We see them everyday on television, in the newspaper and while flipping through the pages of our favorite magazine. Occasionally, we find one that catches our eye and raises our level of interest in a product or service. There is little argument that advertising is an important component of building a company’s brand. It reinforces all of the essential elements of a defined public relations campaign and distinguishes you from the competition. But, how do you as a member of the concrete industry go about making decisions on where to advertise, what to say and what to expect?

To begin, it is important to clearly understand what advertising is and is not. A common mistake is using marketing and advertising as synonyms. However, advertising is merely one component of a complete marketing plan. According to Barron’s Dictionary of Marketing Terms, advertising is the “paid form of a non-personal message communicated through various media. [It] is persuasive and informational and is designed to influence the purchasing behavior and/or thought patterns of the audience.”

According to Al and Laura Ries in the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding “Advertising is a powerful tool, not to build leadership of a fledgling brand, but to maintain that leadership once is obtained. Companies that want to protect their well-established brands should not hesitate to use massive advertising programs to smother the competition.” So why is it that so many companies in the concrete industry tout that they have tried advertising and it failed? Chances are because their programs lacked research, planning and consistency.

Planning is the first and most crucial step in ensuring advertising success. Too often, the appeal of the last minute deal in a publication forces concrete professionals into haphazardly developing an ad that does not accurately convey their message. By developing a proper plan, you can research which magazines or local business papers are the best fit for your company. However, this step is simply the beginning. Once you have selected the ideal publication for your ad placement, it is important that you review their respective editorial calendars to determine the best issues to reach your target audience. During this process, it is important to not overlook the key trade magazines in your industry. Typically, these magazines will enable you to reach a majority of your intended audience and will partner with you to develop a comprehensive advertising plan.

The next step is to develop a goal for your advertising efforts. Is the goal to generate sales or increase your brand? This will help you clearly define your message in the ad. It is important to develop a call to action, so readers know what you want them to do. For example, if the goal of your ad is to generate sales for a new product, make sure to tell readers where they can go to learn more about it or buy it. It is important to remember that an ad simply displaying your logo and company information probably won’t garner phone calls and leads, though such a piece can serve to brand your company. However, an ad that offers a free report or unique information may result in contact.

Readers will decide in a split second whether to keep reading your ad. Therefore, the graphic layout of your ad must be visually appealing. Do not clutter your message or overwhelm the reader with massive amounts of copy. Further, make sure to document any claims that you make and avoid phrases that cannot be substantiated, such as “We are the best.” The goal of any ad is to drive the reader to perform an action, such as remembering your company the next time they need your service or product. The copy should address the needs of the reader first and foremost.

One of the key elements of a successful ad campaign is frequency. If you chose to run a full-page ad one month, but your budget does not allow you to run such a large ad every month, you should consider running smaller ads on a more frequent basis. Repetition will reinforce your message and provide the greatest potential for success. Be sure to build a relationship with the advertising salesperson as well, as they are often in a position to create a custom program for you that better meets your needs. A partnering spirit will go a long way with a publication and afford you the opportunity to build a program that goes beyond advertising to sponsorship activities, directory listings and other special venues.

If advertising is not part of your current marketing mix, consider it as part of your sales efforts in 2004. Advertising can be a successful means to building your brand, if you properly develop your message and use it to support a full marketing campaign. By developing a clear call to action, you can drive readers to using your services and/or products.