With the odd exception, business has never been able to control its own advertising.
Up until this millennium, if SMEs wanted to advertise, they had to do it via expensive publishers, broadcasters and agencies.
These intermediaries meant more mouths to be fed, increasing the cost of creating and executing a campaign.
The fundamental reason for this structure was that the publishers and broadcasters ‘owned’ the audience and needed to be paid to enable you to reach them. In many ways, their audiences were their intellectual property.
This construct meant that the more readers/viewers/listeners you could reach, the more you could earn. As Yellow Pages, Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer et al proved over and over again.
But developments in technology slowly allowed SMEs to start commanding their own audiences.
The old mail-out
In its most basic form, the old mailing list was the first real means of starting and growing your own audience.
You could collect and maintain addresses, and mail out your offering or newsletter.
But with the emergence of the internet, these capabilities soon sprouted wings.
Email not only allowed recipients to forward the piece to interested others, but your printing and postage costs were completely eliminated. Throw in a website, and you also had a 24/7 sign-up magnet.
What wasn’t to love?
Now it was possible to attract and maintain a list that rivalled that of a small radio station.
Instantaneous, accountable advertising emerges
But before long, a new player would not only allow you to grow your list, but allow you to reach thousands of qualified customers with nothing but a credit card and a modicum of creativity (not to mention that website).
‘Pay per click’ (PPC) advertising not only offered a much better deal for advertisers but could also be placed immediately and without being locked in to lon- term contracts.
With just a little orientation, business operators large and small could set up an account with Google and other online services, create an ad, select their keywords and voila! Your advertising was put in front of a targeted and qualified market.
And instead of being charged vaguely ‘per impression’ (or apparent ‘views’), PPC only charged you when your ad was actually clicked on. Meaning that you were getting truly qualified leads to your website or landing page.
This development literally revolutionised advertising.
Not just for the big boys
Whilst bigger business and their budgets stood to dominate the digital advertising landscape, Google et al’s insistence that ads had to be directly relevant to the keywords searched meant it was almost impossible for the Cokes and KFCs of the advertising world to buy up all the available advertising inventory.
And given those ads wouldn’t be relevant to the search term anyway, this policy would avoid customer revolt at the same time.
This ‘advertising on demand’ capability was pretty much unprecedented. Now a business operator could create and launch an advertising campaign whenever they wanted to without time-consuming preparation, waiting for available space and so on.
If you wanted to be more prominent, you simply ensured your advertising and ‘landing page’ were relevant, raised your bid and hit the ‘submit’ button.
But wait there’s more…
Before long though, Facebook and other social networks took these amazing capabilities to a whole new level.
Clever data capturing capabilities allowed social networks and other digital media to offer you outstanding targeting capabilities.
Now you could serve your advertisement to exactly the audience you wanted, again within the space of a few clicks.
If you wanted to target older retirees within 5km of your showroom, you literally could do it. You could even do it from the comfort of your own office, or even living room.
But best of all, you need only pay what amounted to petty cash to pay to reach this audience.
Farewell to advertising wastage
A campaign I ran for a local small business last week reached more than 5000 recipients for a measly $60. Many of these ‘engaged’ with my client’s ad by liking or commenting on it, which meant that recipients’ social networking ‘friends’ also saw my client’s ad.
Of course, with so much capability comes challenges. Despite having access to these amazing tools, not every smaller business operator is going to be able to use them effectively.
It still takes reasonable expertise to plan, prepare, create and execute your digital marketing campaign effectively.
It’s just that now, you aren’t forced to hire an expensive advertising agency to do it for you.
And with all due respect to them, that means you are likely to save a packet on your advertising.
In addition to being a leading ebusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.