
Defining Your Message
- Determine your basic message. What do you want people who read or hear your ad to do? This can include directing them to your store or website, alerting them to a sale, or introducing them to a new product or service. Whatever the essence of your message is, be sure that it is communicated clearly somewhere in the ad.
- Continuing with the truck example, you might want to either introduce a new truck or customization service that you offer. Or maybe you're running a promotion this month and just want your customers to know how much they could save. Whatever your message is, make sure it is communicated clearly.
- Keep it simple. Many ads lose their readers' or listeners' attention by including too much information. Others try to target too many demographics or needs and end up losing all of them. Keep your message and, if your advertisement is visual, your visual content as short and simple as possible. This also means that you should be specific. This is especially important in a crowded market, as it can differentiate you from competitors.
- For example, "We Fix Old Fords and Chevys!" is better than "We Fix Trucks."
- Establish your superiority over competitors. Why should potential customers go to you rather than another business offering the same service or product? Think about including statistics or reviews commenting on how much better your products are than your competitor's. Create value by pointing out the unique virtues of your products or services.
- For example, if your truck dealership is the only one around that offers a certain type of custom tires, or if you can install them for less than your competitors, let your customers know.
- Be sure not to simply talk trash about your competitors, as it can be off-putting to customers.
Developing a Plan of Action
- Outline a professional report on a word processor or in a slideshow. In the beginning, state the goals or objectives as outlined by the marketing department. The following are sections that you should include in the latter pages:
- Include the demographics that you want to target and some data of advertising channels that are most often frequented by the target demographics. This data will support your advertising decisions.
- Explain your media channels you have chosen to use. This includes as an explanation as to why you've chosen these channels and how frequently you want your ad to appear.
- Describe your creative strategies. These convey how exactly your message will be shown or described in your advertisement.
- Create a calendar. Using a spreadsheet or calendar program make a weekly and monthly plan that helps you achieve your advertising goals.
- Create a budget. This should list all your advertising options, their cost, who you will pay and any other expenses. Be sure not to overspend, as advertising can really eat into an operating budget quickly. However, also be sure that you are spending enough to have an impact on your target audience.
- When creating a budget, it may be a good idea to forecast your expected sales for duration of the campaign and use a portion of those sales for advertising. This will generally be about 3-4% of sales. Some industry association collect data on ad-to-sales ratios, which can help you identify your target spending percentage. Search online for your industry's ad-to-sales ratio to learn more.
- Do market research to better establish your advertising plan. This may include testing your advertising pitch on your target demographic using a focus group or another method. Make sure to price this into your advertising budget, or use crowdsourcing as you move through your advertising plan.
- An example of advertising crowdsourcing is asking for consumer feedback on Facebook. You can also send out a survey to existing customers or create a contest for the best advertising idea or pitch. Although there is some employee time involved in combing the results, crowdsourcing can often be less expensive than traditional market research.
- Propose your advertising strategy to your advertising agency or department. In most cases, the business owner or marketing department must isolate the objectives that need to be reached, but the advertising department or agency must create a creative plan that accomplishes the goals and stays within budget. Creative content is generally best left to professionals.
- Establish evaluation procedures. Create reports of your sales and incoming leads that come from your current advertising activities. Establish metrics that will evaluate the new advertising strategies, so that you can provide the return on investment (ROI) at the end of your advertising campaign.
- Evaluation metrics can include tracking links on your website, providing landing pages for new leads, using scannable coupons or tracking an increase of new customers or calls to your location.
- Proof and propose your advertising plan to the marketing department and company. Make any final changes and then execute your plan. Evaluate it according to regular intervals in your advertising calendar.
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