An advertising strategy is a plan to reach and persuade a customer to buy a product or a service. The basic elements of the plan are 1) the product itself and its advantages, 2) the customer and his or her characteristics, 3) the relative advantages of alternative routes whereby the customer can be informed of the product, and 4) the optimization of resulting choices given budgetary constraints. In effect this means that aims must be clear, the environment must be understood, the means must be ranked, and choices must be made based on available resources. Effective product assessment, market definition, media analysis, and budgetary choices result in an optimum plan—never the perfect plan because resources are always limited.
DEVELOPING THE STRATEGY
Formal advertising strategies are based on a “positioning statement,” a technical term the meaning of which, simply, is what the company’s product or service is, how it is differentiated from competing products and services, and by which means it will reach the customer. The positioning statement covers the first two items in the listing above.
Implicit in a good positioning statement is what the industry calls the product concept, namely a cluster of values that the product or service represents and the associational frameworks in which it fits. A hunting knife will thus have a very different product concept than a pair of pink silk slippers that glow in the dark. The product concept will later guide the choice of copy, images, and message content to be used in actual ads (the “copy platform”). The positioning statement must also implicitly include the profile of the targeted customer and the reasons why he or she would buy this product or this service. At a later stage, more data on the “target consumer” is then developed as the strategy is fleshed out.
The target consumer is a complex combination of persons. First of all, it includes the person who ultimately buys the product. Next it includes those who, in certain circumstances, decide what product will be bought (but do not physically buy it). Finally, it includes those who influence product purchases (children, spouse, and friends). In practice the small business owner, being close to his or her customers, probably knows exactly how to advise the advertising agency on the target consumer.
Once the product and its environment are understood and the target consumer has been specified, the routes of reaching the consumer must be assessed—the media of communication. Five major channels are available to the business owner:
- Print—Primarily newspapers (both weekly and daily) and magazines.
- Audio—FM and AM radio.
- Video—Promotional videos, infomercials.
- World Wide Web.
- Direct mail.
- Outdoor advertising—Billboards, advertisements on public transportation (cabs, buses).
Each of the channels available has its advantages, disadvantages, and cost patterns. A crucial stage in developing the advertising strategy, therefore, is the fourth point made at the outset: how to choose the optimum means, given budgetary constraints, to reach the largest number of target consumers with the appropriately formulated message.
The advertising campaign itself is distinct from the strategy, but the strategy is meant to guide implementation. Therefore across-the-board consistency is highly desirable. Copy, artwork, images, music—indeed all aspects of the campaign—should reflect the strategy throughout. This is especially important when multiple channels are used: print, television, and direct mail, for instance. To achieve a maximum coherence, many effective advertisers develop a unifying thematic expressed as an image, a slogan, or a combination which is central to all the elements that ultimately reach the consumer.
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Ries, Al,and Laura Ries. The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. HarperCollins, May 2004.
Stafford, Marla R., and Ronald J. Faber. Advertising, Promotion, and New Media. M.E. Sharpe, October 2004.