It is so easy to get caught up in all of the latest and greatest marketing strategies that you might forget the tried-and-true. Sure, social media marketing is powerful and affordable, and yes, mobile marketing is the “Next Big Thing.” But that said, digital marketing is not the only game in town. Plenty of small businesses still use good, old-fashioned advertising to get business.


That’s because it works. Whether it is an advertisement on television or radio, a billboard, or an ad on a website, advertising remains one of the great ways to get people in the door.


However, that’s only true if you do it right. If you don’t, it can be a big waste of time and money. I once consulted for a company whose Director of Marketing put a full-page ad in a national magazine – without consulting his partners. That $100,000 ad almost put them out of business.


So, let’s avoid avoidable mistakes. Here are the top five:


1. Not properly targeting the market. Who is your target customer? If, for instance, you own a skateboard shop, that is an easy question to answer. It might be tougher, however, for an auto body shop.


But both still have to answer the question. Many small businesses have a vague notion of whom their customers are (age, income, schooling, and so on) but without really knowing the answer, all advertising efforts will be nothing but a crapshoot.


On the other hand, if you know that your desired demographic is, for example, new moms aged 24 to 39, then that gives you a huge advantage. You can then find media sources that cater to that exact demographic and advertise there. The likelihood of getting your message in front of the right person dramatically increases the more you can specifically identify that person and then zone-in on the media outlets that target them.Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png


2. Not having a large enough budget. One of the great things today is that there are many ways to advertise on the cheap. Pay-per-click ads are a perfect example.


But, if your strategy is to advertise in more traditional media, then let me tell you the key to success: Repetition is the key, repetition is the key, repetition is the key.


The only way to get that repetition in advertising is to buy it. It is a waste of money to play small ball in this case. You simply must get your message out there often enough that it sinks in.


The other thing to consider is that there may be other, “hidden” costs when it comes to advertising. For instance, you may have to hire a graphic designer to create the ad, or employ a photographer or videographer. So the important thing is to budget appropriately.


3. Having a bad headline. Make your headline pop. This is, of course, the first thing that people read, hear, or see.


So, you have to come up with an initial pitch (the “headline”) that is catchy and clever, and makes people want to know more. That’s its job. Just think - “The Lazy Man’s Guide to Riches” would have a lot more pull than “The Expert’s Guide to Direct Marketing Success.”

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4. Creating a bad ad. Once your headline pulls them in, your ad must create some sort of desire on their part; a desire that your business can fulfill. That is why “Sale!” is so effective in advertising; people have the desire to save money. Or eat organic peaches. Or go to Hawaii.


A good ad will make people seek out your business, product or service.  


5. Having no compelling call to action. A great ad makes people do something – check out the website, find the store, make a call, etc. That comes from the so-called “Call to Action.” A call to action can be found almost anywhere in the ad, be it the headline or in the last line. Whatever the case, the point is the same: It makes people take action. For example, a call to action might be


  • “Quantities are limited.”
  • “Mention this ad for a 15% discount.”
  • “Sale ends Sunday.”


I think the best way to remember what a good ad looks like is to remember “AIDA”: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. First you grab their Attention, then you get them Interested in what you are selling and get them to Desire it. Finally, you have a call to Action.


If you create an AIDA ad and avoid these five mistakes, the results should indeed be profitable for you and your business.

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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