Advertising: short-term brilliance or long-term strategy?

Imagine that you are an established company who creates a product that is valued by consumers. You devote a $50,000 advertising budget to boosting your market presence – but your revenue doesn’t change. Who’s to blame? The magazines for misrepresenting their readership? The radio stations for exaggerating their audience? The agency for not being “clever” enough? Let’s look at a few places where this process can (and often does) go wrong.

The relationship between your company, staff, product, and clients evolves constantly, so start by examining your brand. But first: do you understand what a brand is? I’m not being condescending. I’ve met many smart, successful business people who didn’t fully understand the concept. If you think you’re safe because you paid someone to create a website, brochure, presentation folder and business cards – then you may be the problem.

A collection of digital and print collateral does not make a brand, no matter how nice they may look. When assessing your brand, it can help to personify your company. A five-year-old brand is like a child. It needs guidance and nurturing. So when deciding how to position and grow your company, it’s vital to focus on the interests and needs of all parties involved (yourself, execs, staff, clientele, etc.)

You may have experienced agencies who begin pitching ideas after spending a few hours with you. STOP this madness! Without time spent studying you and your market, the agency is working with information mostly supplied by you. The danger here is that if they come up with an idea that you like, there’s a good chance that you fed it to them, even if unintentionally. Ads created in this fashion can – and have – earned substantial attention, but will they appropriately represent and build your brand?

Time is expensive, especially when it’s wasted. That’s why we don’t rush through advertising campaigns.

The following are some tips to help maximize that $50,000 advertising budget.

  1. Seek sound, professional help. Whether you hire a marketing consultant, PR or branding agency, social media strategist, etc., make sure that they’re the genuine article – the industry is full of people who overestimate their talent. Ask them to show you past work, explain their process, provide client references, and ideally, provide evidence of their success.
  2. Taste – do you like the agency’s work? This is subjective, which is precisely the point. Every agency has their own style and area of specialty. Does your target audience respond to bright, in-your-face advertising? Or does your campaign’s success rely on building a trust-based relationship over a long sales cycle? Choose the right person for the job.
  3. Pace yourself. Great brands grow over time. Just ask Google. There’s a reason that the top search rankings are occupied by websites that consistently generate rich content. This is exactly how you should work. Build your brand’s foundation, then begin reinforcing it with a steady stream of strategic, engaging material.
  4. Communicate. Once your foundation is set, spread the word. Start with your staff. Keep them informed throughout to ensure that they understand the campaign and can be “brand champions” on the grassroots level by practicing on their friends and families.
  5. Build campaigns. If your chosen agency, PR group or marketing specialist doesn’t recommend an integrated campaign, please stop them. Protect your money and respect your buying market.

What is an integrated campaign? In short: a single concept oriented to your brand and market and communicated across multiple media over a length of time with the intention of building brand equity and/or growing sales. I recommend doing multiple campaigns each year, ensuring that they share one or more brand-consistent threads.

“We’ve tried everything and nothing worked.” If your long-term, tasteful, accurate strategy didn’t work then chances are: a) you hired the wrong people, or b) you hired the right people but didn’t trust them. If you hire an agency with a proven track record, let them do what they’re good at. Your job is running your company, their job is to use their third-party perspective to help you to shape your market and establish your brand’s presence by leveraging all available resources.

If you find yourself fixated on finding “ideas that pop“, please reread this article (and, if you have time, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War). One brilliant flash in the pan won’t create a great company. That’s long-term strategy’s territory.