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Getting the most from your advertising

by Mark Nolan
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Business advertising

When it comes to advertising, there are so many different factors and considerations involved, we could probably spend weeks talking about them, especially as they will differ for every single business or service, and, to an extent, for every single consumer.

To simplify things, we will group points in this article into very simple elements. We will talk about traditional advertising platforms, such as TV, print, and radio, and we will talk about digital platforms, which mostly covers the internet.

In terms of choosing what’s right for our business though, there is no definitive answer, because, as we have already said, everyone is different. But if we can understand a few simple concepts, we might at least be able to identify opportunities that are best for us.

So, we will talk briefly about three concepts. Reach, impact, and engagement, all of which work hand-in-hand, and are like a chain, in so much as one will not work without the other.

What do we mean by “reach”?

When it comes to advertising, the first, and arguable most important element, is reach. In the simplest of terms, we are talking about how many people will actually see or hear our advert. To put it another way, how many people will our advert reach.

This is not as simple, or as obvious, as we might think. Let us look at a couple of examples to show what we mean.

Starting with traditional platforms, if a local newspaper tells you that they distribute 10,000 copies each week, they might tell you that “every newspaper is read by two and a half people”, so, therefore, your advert will reach 25,000 people a week. But, this is clearly not true. Why? Firstly, because hardly anybody will pick up that newspaper just to read the adverts. People pick up newspapers for the news, the content. The vast majority of people skip through the advert pages, generally. So, your advert is not seen 25,000 times, or even 10,000 times. The reality is that the reach will be considerably smaller.

We are not picking on newspapers by the way, because the reality is, reach is comparatively small on all platforms, whether they are traditional or digital. The primary reason for this could be described as another concept called “ad avoidance”.

We have said that people don’t read newspapers for adverts, and in fact, actively avoid them.

On Christmas Day, 2022, 2.85 million people tuned into Coronation Street on ITV. Advertising during Corrie is amongst the most expensive slots on TV, but does it mean that 2.85 million people saw the adverts in between the soap segments? No, is the answer, because, traditionally, viewers wait until the ad breaks to go to the toilet, put the kettle on, make a drink, or, to put it another way, ad avoidance. So, again, the reach is a lot lower than we might think.

Digital platforms suffer in exactly the same way. Go to YouTube, for example, and search for a video about cleaning mould from garden furniture. You will no doubt find videos, but will first be served by an ad. The vast majority of people spend their time not watching the advert, but watching the counter count down until the button “Skip Ad” appears, which they subsequently do. Ad avoidance.

The point is, whatever we are told about how far our advert will reach, the reality will be much smaller.

The benefits of the digital world over traditional media is that it is much more measurable. Facebook, for its part, is actually quite good at admitting this. If you have a Facebook business page, and hopefully you have, when you ad a post, Facebook will tell you the reach, once you have allowed a bit of time to pass of course. This figure will be low, compared to your follower count.

The reason is that Facebook will not show your post to everyone, in fact, it will show it to very few people. You can increase this by paying, but that is a topic for another day.

Why will Facebook reach be so low? In simple terms, because there is too much happening on Facebook. Although it was conducted a few years ago, a survey revealed that an average Facebook user has 388 friends. For simplicity in this explanation, we will round that figure up and say that the average person on Facebook has 500 friends. Now, users also follow topics that interest them, pages about cats, local history, forums, chat groups, and, of course, businesses. So, again for simplicity, we will suppose that each user follows 500 of these pages. We are excluding things like stories, just to keep things as simple as possible.

So, taking our 500 friends and 500 pages, if we assume that each of those makes a single post each day, that would mean that every user has to scroll through 1,000 updates a day. Currently, Facebook users spend little over half an hour on the platform. So, to use a mathematical equation of 1,000 divided by 30, each user would see 33 posts per minute, or 2 posts every second. It’s not possible.

In order to get around this problem, Facebook prioritises what to show each individual user. It givers preference to your closest friends, posts you interact more with, your interests, and other factors we can talk about in another article. But the point is, if our business page has 1,000 followers, our posts to that page will not reach 1,000 people, more likely, as there are many articles which will testify to this, if it is considered a good and interesting post, then it will be shown to just 5% of our followers, or 50 people, within the mix of their timeline. Thus, our reach is much lower than we might expect, but, as we have seen, this is true of all platforms, it is just something we need to be aware of, accept, and then increase our footprint to compensate.

Within the idea of reach, we also have to consider many more elements, such as demographics, target audience, etc. If we advertise a kitchen fitting service in a gardening magazine, are we more or less likely to reach our target clients? If our services are aimed at a specific section of society, an age group for example, how do those factors enter into what we have left from our starting figure? Of the 10,000 copies our newspaper is distributing, how many are actually within our target geographical area?

Again, one benefit of digital advertising over traditional media is that we can target our adverts in such a granular form. We can target age groups, location, interests, and more.

Now we move on to concept number two, impact

Impact is used to describe the initial power of our advert. To go back to our chain though, impact is only useful if we have reach. We can have the best advert the world has ever seen or heard of, but without reach, it is useless.

To talk more about impact, let us introduce another concept, ad recall. In simple terms, ad recall is a metric to measure whether an advert is memorable. This concept has been measured through things like focus groups, surveys, direct marketing, and other similar ways, but the point is to see whether your advert will be remembered.

We have already seen that our reach is considerably lower than we might have been led to believe. We now accept that, but what we must also accept is that the chance of a consumer seeing or hearing our advert at the exact time that need our product or service is extremely slim, and so we need to embed what we do in their minds until such a time as they need us.

Let us give you some examples. If we say the word, “simples”, you probably think of one thing, meerkats. If we start to sing “Go compare”, you will think of car insurance, “Cornetto?”, “just one”, and so on. These elements are all taken from adverts, and all firmly embedded in our minds. So, ad recall is high.

Our advert must, ideally, have such an impact that people remember it, and, hopefully, remember our business and what we do.

Finally, engagement

We must have some kind of “call to action” for our advert. This can simply be telling people to visit us, how to find us, or direction to our product sales page. It can also be a push to contact us, or simply evoke a searchable phrase that is easy to remember and will present our business profile in the simplest manner possible.

These days, an online presence is vital, but this is no longer just a case of launching a website or Facebook page and hoping for the best. It is about maximising our online presence to that we are first when people search.

Google, for example, and Bing, both offer free business profiles will a multitude of enhancements. For modern businesses, these must be used.

The most impactful businesses these days rely on a bold online presence, which is why there is more of a focus on using search engines as a call to action. “Just search for…”, for example, replacing the need to force the consumer to remember, copy, write, complex pone numbers, website addresses and the likes, as the search engines deliver it all in one go, but only if you have paid attention to your online presence.

Like the previous links in our chain though, engagement will not work if the advert doesn’t have impact. We have to encourage the observer to act, to impact is crucial to engagement, as it is to reach.

Now, the bad news. Collectively, putting all of this together, on average, a good advert is likely, according to industry standards, to result in a response rate of between 1% and 2%.


Whatever our perceived starting figure, when we look at our actual, or effective reach, it is much smaller, across all platforms. We need to have a high impact advert, and we need an effective response to whatever call to action we try to evoke. However, we will still have a very low response rate.

So, how do we compensate for that? We will give you some ideas in another article, but the overall solution is target our advertising correctly, using the best medium to reach our target audience, and using the best medium that offers us the best reach based on our individual criteria, because without reach, we have nothing. To do this, we must do our research. For newspapers, check distribution. You can ask for proof of this, how many and where they distribute to.

For digital, check statistics. There are websites which will report on criteria such as search engine strength, for example. Check the figures, then monitor them. Check their online presence, both in terms of search engine rankings, and across social media. Reviews can give you a truthful picture of their results, but so can a quick analysis of their company profiles. A media outlet with 75,000 followers on Facebook might seem impressive, but how many are genuine, or how many have been bought. A simple check of their posts will soon reveal their impact and engagement based on the number of interactions, bearing in mind that many of those, “great post”, “I really like this”, “amazing” type responses are also often part of the scam. Are their followers genuine, and in the area they claim to serve, because if they are not, how can they possibly satisfy your geographic reach requirements?

Do work yourself. Get yourself listed on all of the free platforms you can, and make sure you and your business are listed fully and correctly. Start with Google and Bing business listings at the very least. Use social media, including stories, and use them regularly, but make sure what you are sharing is valuable and interesting, and, preferably, engaging. Use the technology you have, your mobile phone, make videos, take photographs, rich media is always more appealing, and engaging. Don’t shy away from text though, this is important too. Get blogging, create content that drives online visitors to you. Go viral, okay, that’s easier said than done, but share your most interesting content where you can, and hope others share it too, you can even ask people to share it, but not too often. Don’t cut corners, don’t copy, you don’t have to be perfect, but it helps if you are original.

Ask for reviews. Within your Google business profile, you can do this easily, but don’t be afraid to ask people in the real world to add a review on your listing. Despite everything we have said in this article, the best form of advertising is word of mouth, and positive reviews are just as effective. In the online world, potential clients actively seek out reviews first, they don’t actively seek out adverts. Reviews are powerful.

To maximise reach, we need to do more, across multiple platforms and media, as part of our marketing mix, but to be cost effective, we must maximise our planning, and our monitoring, whilst realising that advertising is part of the long-term business strategy, not something to just throw money at, but something that needs constant attention.

Always monitor every element of your advertising. Check the actual, effective reach, check the response, check the impact, and adapt accordingly. If you simply pay for advertising, you are effectively throwing that money away, unless you monitor.


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