The Keys To Advertising When Sales Are Down

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Part One: The 50,000 Foot Level — How to stay strong and focused.

This is the first in a two-part series focusing on how retailers should tackle their advertising plans when sales are down and times are tough. Part Two will share tactical steps retailers can take to drive immediate foot traffic.

It is common practice for retailers to base their advertising budgets on a percentage of sales (3.5 percent to 4 percent). In a down economy, this can create a never-ending cycle, because decreasing your advertising provides less opportunity to drive traffic and sales, resulting in decreased advertising … and so on. To prevent this cycle, retailers need to set a threshold — the minimum amount you must spend to maintain awareness and drive traffic. Take the time to determine what that number is — especially for your particular market — or, better yet, hire someone to do so. Contact a local advertising agency or seek out a freelance media planner through your local advertising/marketing association (visit to find a chapter in your area). This is a situation where calling in an expert in media planning and negotiation can make you more efficient and more successful in a matter of weeks.

Once you’ve determined the minimum you should be spending (and minimum means you should be spending more if you expect long-term growth), how can you ensure your dollars are working as hard as possible?

1. Start with your current customer. As most seasoned retailers know, it’s always cheaper to retain a current customer than to recruit a new one. Use your loyal customers to your advantage by consistently reaching out them via email and direct mail. Keeping your company top-of-mind will not only drive repeat business but also positive word of mouth.

2. Do a good job in one medium, then move onto the next. If you find that newspaper tabs are the most effective at driving traffic, make sure you are adequately covering your key zones and have a consistent presence before moving on to another medium — likewise for TV, radio, etc. Fragmenting your media plan will only ensure fewer people see your message fewer times. It’s a game of reach and frequency — with your general advertising, you want both.

3. Get more bang for your buck with synergy. Make sure your mediums and messages work together. If you advertise on radio, outdoor can be a nice complement. Or make sure the offer/brand message featured in the radio spot matches the tab running in the paper. This increases your frequency, as well as critical message retention, with your targets.

4. Consistency is key — you never know when they’ll be in the market. With remodel business down, today’s appliance and CE market is hinging on replacements. And, unless you have a psychic on staff (if so, please call us, we have a few questions), you don’t know when a member of your audience will enter the market. Having a consistent advertising presence is key to consideration.

5. Keep an eye on the competition. Not only are they watching you, they’re talking to your customers, and you should do the same. Pay attention to what they’re doing. Are they successful? What works and doesn’t work? How can you differentiate your business?

6. Position and promote. With every single communication, from tabs to TV, tell the audience who you are, what makes your store unique (positioning) and give them a reason to come in today (promote). Brands like Coca-Cola have the luxury of just positioning or just promoting themselves. With a huge budget and a household name, you can get away with a lot. But smaller retailers must constantly remind their audience of their unique brand position and encourage them to come in today.

When consumer spending is down and advertisers are pulling back, it’s critical to continue building your brand and increasing awareness. Have you noticed that the Home Depots and Lowe’s of the world are charging forward? They see the opportunity. Smaller retailers shouldn’t let them have the lion’s share of voice. The key to a successful advertising program is to stay strong and focused, especially during challenging times.

Check back next month for Part Two:  Let’s get tactical. We’ll share specific steps that retailers can take to drive traffic.

With more than 30 years of combined experience, Kathryn Baird and Kim Hiltachk of Torus Marketing provide expert consultation services and develop award-winning, results-focused campaigns for clients such as Brand Source, the $11 billion, 3,000-plus-member-strong buyer’s group, and the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Please email, or visit


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