Why Radio Advertising Could Be The Best Thing You Ever Did For Your Business

In the marketing world, radio has earned the reputation of being the odd step-cousin. You know the one. No one knows quite what to do with him. Especially at family gatherings when everyone tries hard to avoid sitting with him. (After all, who knows WHAT he'll start talking about.)

Much of that reputation comes from radio being tough to track. On one hand, radio does work. Businesses do notice an increase in sales when they add radio to the mix. However, radio doesn't test well. In surveys and other tracking methods, radio tends to be the one with the dismal scores.

A good friend of mine, who's also a marketing consultant but before that she sold radio for many years, has a theory about that. She says radio works on a subconscious or unconscious level. People remember the ad, but not that they heard it on the radio. So, they tend to credit a different medium for the ad, like the yellow pages. Yellow pages gets a boost while radio drops a few points.

Regardless, radio should not be ignored because it does work. And many marketing consultants will probably tell you radio is an excellent medium to reach a local market.

However, I feel there are possibilities beyond merely reaching local customers.

Internet radio shows are starting to take off in a big way. That means advertising and sponsorship opportunities are also taking off. In addition, "offline" methods have been shown to be pretty effective at driving traffic online. If increasing Web traffic is your goal, using traditional media outlets to increase traffic should be a part of your mix.

If people already know you (which they might in your local market) they're more likely to be loyal. And they're more likely to send other customers to your site. Depending on the costs of radio in your community, radio may be a very affordable way to get a good viral campaign going. (A viral campaign is when your customers send promotional items about your business such as e-mails, articles, Web site urls, etc. to their friends and family members.)

Below are some other positive reasons to use radio:

* Affordable -- when you compare spot to spot, radio tends to be one of the least expensive media out there. However, one spot ain't going to do it. To reach your target market, you need to purchase several spots. That's why radio can also turn into one of the more expensive media. However, there are ways to keep your costs in line yet still reap the benefits of radio -- for instance, buying less spots but running them all in one or two weeks, so your customers are more likely to hear your message.

* Psychological, if you voice the commercials yourself -- hearing your voice makes people feel like they "know" you. (Hence the popularity of audio on Web sites. In fact, marketing gurus claim just by adding audio to a site substantially increases how many people buy.)

People tend to buy from people and businesses they know and trust. Hearing your voice helps them feel as if they know you. These psychological aspects may be another reason to consider running a few radio ads in your local market even if you have an Internet business.

* Speed -- you can get your spot up and running in no time.

* Loyalty -- listeners choose stations based on the music or shows they like and they tend to be quite loyal to that station. If you know what your customers enjoy listening to, it's an excellent way to reach them. (I include both music and talk shows in this.)

* Good support medium -- radio works really well when paired with other marketing mediums (like print, direct mail or television).

But for every positive, there's a negative. In the spirit of being objective, here are a few for radio:

* Background medium -- radio tends to be on in the background, which means it tends to be ignored. Generally, your target market needs to be exposed to your ad more times than other marketing media before they'll act upon your message.

* Little staying power -- the lack of visuals again keeps radio from "sticking" with people. At least, that's what some of the marketing gurus say. But, here again my marketing consultant friend differs. She thinks it's that subconscious thing again.

And if you can write a spot that creates pictures in your customers' heads, you can actually work this to your advantage. In fact, according to my friend, if the picture is defined enough, not only will people remember it better, but they'll also think it was a print ad instead of a radio ad. (More on the art of creating pictures using words in later issues.)

* Hard to track ? it's impossible to know exactly how many people are tuning in at any given time.

A final note: Because radio is subconscious, keep that in mind when crafting your ad. Repeat your business name a lot and any other branding info, so it gets into your customers' heads. Don't put in phone numbers. Instead, purchase a memorable Web site domain name and repeat that. And remember to create "pictures" whenever possible.

Creativity Exercise -- How can you use radio in your business?

Would radio work for your business? Let's find out.

Take out a sheet of paper and a fun pen. (I'm partial to gel pens.) Draw a line down the center.

On one side, put the header: Why advertising on radio is a good idea for my business. On the other side, put the header: Why advertising is a bad idea for my business.

Now pick a side and start writing down reasons.

You might be more comfortable starting with the side that's easiest for you. Then when you work on the other side, you can simply turn the reasons around.

For instance, let's say you started with the bad idea. One of your reasons was: My product is completely visual. You could turn it around by saying "Because my product is so visual, I'll have to work harder to create pictures in my customers' minds. And because the customers create their own pictures, they're more likely to remember them."

Or what if you started with a good idea, and one of the reasons was: "Because my business is local." You could turn it around and say "Because radio is holding me back -- I'm only reaching this local market." (Ah, now I'm even going against what I said earlier. Maybe with this statement you could look for ways to get your customers to spread the word outside the area about your business.)

As you saw by my last example, you'll be amazed at what comes out when you do this exercise. Even if you don't change your views on radio advertising, you may come up with new and powerful insights to your business.

Michele Pariza Wacek owns Creative Concepts and Copywriting, a writing, marketing and creativity agency. She offers two free e-newsletters that help subscribers combine their creativity with hard-hitting marketing and copywriting principles to become more successful at attracting new clients, selling products and services and boosting business. She can be reached at http://www.writingusa.com

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