Monday, June 2, 2008

Is Your Advertising Working Hard Enough for You?

As a small business owner, every dollar you spend is a dollar that comes right out of your pocket and affects your profit margin, especially when you're trying to grow your business. If you're going to succeed, you have to pay close attention to your bottom line and look for creative, innovative ways to cut costs while still getting what you need.

That old saying that it "takes money to make money" has never been truer than when it comes to promoting your business.

So when it comes to spending money on advertising, how do you make sure that your advertising is working hard enough, without spending a fortune?

Thanks to the Internet, you've got lots of options for finding cost-effective advertising that does what it's supposed to -- bring targeted customers who are hungry for what you're selling, right to your door. But don't forget about cost-effective offline methods as well.

Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

Focus your advertising dollars on your target market. The tighter your niche, the better your chances of finding the customers who are looking for exactly what you've got to sell! So rather than going wide, and trying to sell to everyone, narrow your focus, and then, if possible, narrow it some more! Figure out who your "ideal" customer is, and then create an advertising campaign for them. Once you know who you're selling to, look for media that targets that demographic. Depending on your product or service, think community and neighborhood newspapers, high school sponsor advertising, chamber of commerce directories, etc.

If your ideal customers aren't defined by a specific geographic location, look at regional or specific demographic publications. Perhaps a regional paper runs an annual issue that focuses on an issue or activity that reaches your target market. Use local cable television to broadcast your ads only in certain markets. You'll get cheaper rates and a more focused demographic.

Always ask for a discounted rate. (Many publications offer an "agency" discount of up to 15 percent. If you are acting as your own in-house advertising agency, you might qualify for the special rate.

Some monthly magazines offer discounts for multi-ads placed over a 3, 6 or 12 month time period. Most publications have a different rate schedule for different types of advertisers -- so depending on your product or service, you could qualify. And if not, sometimes just asking for the discount will give it to you.

Buy leftover space or airtime. This is advertising that the publication, radio or television station hasn't filled by their usual deadline. Of course you'll have to take the spots that are available, but again, depending on your business and the product or service you're selling, that inconvenience could still be worth the discount and the exposure you'll receive.

Use classified ads. They're not just for employment offers any more. You'll find classified ads in magazines and newspapers. Before writing your ad, go to your local library, and look through the back issues of the magazine or newspaper that you're considering. Look at the ads that catch your eye, or that are repeated month after month. Those ads wouldn't be in there each month, if they weren't making the advertiser money. Use those ads as springboards for ideas when you're ready to start writing your own classifieds.

Test your ads. Start out with the cheaper publications, so you can find out what's working and what's not. Play with them, and tweak them. Once you've got an ad that works, keep using it. You can run it more than once, or in more than one publication at a time. When it quits bringing in customers, or you start noticing a drop in effectiveness, then it's time to change it.

Do you own a retail business? If so, check into co-op advertising funds that may be offered by your vendors. Co-op programs provide joint advertising for your and your vendor, and you'll get a portion of the cost of the ad reimbursed because the ad mentions the vendor. (Note: most Co-op programs have strict guidelines, so check with your vendors and make sure you're following the rules).

Barter for goods and services. This can be especially effective with radio stations and local papers. See if you can provide your products or services in trade for the cost of advertising. (Also called "trade" or "In-kind" ads, the radio station or publication gives you the ad in exchange for products or services of equal value, and then uses those products or services as part of a promotion or contest for their listeners or readers). This can also be a great way to get additional free publicity, so if you decide to try this method, get creative and think outside the box!

Reuse your ads in other advertising medium. If you've got an ad that's especially effective, or looks great, reuse it in a circular, brochure, handout, flyer or direct mail piece. Use the graphics on your Webpages.

Finding a healthy mix between online and offline advertising, looking for ways to extend your reach and your advertising dollar, and cutting costs creatively will help you ensure that your advertising is working hard for your success.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Should Your "Practice Ethics" Be Used as a Marketing Tool?

Ethical Marketing. For some practices that phrase may seem like an oxymoron similar to “government intelligence.” For others however, it’s a core operating value.

What exactly is “Ethical marketing”? According to a recently released white paper on that subject, ethical marketing is a model of ethical interactivity between businesses and patients that includes seven practices – notice, choice, access, contact, security, horizon and intrusiveness.

Every day there are exciting new technologies being created that open up endless possibilities for Internet Marketers. As a small business owner, your email box is probably already flooded with offers every day, telling you about the “next big thing” that will help you sell more of your products or services to scores of hungry buyers.

Right now, when a patient visits your Website, you’ve got the potential to track what pages they visit, how long they stay, what links they follow. To help make buying from you even easier, your patients have the option of letting you “remember” their personal information – everything from physical address to preferences and previous purchases to their credit card information.

You can even get their personal information – such as IP and email addresses, without them having to type a single word, or lift a finger to click a mouse.

Technology, by itself, isn’t inherently good or bad. What makes the difference is your intent and how you use it.

Here are five issues when it comes to addressing privacy issues that you should be thinking about, to ensure that your practice is participating in “ethical marketing” practices.

Gathering Information – Addressing patient Privacy Issues

NOTICE: Do you tell patients what information you’re collecting, how it will be used, whether it will be disclosed to anyone else, and whether or not you’re using cookies?

CHOICE: Do you give visitors to your Website the choice to agree with how you gather information and use it?

ACCESS: Do visitors to your Website have access to the information you collect about them? Do they have the ability to review and make changes to that information?

SECURITY: Do you let your patients know that you understand their concerns about the protection of their private information, and use best practices when transferring or storing their information?

CONTACT: Do your visitors and know how to contact you, and have the name of someone in your practice to ask questions or register complaints about privacy concerns or complaints? And are those concerns or complaints handled in a professional manner immediately?

Being ethical and honest in all business dealings has always been considered good business practice. Doing business the way it has “always been done” just doesn’t work with savvy patients any longer. In the wake of scandals like Enron and Arthur Anderson and others, patients have become more cautious and skeptical and want to know more about the practices they’re doing business with. Because of their concerns over privacy and safety issues, many patients are still hesitant about making purchases on the Web.

So can your practice’s core operating values – its ethics – become an effective marketing tool?

Some experts say yes.

Here are some of the top ways small businesses can attract new patients and maintain strong support and loyalty from current ones:

1. Include words about your practice’s integrity, commitment to excellence and high standards in all your marketing, advertising and on your Webpages. When you’re thinking about what you want to say, think about these questions: How long has your practice been committed to excellence? Do you believe in integrity? How do you handle patient service?

2. Offer concrete examples of how you’re committed to excellence, integrity and honesty in all your dealings. Instead of just saying “Our service department is committed to excellence” explain why. What procedure do they follow? How are your employees involved in ensuring patient satisfaction? What guarantees do you offer your patients?

3. Get feedback from your patients. Even if you’re the only employee in your business, you can benefit from one of the secrets used by the Fortune 500 practices – it’s called “primary market research” but what it boils down to is asking your patients questions. Find out what they liked about doing business with you. But also ask what they DIDN’T like, and then take steps to solve any problems right away! Don’t make excuses, and don’t make it tough for your patients to fix something they consider to be a problem. Figure out a guarantee, and then stand behind it.

4. If you own a brick and mortar store, you can run quarterly promotions and in-house contests. For example, one inexpensive idea is to run a contest that rewards the employee who provides the best patient service during a specific time period. Or give your employees buttons that say “Ask about our 100 percent guarantee” etc. You can get really creative and make it fun for your patients and your employees, with the end result that everyone knows about your practices ethics and core operating values.

5. Add tag lines under your practice name that talk about your practice’s values. Include the same tag line on all marketing materials. Just remember to use statements that your practice will be able to stand behind for a long time, because once that’s what you become known for, the image will stick.

Just remember that if you're going to use your practice's ethics as a marketing tool, you need to adhere to them completely, with a "no tolerance" policy for any unethical practices. If you don't, this marketing tool could backfire, and you'll end up losing your credibility and your patients.