When you’re marketing your small business for the first time, advertising is just plain intimidating. Effective advertising requires you to understand both complex marketing ideas and the ins and outs of software like Facebook and Google Ads. Figuring out where to start with small business advertising is a difficult task in and of itself.

When you’re thinking about advertising your small business, a lot of questions probably come to mind. Among them, you might be thinking:

  • Which advertising methods work best?
  • On which channels should I advertise my business?
  • Who is my target audience and how do I reach them with ads?

We’ll answer these questions and many others in this post. Our goal in writing this is to give you the foundation you need to start running effective advertising campaigns for your business.

What is advertising in the first place?

There was a time when advertising was limited to print media, radio, billboards, and television. That time is behind us, though, and new technology is all around us. Modern technology is so ingrained in our society so much that we don’t recognize how much we rely on it. We also don’t realize how much it advertises to us.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With so many new advertising channels available like Facebook and Google, there has never been a better time to get your name out there and spread the word of your product or service. Small businesses can reach really specific groups of people from around the world for very little money.

So with that in mind, what exactly qualifies as advertising?

Advertising is a means of communication with the users of a product or service. Advertisements are messages paid for by those who send them and are intended to inform or influence people who receive them, as defined by the Advertising Association of the UK.

Definition of ‘Advertising’ in The Economic Times

Hmm, that seems kind of obvious, right? Advertising is a way to communicate with potential customers. Intuitively, this sounds right, but let’s parse the definition a little more.

Advertising is a one-way communication whose purpose is to inform potential customers about products and services and how to obtain them. Promotion involves disseminating information about a product, product line, brand, or company. It is one of the four key aspects of the marketing mix. Advertising may be one form of promotion.

Advertising vs. Promotion in Diffen

Ah, now that’s an important distinction. Advertising is a subset of promotion. Promotion is how you spread the word of a company or a product. The whole point of promotion is to attract potential customers, give them a reason to buy, and convince them to come back for more.

But even the best promotional efforts don’t work well in isolation. Marketing is more complex than that. You have to create a great product for the right audience, give them a good reason to buy from you, and make sure potential clients know you exist.

Advertising helps you with that last part. But advertising won’t go far if your product is no good for your audience.

Pictured above: an ad that would not work in the US South.

When is advertising useful?

Advertising can’t do everything, but it can still be very beneficial for your business. For one, advertising can help you raise awareness of your product or service. It can help you create interest too. Not to mention, well-managed advertising campaigns can help you craft a brand image that perfectly suits your company’s role in society.

Products and services tend to go through lifecycles, starting with getting the first few people to buy. Advertising can be useful at any stage in a product’s lifecycle, but for different reasons. For example, advertising early in a product’s lifecycle will help get the ball rolling so to speak. Ads help you spread the word, getting those critical first few customers.

Later on, once your product or service is more established, ads can boost the sales and conversion rates on your product. They can help you cross-sell and up-sell, as well as bring back old customers for new purchases.

But advertisements cannot do two key things. They can’t make a good product, and they can’t make the wrong audience care. You have to do both of these on your own, because advertisements alone can not keep a product afloat. 

Top Ways to Advertise Online

Everyday, it feels like there is a new way to advertise. Television, radio, print media, websites, social media, billboards, podcasts…the list goes on.

But for now, we’re going to focus on social media and search engine advertising. They are among the easiest forms of advertising to start using and are among the most effective ways we know to advertise. Anybody with a social media account, a bit of patience, and some spare change can advertise on Facebook, Instagram, and Google.

Facebook Ads

Facebook Ads are among the most effective ways to advertise your product out there today. If you are interested in going further in-depth on Facebook Ads, check out our post on how to advertise your small business on Facebook. Even if you don’t read the whole post, consider the following excerpt:

Facebook is the biggest social media platform in the world with over 2.4 billion users. There is no way you can reach every single user, but you don’t have to. Facebook Ads are exceptionally good at helping small business owners target the perfect audience. Facebook gives you the ability to design your own ads, and show them only to your exact target audience. How does this work?

Quite simply, Facebook does a lot of demographic research for you. Their precise methods are not well-understood, but Facebook uses its users’ activity to determine their interests, as well as other information they provide such as age, gender, and geographical location.

How to Advertise Your Small Business on Facebook, Marketing is the Product
Instagram Ads

Instagram advertisements are right up there with Facebook Ads for some of the best ways to advertise. We wrote a more in-depth post about how to advertise your small business on Instagram. Because Instagram is owned by Facebook, the ad system is very similar, but it feels different in a way that we describe in the following excerpt:

Beyond advertising and branding, though, Instagram’s biggest opportunities are easy to overlook. You have a chance to be real and engage your followers. Talk to them. Get to know them. Look at what they post and get a sense of who they are and what they care about. Neither algorithms nor streamlined business processes can replace the power of genuine human connection.

How to Advertise Your Small Business on Instagram, Marketing is the Product
Google Ads

Google advertisements are another great way to advertise your product or service. People use Google to search for everything under the sun. Getting your name seen on those search pages is the name of the game for Google Ads. Showing up in the Google results without paying for advertising is known as search engine optimization (SEO).

Yet paying for a sponsored result in a search engine (known as pay-per-click or PPC), is still very useful. The following excerpt does a good job of explaining this concept: 

Google AdWords is a pay-per-click online advertising platform that allows advertisers to display their ads on Google’s search engine results page. Based on the keywords that want to target, businesses pay to get their advertisements ranked at the top of the search results page. Since the platform runs on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, you have to pay only when a visitor clicks your ad.

The Google AdWords marketplaces work like an auction where people bid for clicks. However, it’s not necessary that the highest bid wins. Apart from money, Google also considers the quality score to ensure that the people clicking on the ads have the best possible experience.

How Does Google AdWords Work? The Basics of Google Ads in FreshBooks

One of the best things about Google advertising is just how specific you can be. If you sell a $99 shovel, then you might choose to advertise to anyone who searches for “good shovel under 100 dollars.” Anybody who types that into Google probably intends to purchase a product, so it makes sense to be there!

Turning Marketing Strategies Into Advertising Objectives 

Goal setting is vital when it comes to the early stages of getting your business up and running. Not only do they serve as a benchmark to measure success, but they allow you to move with direction and purpose. This Entrepreneur article has wise words on the topic:

If your company achieved one million social media impressions, was featured twice in “The New York Times,” and earned a new celebrity endorsement last month, you might think your marketing campaign was a tremendous success.

However, if your marketing goals aren’t linked to your overall business goals, all of these numbers are actually more about vanity and less about growth. They sound good, but ring hollow in terms of forwarding your organization’s goals and priorities. Your marketing department will best support business strategy when working in concert with the company’s leadership team and business objectives. Still, when the two remain siloed, even the flashiest figures won’t support your company’s goals.

For instance, if your aim is to expand from $100 million to $1 billion in annual revenue, a strategic planning process that engages marketing and company leadership can help you develop alignment and achieve your high-level goals.

Turn Marketing Goals Into Wins for Your Business, Entrepreneur

So with that in mind, here are a few common marketing goals and how they may translate into advertising-specific goals:

  • Increase sales: you can do this by using ads to drive conversions.
  • Build brand awareness: you can do this by running ads with the most possible impressions (views).
  • Grow market share: you can do this by running ads to drive conversions at the expense of your competitors. (You see this often on Google when companies advertise with headlines like “Looking for an alternative to Acme Inc.?”)
  • Target new customers: you can do this by running ads to a new audience.
  • Increase profit: you can do this by improving your ads to get a better return on spending, or by directing people to items with a higher profit margin.

How to Make Audiences 

If you want to succeed in advertising, take some time to learn about who is interested in your product. Then target your advertising efforts towards them. We discuss this concept at length in this post. This is a relevant passage:

At the root of all business, there are people. Specifically, there are people who need to be served with products or services that make their lives materially better in some way – your potential customers. You don’t produce products and find customers later, but rather the other way around. Find a market and then look for a way to satisfy them. They are your target market.

How you choose a target market is deeply personal. …You need to look at your current customers if you have any. Think about the products or services you provide and which emotional needs you’re meeting. Think about your competition and how you wish to set yourself apart from them.

Once you have a sense of what your customers will be like, get specific. Describe their demographic information – age, gender, income level – as well as their psychographic information – their personality, attitudes, values, and so on. Some people even go so far as to create user personas – made up of people who stand-in for their customers.

How to Craft a Small Business Marketing Strategy That Works, Marketing is the Product

In order to reach the place where you can properly address your target audience, make sure to take the time to do some research on the market, as well as your competitors. This kind of information is especially valuable to those who have not defined their audiences yet. A lot of times, your competition’s audience will be similar to your own audience

Bringing it All Together: Analyzing A Real Advertising Campaign We’ve Run

At this point, we will share a real advertising campaign that we ran in the middle of 2019. This was a low-budget advertising campaign for a board game on Kickstarter by the name of Tasty Humans. It’s a funny puzzle-like game about monsters that eat adventurers, from the monster’s point of view!

This campaign makes for a great example for this post because of its sheer simplicity. Nearly anyone could have put it together. We’ve done better work since, but nothing so easy to understand.

Step 1: Define The Business Objective

Before we spent a single dollar on advertisements, we wanted to be very clear about our objective. Here, it was very simple. The goal was to drive backers to the Tasty Humans Kickstarter while it was live.

Step 2: Choose Your Tool

For its simplicity and effectiveness, we used Facebook for advertising. We did not advertise on Instagram or any other social media. We set aside a budget of $1,600 to spend.

Step 3: Create an Audience

Within the general population as a whole, relatively few people use Kickstarter. Additionally, relatively few people are avid board gamers. We needed to be aware of this so we didn’t waste our money advertising to people who didn’t care about board games and/or who would never use Kickstarter.

We did this by creating a simple audience. People had to show an interest in either board gaming or major board gaming media outlets. On top of that, they also had to be interested in either Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or Patreon. This is a really specific audience, and this ended up paying off.

Step 4: Give the Advertising Campaign a Structure

This campaign’s setup is so simple that it’s almost embarrassing in hindsight. We created a campaign to optimize clicks. That is to say, we wanted to maximum amount of people to click on our ad and go to Kickstarter. Easy enough.

We also had just one audience and just one ad. This worked well for our purposes, but a word to the wise: you should generally advertise to a few slightly different audiences and have a few variations of your ads. That way, the best ads can show to the best-targeted audiences once the campaign starts running.

Oh well, you live and learn!

Step 5: Set Up Ads

You’ve seen the audience, so here’s the ad we ran. We straightforwardly advertised the type of game while using our art and the first line for humor: “Become a monster. Eat villagers.” 

Step 6: Watch and Wait

After you launch an ad, you want to keep an eye on it to see how it performs. For this one, since we were optimizing for clicks, we wanted to make sure we were getting a decent cost per click. And we were – it was just $0.31 per click!

Step 7: Analyze the End Result

The cost per click was $0.31. Of these clicks, 5.5% converted for an average $25 pledge + $9.50 shipping.

In plain English, for every $5.63 we spent on advertising, we made $34.50. Our return on ad spending (ROAS) was 6.1.

While the high ROAS proves that we made good use of our money, what’s more important is to remember our main objective. We wanted to drive backers to Kickstarter. And drive backers we did! We brought in about $9,800 in funding from 280 backers with just $1,600 in Facebook advertising.

Final Thoughts 

A successful advertising campaign can drive your product or service to the next level of success. Just think of Nike. When you hear their name, you think of their slogan: “Just Do It.”

These three words are a testament to quality branding, yes, but they also show how Nike used advertising to get people to remember their name and their credo. They essentially created a phrase that became synonymous with their brand. Well-crafted advertising has all kinds of uses!

I know we just threw a boatload of information at you. Thanks for reading this far in and I hope that this post helped you to understand advertising a little bit more. We hope this post gives you the foundation you need to start advertising yourself.

Remember – a lot of advertising comes down to planning and trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try things that might not work, and even fail every once in a while. Advertising is a powerful tool in the right hands, and it can really change how people see your product or service.

Good luck with your advertising efforts! If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below.