Small Town Advertising – How do you do it?


By Kathy Rudkin

shutterstock_132470147Many people wish they lived in the reclusive existence portrayed in a Norman Rockwell town. You know the type – the ones he usually depicted in his paintings showing the quaint historical town with people relaxing at the sidewalk cafes with their faithful dogs beside them. Or the scene of the beautiful serene river where the children are playing and families are having an afternoon picnic, free from the hustle and bustle of city living. Sound familiar? The Texas Hill Country… obviously a great place to live and the reason many of us chose to move here. However, this same small town quaintness can also poise a challenge when it comes to making a living and promoting your business.

Marketing in a small town can be similar to throwing Jell-O on a wall… how do you do it and make it stick? How do you grow your business with limited resources, limited mediums within a limited market?

As we all know, the Hill Country has a different way of life as well as conducting business; therefore, many “traditional” methods of advertising – just don’t work here. Getting to know your community and how the market works will give you an edge in knowing how to reach them.

Many years ago, I ran across an advertising poem that made a profound impact on me. It is as accurate today as it was the day I read it:

Why Is It?

A man wakes up after sleeping

under an advertised blanket,

on an advertised mattress,

pulls off advertised pajamas,

bathes in an advertised shower,

shaves with an advertised razor,

brushes his teeth with advertised toothpaste,

washes with advertised soap,

puts on advertised clothes,

drinks a cup of advertised coffee,

drives to work in an advertised car,

and then, refuses to advertise,

believing it doesn’t pay.

Later when business is poor,

he advertises it for sale.

Why is this?

(author unknown)

 Owning an advertising agency, I frequently see clients who are desperate and on their last effort to make their businesses work. I am often amazed at what they have – or more likely have not – done to insure the success of their businesses.

In the last 16 years, we have work many different types of clients and have been exposed to many industries. Not only do we handle national clients with large budgets, but also the “mom and pop” type businesses that comes in for help on a local flyer. Regardless of the size, the key marketing essentials that work for a million dollar account are the same basic essentials that work for the local company with limited funds. The key is to prioritize, stop wasting dollars, stay consistent and get a plan. Many times in our effort to save money, we actually spend more in the long run.

  1. Logo: In a small community, this is probably your best-spent advertising dollars. You want to appear “legitimate” and therefore creating a professional logo is crucial. Many times, I am astonished to see what people consider a “logo.” Refrain for having the 10th grader down the street, who can use a rudimental graphic program, build your most important aspect of your business – your branding. Really think about how your logo is going to be used, who you target market is, and what message you are trying to convey. This tells who you are and what you do. Don’t make people guess what you do. The logo should tell it.

Your result should be vibrant, vital and purpose-driven logo that reflects your company. Once determined – stick with it. This is your brand and a representation of your company. From this point forward, all your materials should be consistent in look, feel and color. When people see it, they immediately recognize it and know what you do. It becomes part of the community.

  1. Branding: Once your logo & color scheme is determined, your next step will be branding – letterhead, business cards, signs, specialty packaging such bags, tags & other in-store items. Again, consistency! Handing out business cards that you have printed off your home computer and crookedly cut – don’t portray an image of professionalism. Business cards are one of the least expensive items you can produce. For under a $100, you can have professional cards that represent and tell what your business does –many times it is your first and only impression to your customer.

In a small town, quality signage is critical as well as one of the most important aspects of bringing awareness to your business. How often have we driven by and noticed the hand painted sign by the business owners themselves and immediately base a poor opinion about their business, just by the sign. If you don’t have budget to hire a graphic artist or an advertising agency to help you with this project, most sign companies do have design departments that can walk you through this phase of marketing and get you positioned in the community right off the bat.

  1. Advertising: How do I get my message out? In small community, there are ways to reach your market.
    1. Websites: This immediately establishes creditability and can be its own marketing tool. In today’s market, we are Internet driven. For example… you make an appointment with a doctor, you go online… want to see a concert, you go on line…looking for tile, you go online. We are a generation driven by, as well legitimize businesses, based on the look and feel of their websites. Again, put some of your advertising dollars into this. The cheapest avenue is not necessarily the best avenue. They are many companies out there toting themselves as “web development companies.” Look at their website! If their website is poor, than it is a waste of money. Research who you use, get references, look at their portfolios, visit with customers who have used them and bid it out. Be sure to tell your web developer of future growth and your future wish list. This ensures that your design can grow with you. A good website should last your 2 to 3 years before needing a fresh look.
    1. Newspaper: There are many ways to reach out in small markets. Newspaper and direct mail being a large percent of your annual budgeting. We are surrounded by small communities in this area, which have loyal readers and reasonable rates for display ads. Local newspapers, typically have a loyal reader that takes the paper for several reasons; 1.) to see what going on in their local government, 2.) find local activities and local businesses to use, and 3.) to see who made the paper that they know. The goal in newspaper is to stand out. Don’t crowd your ad with everything in your store trying to get the most bang for your buck. This is a common mistake and will blend you right in with the rest of the paper, basically throwing away your advertising dollars.  Don’t be afraid of white space and clever headlines. Add spot color to pop off the page. Spend a little more to get a larger ad. Position it in the right area – request where you would like your ad to fall in the paper.  And last, but not least, don’t limit yourself.  Expand your advertising dollars to other regional areas – go into other town newspapers as well.
    1. Direct Mail: What better way to get your product out then to hand pick your user and tailor your message specifically to them – having plenty of real estate to do it. Did you know that you can produce a 6 x 11 postcard and inexpensively as you can a 4 x 5?

There are many secrets to direct mail that can make a significant difference in getting noticed. First, get an eye-catching message. Think it through. Don’t waste money, get a professional involved. If no one responds to your direct mail, then you didn’t save money.

You will only have a split second to catch someone’s attention and only the clever, colorful and best-designed pieces make the cut.  Go large – a 6 x 11 postcard towers over the standard #10 envelope and mails under 20¢ bulk rate. Print on a 100# cover instead of a coated card stock – you will save hundreds of dollars by simply choosing your paper correctly. And most of all, hire a mailing house for your list, labeling and your postage.

Your list is the most important part of your direct mail. You need to narrow down who your market really is and sharpen that down to a primary target market and a secondary market. You also do not have to do all the mailing in one mail out. For budget purposes, buy your entire list to save money on the minimal list cost, but mail in increments as your finances allow. This also allows you to tract what is working. If you own a business that you can give a discount or an incentive, this is always helpful in the tracking and future planning of campaigns. Be sure that you have realistic expectations. A successful direct mail piece should generate a response rate of 2-4%.

Many people try to save money by doing their own labels and mailing themselves. This could not be further for the truth. You are paying first-call postage as well as your valuable time spent doing it. A mailing house in the long run will save you money. Mailing houses are set up to mail in large quantities. They have systems that ink jet the address right on the card as well as the postal bar code. This will significantly drop your postage costs by simply adding the bar code. In fact, it drops is so much that it will typically pay for the cost of the mailing service. Also, most mail houses have established bulk rate permit numbers that they will let you use. This will also be a substantial savings going bulk. They do require you to pay the postage at the time of mailing to use their permit number. Keep in mind; if you are promoting an event, bulk rate mailing takes longer to be received so you will need to adequately back out the date you need them to arrive in homes.

Your business can grow substantially through consistent advertising, having a marketing plan as well as community involvement and word of mouth. Your goal is to prove that you are resource and not just someone providing another unnecessary service. Walt Disney said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Advertising is doing.

In the next few months, we will be addressing many other avenues for marketing in a small community such as: PR, radio and TV, billboards, specialty items, events, other local resources as well as community involvement.

Those of us who enjoy the peace and serenity of living in a small town atmosphere still need to address and realize that our chosen lifestyle demands success and long-term growth in our business… our livelihood.

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