Getting the most bang for your ad bucks

October 7, 2008: 9:47 AM ET

Stick with what works, but introduce variations to keep customers' interest.

Cathy Eldridge, Co-Owner Style & Inspiration Zionsville, Pa.
Our firm designs high-end residential interiors. We advertise in an upscale real-estate magazine and wonder whether it is better to run the same ad repeatedly so customers recognize it, or to rotate various ads. We want to grow the business.

By Anne Fisher, Fortune Small Business contributor
Dear Cathy: "If an ad gets results, there's no reason to change it," says Jeremy Knauff, CEO of Wildfire Marketing in Tampa. "Business owners often tire of their own advertising because they see it all the time."

A longstanding ad industry rule of thumb holds that consumers, who are constantly bombarded with advertisers' messages, must see an ad at least seven times before it has any impact, says Knauff.

To step up your ad campaign without altering your current formula too much, Knauff suggests simultaneously running the same ad in a different publication and experimenting with variations there: "If your ad now shows a modern interior, try a more traditional one, or change just the headline." Then, to gauge which gets the best response, include a different phone number or URL (directing consumers to another page on your website) in each one.

"By tracking how many calls or page views you get from each individual ad, you can easily see where to spend more and where to reduce," he says. "Big companies do this all the time, but small-business owners usually don't think of it - a shame, because any cost is minimal, and you receive extremely valuable information."

Patience is a virtue, Knauff adds. He says the biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make is to run an ad and then give up after seeing no immediate results. A far better strategy: "Figure out what you can consistently afford over a period of three to six months - whether it's print, radio, direct mail, or some combination - and then get your message out there consistently over time, so it has a chance to sink in.

Give us your advice: Check out recent "Ask & Answer" questions.

Related links:

4 ways to market your business online

How can I market on a shoestring?

Get your e-store noticed online

Tips for a local marketing campaign

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