Small Companies Brand Advantage

By Tom Dougherty

The advertising environment has changed. A Small Companies Brand Advantage is formidable

Advertising revenues, the profit that media makes from selling advertising space, has been on a decline for many years. Recently, it has taken a nosedive and much of the buzz about it has to do with economic issues. However, that is simply an excuse. Advertising as an industry has changed permanently. In the words of Bruce Springsteen’s song “My Hometown” these jobs are going, boys, and they ain’t coming back.”

small companies brand advantageThe truth is, it is harder to reach target audiences than it was years back. The easy answer, from media planners and buyers, is that “consumers have many choices” and it is more difficult to target them than it used to be. There is truth in that statement, but it does not forgive the complacency that has gripped advertising agencies and their poor stepsisters — media buying houses. They simply have relied too heavily on their quest for quantifiable numbers and, as a result, have doomed their own industry and limited its influence.

Cost per point has gone up and yet value per point, from the perspective of the advertiser, has gone down. Nowhere does the media planner/buyer, or the ad agency creative team, look at importance. Why? Because you cannot quantify it. Instead, they make recommendations based upon TRPS, GRPS, and reach and frequency. As a result, print advertising in newspapers has about dried up and banks are scrambling for a working alternative because so much of their marketing expenditures have historically been in the newspaper. Oh, they are still placing ads there. It’s just that they know in their hearts that no one is paying attention to it anymore.

Small companies brand advantage is real

From the perspective of trying to steal market share, this spells opportunity for smaller companies and brands that empower their marketing departments to make qualitative decisions. The truth is that it is difficult for the Procter & Gambles of the world to adapt to this change because of their own internal bureaucracies.

small companies brand advantageIf you have to sell the advertising and marketing ideas up a long chain of command, you better have the hard numbers or no one will listen to you. The result is clearly defined in this story from the Associated Press recently: The Procter & Gamble Co.’s fourth-quarter profit fell 18 percent, the consumer products maker said Wednesday, as households around the globe kept tight reins on spending in the recession (P&G does not have small companies brand advantage).

This overbearing focus on the numbers is just a bit upside down because having an important message, to those the advertisers are trying to influence, is more valuable than reach and frequency. It explains why some messages outperform others when using the same basic demographic media buys.

We Became Lazy

It has always been true — importance was more important than frequency, but we got lazy in the formative days of advertising and media buying. It was a time when the airways were dominated by three players and everyone in the country cleared the streets to watch “I Love Lucy” in prime time. If you wanted America to know about your new cereal or toothpaste, all you needed was a bit of frequency on the popular sitcom and product jumped off the shelves.

How stuck is this thinking about target audiences in media today? Very stuck. Napoleon once said “to understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty.” Well, I Love Lucy, NBC, CBS, ABC and the morning paper was what was happening to this industry when it was in its 20s. Today it is in its 70s and how to influence the target audience needs a rebirth.

The Solution has Always Been There

small companies brand advantageClues as to how to make small companies brand advantage in your messages more important and therefore more memorable and persuasive are found in the same quote from Napoleon… “that to understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty.” (Read more of Napoleon’s marketing wisdom here) This means you need to understand the context of the folks you are trying to influence. You need to appeal to their belief systems, values, goals and aspirations. You need to reflect their own sense of self in your messages and not simply appeal to their desire to be entertained. Entertainment is fleeting and forgettable but what is important is sticky.

This understanding of the fiber that binds the target audience to their own sense of self is not easily quantifiable. No focus group will illuminate it and no Excel chart will explain it. It requires the anthropologist’s touch and the observational skills of Jean Piaget.

At the end of the day, effective marketing and advertising today requires an understanding of the target audience with an eye to the nuance of their aspirations, hopes, and desires. The Doublemint Twins won’t cut it anymore. Neither will Mr. Whipple or the Jolly Green Giant. Asmall companies brand advantage may be the biggest advantage of all.