Energize Your Ads

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"It pays to advertise." No one disputes that old chestnut. Even so, it's all too easy to place an ad and wait for throngs of new customers to crowd your store . . . only to be disappointed when your registers don't ring a merry tune.

Fact is, some ads work and some don't. How can you improve the odds that your ads end up in the first group. Use these ideas from advertising experts who tell how to supercharge your newspaper, direct mail and Internet campaigns.


For attracting new customers, nothing beats newspapers. Readers not only expect to see advertising but welcome it as a source of information. Vitalize your own display ads with these tips from Brad Lehrer, president of BLCreative, White Plains, N.Y.

Build a three-legged stool. Get to the point fast with a headline, a striking visual image and a subhead working together to communicate your core sales idea. "Use those three elements to say and show what your message is," advises Lehrer. "The whole idea is to grab the viewer in the few seconds he will look."

Communicate urgency. Set time limits on special sales which may involve discounted prices or special package deals that reward customers for buying a group of items on a certain day.

Use color. "Encourage readers to zoom in on the pictured merchandise by highlighting it in color and making the rest of the ad black and white," suggests Lehrer. While color is more expensive than black and white, you can trim the bill by purchasing a smaller sized ad and still get a greater return on your money.

Set off your merchandise. "Use a lot of blank space or 'air' around the pictured merchandise," says Lehrer. "That helps people focus on what you have to sell." Avoid busy ads that distract readers from your message.

Position for maximum effect. Have your ad placed where the most people look. "Desirable positions in general include the upper right hand corner of a page or the full back page," says Lehrer.

Also, place your ads where reader ages, income levels and activities are similar to your typical shoppers. Ask newspapers for their demographic studies. Finally, find out if the newspaper has special supplements coming up that may appeal to your particular customer pool. Those can be great vehicles for your ads.


While newspapers capture new customers, direct mail performs a complementary function: inspiring current customers to return more often. To light a fire under your own direct-mail program, follow these tips from Sarah E. White, an advertising consultant based in Madison, Wis.

Use postcards. Think "direct mail" and we usually picture formal letters sent in sealed envelopes. But wait: You can deliver your message less expensively and more effectively with postcards. "Postcards are the sweet spot in direct mail," says White, speaking of the all-important balance between cost and performance.

Postcard power is even greater today now that the post office has increased the maximum size that can be mailed. You can now mail postcards as long as 11 inches at the first-class letter rate of $0.37.

Capture more names. Your mailing list is a gold mine: Anyone who shops your store should be added to it. So set up a bowl on your sales counter for business cards and run contests to gather more names. Try investing some elbow grease: Copying names and addresses off checks is tedious, but worthwhile. Finally, White suggests doing cross promotions: "Try to exchange mailing lists with other businesses located near you."

Try third-party lists. Purchase lists of prospects who fit your target customer profile. Then send a mailing that tells your story and offers something special to bring in new people, capturing the names of people who respond. White also suggests getting involved with local groups such as Kiwanis or the Rotary Club, then gathering names of members.

Time your mailings. Many directmail experts advise sending out a mailing at least six times a year to keep your name in front of prospects. As important as frequency, says White, is timing. "Look at your sales patterns to determine when to mail," she suggests. "For best results, cast your bait when the fish are biting. A good overall rule is to mail four to six weeks before your natural sales peaks." Conversely, try dropping special-offer postcards a few weeks before the typical low points in your sales cycle.


The Internet is flashy, it's fun and it's everywhere. But can you advertise on it. For answers we turned to Ralph F. Wilson, president of Wilson Internet Services, Rocklin, Calif.

Smart advertisers, says Wilson, are responding to the changing surfing habits of consumers. "A growing number of people are now using Internet searches to find local retailers," says Wilson. "For a lot of people going online is easier than pulling out the phone book." This means you need to make sure you are listed with the most prominent of the local search engines. Here they are:

Google local search. To get your free listing go to google.com, click on "Local," then "Information for Business Owners," then on "Help."

Scroll down to item 7 and click on "Local Business Center." That will take you to a login page where you can create a free account, then key in information about your business. In the event that Google is already listing you in its local directory, you should check out your business description for accuracy.

Google AdWords.

Although Google doesn't accept payments for listings it does sell what it calls "locally targeted ads," or sponsored links, through its AdWords program. These appear as short hyperlinks on the right-hand side of the screen after a Google search. A new advertiser can activate an AdWords account for $5.00 and can then choose a maximum cost-per-click from five cents to $100.00. Daily budgets start at 5 cents and go on up to your stated limit.

Extensive information on getting started is located at https:// adwords.google.com.

Yahoo local business. Yahoo also has a local business search. To get listed go to https://local.yahoo.com/. Once again, the listing is free and Yahoo sweetens the pot by providing you with a free five-page Web site. For $9.95 a month you can upgrade to an "Enhanced Listing" that provides detailed information about your business so customers know why they should choose your products or services.

For more information on advertising with Yahoo visit http://small business.yahoo.com/marketing.

Yahoo Yellow Pages. Check out your free listing in Yahoo Yellow Pages by going to https://local.yahoo.com/, then clicking on "Yellow Pages." Yahoo receives its information from independent sources, so if your business is not listed you will need to contact the companies referenced on the Web site. Click on "Help" from the Yahoo local home page.

To become a paid advertiser, click on "Feature Your Business." You will get premium placement of your comprehensive company profile for as little as $25 per month.

Yellowpages.com. In late 2004 BellSouth and SBC bought yellow pages.com and are now promoting its use for local Yellow Pages searches. Go to yellowpages.com and click on "Advertise with Us." Costs start at as little as $12 per month for a basic business card listing.

As you can see, you can get started in Internet advertising without making a big financial commitment. Says Wilson: "The nice thing about all of these services is that you can experiment with ads for maybe an investment of $50 to $100 and see what the results are."

Get More Information

101 Ways to Advertise Your Business , by Andrew Griffiths. Practical tips on advertising products and services simply, effectively, and without a big budget. Allen & Unwin, 2004. $14.95.

How to Promote your Local Business on the Internet , by Ralph Wilson. Can be ordered on line at wilsonweb.com/ebooks/local.htm. $13.95.

Streetwise Do-It-Yourself Advertising , by Sarah White and John Woods. Advice on advertising, from getting your marketing ducks in order to writing copy that sells. Adams Media, 1997. $16.95.

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