Inconvenient Truth About Advertising

When I started my first company, I knew nothing about advertising. Now I know more about it than I thought I’d ever know and realize that I have been manipulated for years.

The startups that have taught me so much about advertising have been e-commerce ventures, traditional brick and mortar stores, business-to-business companies, and professional associations. I learned many lessons the hard way through ineffective campaigns I managed or from interaction with the experts guiding my campaigns. One of the most important lessons is that what works well for a big and established business doesn’t necessarily work well for a small business or startup.

The purpose of mass media advertising is to reach the masses. If you’re incurring the cost of reaching the masses, you should be getting mass responses. From the beginning, be clear about the goals and determine how success or failure will be measured. Tracking results is imperative. Recording when a customer responds to an ad isn’t enough; who the responders are is as important as the number of responses. Each ad is intended to reach a particular audience. You need to validate the assumptions of whom, when, and where. Did you have the expected number of responses and are they increasing? Unless you challenge the assumptions and ask these questions, how can you know the difference between a campaign that needs more time to be effective and one that is simply a failed strategy? Advertising is a numbers game: make the numbers work to your advantage.

Effective advertising can only be achieved through experimentation. Advertising always seems too expensive and too slow at getting the desired results, but there’s no way around these unfortunate facts. It’s not just the cost of the media buys but also the cost of experimenting with the various channels, determining which one works best, and discovering how to optimize the performance of each channel. The selection of a publication is important, but so are where you place the ad, the size, the color scheme, the wording, and the competitors for the audience’s attention. You could place your ad in the right journal yet get little or no response. On the other hand, the perfect ad may not resonant with the audience because it’s in the wrong publication. Bring up the topic of pay-per-click at any meeting about advertising, and you’ll hear immediate groans all around you. Everyone, particularly startups, has spent large sums trying to figure out which keywords work best. Also, bidding costs can be prohibitively high for many new businesses. A common misconception is that the Internet is free, but effectiveness on the Internet is as expensive as in any traditional media. All media present their challenges. There’s simply no way out of the cost. The inconvenient truth is products don’t sell themselves.