Advertising works best when you have an intended purpose for the advertising, an intended audience to receive the advertising message and a message for that audience, which achieves your purpose. Advertising is a process of matching the right message with the right audience to achieve a pre-determined advertising objective. In effect, the key to advertising is having an advertising plan.
Business owners usually invest in advertising to sell more of what they make in the hope of getting a return on their advertising investment. With this general goal as a starting point, you can narrow your goal by going through a situation analysis to identify market and competitive opportunities or problems that favor or inhibit your small business's ability to sell more stuff. From the situation analysis, you will eventually spot the biggest opportunity or the main problem that advertising can address to help you sell more products or services. The key point is to start with a clearly articulated goal or objective for advertising before you start spending money. Use the situation analysis to identify your goal.
The situation analysis will also affix a target group of customers or prospective customers to the opportunity or problem to be addressed by advertising. You want to focus on this target audience with the intensity of a laser beam with your advertising message and the media that you employ. Your target audience will typically be new customers having no experience with your business, current customers with the potential of doing more business, customers who defected to your competition or prospective customers you can take from your competition. You may see opportunities with more than one of these groups and be able to use one message that works with more than one group. However, "generic" advertising messages are normally less effective than targeted messages.
Targeted advertising messages work best, because they speak directly to the issues of the target audience. The situation analysis that helps you identify the big opportunity or the major problem should also uncover the "reasons why" the opportunity or problem exists. Use this information to tailor the message that has meaning to your target audience. Take advantage of the discovery process in your situation analysis by probing to find out usage patterns and attitudes about your business among your potential audiences. You might consider conducting a survey or focus groups to find out what people "really" feel about your business. Don't make the mistake of presuming to know what your customers want, because you could be wrong.
The process of developing advertising is a deliberate process. It evolves out of your advertising plan, which includes your objective, your audience, your message and your media. Regrettably, there is no magic bullet to creating effective advertising. In many respects, it's trial and error. By approaching advertising with a proven process that's generally accepted by advertising professionals, you increase the chances that your advertising will work. Advertising is not inherently a do-it-yourself endeavor. Fortunately, you have resources to get you started on a sound footing. Start with the free resources first. The U.S. Small Business Administration has an informative "Advertising Primer" on its website that can get you started.