The first step in maximizing your advertising and marketing dollars is self examination. Ask yourself these questions: What is the size of my potential universe of customers? Who are those customers and what do they already know about me? How much do—and can—I dedicate to advertising (as a percent of revenue)? What’s the competition doing? Once you are armed with the answers, it’s time to create and advertising plan.
Know Your Audience
When a prospective customer sees an advertisement, several processes occur in the mind in rapid succession. They include becoming aware, determining need, making comparisons and taking action. To take advantage of those processes, good advertising appeals to a potential customer through branding, creating awareness and a call to action.
For example, if your marketplace is already aware of your stable (and local horse facilities in general), you could focus on “brand” advertising to make the customer think of you rather than the competition. Brand advertising consists of creating an association of “horse stuff” with your stable. Consumers think of Kleenex when they think of facial tissue because Kimberly Clark spent much of their early advertising creating top-of-the-mind awareness for Kleenex.
If your prospects are not aware of your stable or even of their general horseback riding options, it might be more worthwhile to spend your advertising dollars on raising awareness of horse activities and options in your area and creating a perceived “need” in the mind of the prospect. For example, your ad campaign might be a series of ads, each emphasizing a different aspect of your operation, such as lessons, trail rides, camps, clinics and boarding.
And if you have built a substantial database of current customers and strong prospects, it might be best to focus on “call-to-action” advertising. Call-to-action ads say, “It’s a great summer weekend coming up. Come ride at South Fork Stables.”
A good advertising plan should integrate all the above aspects, but should focus on the most critical to your success. While there are other stages in the advertising cycle, branding, awareness-building and calling to action are the most important.
Message and Medium
There are two main aspects to consider when creating your specific advertising plans—the medium and the message. The message may be, perhaps surprisingly, the easier of the two. There has been a tremendous amount of research into what makes an ad effective. People respond to photos; to photos of other people; to headlines that convey a benefit; to copy that reinforces and elaborates on that benefit. They respond to mild appeals to their emotions and they relate to perceived “experts.”
Consumers aspire to a level of competence and desired ability SLIGHTLY above their current level of expertise. For example, instead of promising to turn people into equestrian Olympians, suggest instead that they could compete strongly at the local level—a more reachable goal.
A good exercise in creating your message is to list the benefits of everything you are offering. This is not a list of training, lessons or boarding, but rather what the benefits of riding might be, such as health and family togetherness. What can be gained from taking lessons? Self confidence, fun, etc. Do this with all the options you offer. Then use those benefits in your advertising. Assuming you were creating a traditional ad, your benefit statement might be on the order of “Family Fun at Red Lake Stables.” One simple message. Your copy could elaborate on it and mention other services you offer.
If your effort is to attract more boarders, your benefit statement and message would be different. Figure out the specific benefits of boarding—convenient hours, trained groomers, etc.—and convey that message. Perhaps “Quality Care for the Quality Horse.”
A final word about the actual creation of your message, including ads, brochures and mailing pieces: Budget for a professional graphic designer or ad agency to help create the materials. Professionalism is important in all aspects of a business, including presentation. Don’t succumb to false economies by having the trainer design your brochure. Do you want your accountant managing your barn? You may even have a marketing or graphic professional that rides with you, with the bonus that they understand your business.
The other part of our advertising plan addresses the media you use to convey your message. The best way to start is to define your customers. What do they do? Where do they shop? What do they read and watch?
In smaller, local marketplaces it’s actually more challenging to find the right vehicle for your message than with national advertising. Your challenge is not only local, but localized. A population or prospect base of 20,000 in Wyoming will be different than the same sample in Georgia. What follows are some broad suggestions to adapt to your unique market.
Some sort of call-to-action will be necessary. For most folks that’s the Yellow Pages of the local phone book. But consider which is better, an ad in the Yellow Pages or just a listing. If your other advertising does a good job of establishing your brand, maybe you can get by with a listing only. If your other marketing is more awareness-building or if there is a great deal of competitive advertising, you might want to consider a larger Yellow Pages ad listing your offerings and benefits.
Other advertising vehicles to consider could include grocery cart placards, local newspapers, direct mail to specific neighborhoods, concert programs and a host of other traditional and non-traditional options. Again, think about what your prospective customers do. Are there opportunities to join forces with realtors? Should you have a booth at the local arts-and-crafts fair? (This gets beyond “advertising” into publicity, promotion and public relations, which are all aspects you should think about.) Can you create point-of-purchase counter cards that other non-competing businesses would display? These might be seen as a value-added benefit to their customers. How about Websites? They are probably only cost-effective if you have ways to drive customers to your site. In all of these, make sure the message you put out there is a quality one and not something run off the fax machine.
There are hundreds of ways to get your message to your target audience. Self-analysis, research and professionalism are the keys to making that message work.