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How to advertise

This guide on how to advertise covers the key steps of the advertising development process. First, learn how to set your business objective and write a great brief. Then, learn how to get the best out of your agencies, so your advertising and media helps you delight customers and grow your brand. And finally, learn what to do after your advertising goes live.  

How to advertise

How this guide raises your game

  1. Learn the seven key steps of the advertising development process.
  2. Understand the role of advertising in your business and marketing plan.
  3. Find out how to write a great brief and how to work with your marketing agencies.

As consumers, advertising surrounds us every day. Recent estimates suggests on average we’re exposed to 5k-10k adverts a day. 

That’s a lot of advertising!

This level of exposure leads to information overload for most of us. If customers get overloaded they switch off, and ignore the advert completely. Clearly, you don’t want that. 

Your challenge is how to make your advertising stand out from all the noise.

This guide on how to advertise walks through a process that helps you deliver great advertising that supports the objectives in your marketing plan.

Young man standing in Times Square at night looking up the bright media advertising billboards

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The advertising development process

The adverts customers see are the end result of the advertising development process.

This is a series of steps which need to happen before and after an advert goes live. Know these steps and you know how to advertise. The process helps you improve the quality of your advertising. 

You have to answer key questions, and involve people with the right skills. Getting the right answers and mix of skills is how you make great adverts. Advertising that engages your target audience and builds your brand identity

Relevant, impactful and unique advertising attracts and influences customers. It has a commercial impact. 

The advertising development process - a guide on how to advertise successfully

You apply creative and media principles to deliver the right message in the right context.

It’s an iterative process. You capture measures and learnings after you go live. You apply these learnings to improve your next advertising campaign. 

Let’s start the process of how to advertise with a look at the business objective and budget. 

Step 1 - Business objective and budget

You start by identifying the business objective for the advertising. With that, you also need to set the advertising budget you need to help meet that objective.

You often do this step as part of your marketing planning. Within the marketing plan, you’ll have the marketing mix, a set of 4 to 7 “P”s that you use to manage your brand. 

Advertising sits under the P for Promotion. It usually refers to your communication activities and would also include sales promotions and public relations

These overall objective of these communication activities is to create a connection or conversation between your brand and its customers. 

Marketing mix 4Ps and 7Ps example variables

The dictionary definition of advertising is it’s the act of calling attention to a product or service, usually done though paid placements in media.

A simple definition, for sure.  But there’s a lot going on in that definition. You need to consider both calling attention and paid placements when it comes to how to advertise successfully.

Calling attention to a product or service

If customers don’t know your brand, they won’t buy.

So, by calling attention to your brand with advertising, it helps customers know your brand.

You’re no longer unknown when you advertise. 

From the customer’s point of view, this is all about awareness. Most advertising aims to drive this key stage of the brand choice funnel (see the marketing plan guide for more on this).

You want customers to know who you are, and what you stand for. If they know you and like what you stand for, they’re more likely to notice you and consider you.  

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

Advertising that helps customers decide whether a brand is relevant for them, helps push the brand into the customer’s consideration set. That’s the list of brands from which they choose to try or buy.

Your advertising message has to speak to the target audience’s needs. It needs to drive awareness and consideration.

You create this ‘message’ with the right mix of creative skills. This could include writing, graphic design, storytelling,  photography and video making for example. Some businesses do this in-house, but it’s much more usual to use an advertising type of agency to do the work. 

Paid placements in media

But the message alone isn’t enough. Your customers also need to see or hear the message. This is where paid placements in media come in.

Media channels create content that attracts audiences by entertaining and educating them. Media channel owners use the size and make-up of this audience to sell advertising space. This is how they make money and support their content creation. They either work with media agencies to book the space, or sometimes they’ll work directly with brands

Paid advertising is what pays the salaries of the teams behind TV channels, newspapers, magazines, outdoor billboards, websites and social media channels.

What that means if you’re an advertiser is you always have to pay to reach people through advertising. But because it’s a paid transaction, you get a guaranteed return for that payment.

This ‘return’ might be a specific number of viewers or readers. Or a specific number of actions like clicks, links and purchases if you advertise online.

However, bear in mind, what you pay for is time-limited. Businesses who sell advertising allow you to put your messages on their platforms for a specific amount of time only.

Once your times’ up, you get replaced with someone else’s advertising. This leads to the concept of advertising campaigns. Where you run advertising with a specific start and end date.

Objective and budget help measure performance and ROI

The business objective is important because you need to set a target to know if the advertising worked.

Be clear on what you need the advertising to do. What change in attitude or behaviour does it need to drive? And what sales and profit impact will you see as a result of that change? 

Then, because it’s a paid channel, you need a budget. Advertising isn’t free. This budget needs to more than cover the cost of making the advert and pay for media costs. But with a budget, you can also set a return on investment (ROI) target. 

This supports your business case for the spend. You want a positive ROI from your advertising (sometimes also called a ROAS – Return on Advertising Spend). It needs to drive more profits than the advert costs to make and run.  

(Check out our advertising evaluation guide for more on the money side of adverts).

Budget - message vs media splits

Many advertisers set a budget ratio between message creation (production) and media spend. This is typically 10-15% on production and the rest of the budget on media.

They do this because you don’t want to create a flashy but expensive advert nobody sees. You want to avoid spending too much on production and not have enough left for media. 

This ratio split is most often used with TV and other traditional advertising. In digital media, it’s a but more flexible, because that media can be shared. When it’s shared a lot, it goes viral and you can get a lot of reach, for not a lot of media spend. 

Step 2 - The brief 

With business objective and budget set, the next stage of how to advertise successfully is to write your brief.

You’ve a choice depending on your marketing plan.  Write one overall communication brief for everything. Or write a brief for each channel.

Both approaches can work. But with the overall brief approach you usually end up with more integrated campaigns. This is a good thing, obviously.

How detailed you make the brief is your choice. There’s a fine balance. Too much information, and you lose clarity. Not enough information, and you lose consistency.  

The key thing though is you write one, so everyone knows the job to be done. 

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

Role of the brief

The communication brief summarises the job to be done. It sets the guidelines and expectations for all involved. It’s an important document which should be agreed on by all parties early on in the process.

It acts as the guide and the reference point for future decisions, including creative evaluation and approvals. It helps everyone remember the purpose of the advertising. The brief sets out the “rules” on how to advertise your brand.

You can write a brief for any part of your brand activation. But here, we’ll go into how to do it for advertising brief in more detail. Writing a good brief is a key skill to learn how to advertise successfully. 

There are many different views on what goes into a brief. For us, it needs to cover five key areas.

  • Brand.
  • Objective.
  • Communications.
  • Rationale.
  • Project. 

Brand

In this section, you cover key elements from your brand identity. You usually keep this section consistent across all your advertising briefs. This consistency is important. Customers rarely ‘get’ your message or your brand first time. You need to repeat it over time to make it stick.

Use the same brand identity assets over and over, and customers recognise and remember your brand. The Golden M Arches of MacDonalds for example, or the Coca-Cola bottle and logo. 

Brand consistency and repetition helps reinforce previous advertising you’ve done, and help customers make the connection to your brand. 

These key elements should include 

  • brand vision : why your brand exists, its purpose and / or its end goal.
  • brand essence : a short summary of the heart of your brand.
  • personality : adjectives or statements that bring your brand to life.
  • values : verbs or nouns that define your brand behaviours.

Objective

The second area your advertising brief should cover is the link back to the overall business and marketing goals and objectives. Your business goal sets the direction for what you’re trying to achieve – drive sales, launch a new product, increase market share and so on. While your marketing objective and growth target define “how” you expect to do that. And how performance will be measured.

This growth target should follow the SMART model. SMART stands for specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound, which you use as criteria to set the objective. 

The marketing objective usually relates to one of or more of the following :-

Brand choice funnel

Often the advertising or communication objective focusses on moving customers from one part of the brand choice funnel to another. So for example, your objective might be to raise the level of brand awareness. Or the number of consumers who will consider or try the product, or become loyal customers.

Brand equity measures

Sometimes, the advertising objective might be to shift the target audience’s perception of the brand. In cases like this, there will usually be a specific value, style or performance statement which the brand wants to improve.

For example, to raise perception of the brand as a high quality or popular product. Or to change perception about the brand’s reliability or durability.

Innovation measures

Where the advertising brief is on a new or innovative project, the measures might be different again. Here, as per our marketing innovation guide, the project may relate to new products that meet unmet needs for existing customers. Or  it could be to extend existing products to new customer groups. These might have similar measures to those in the brand choice funnel or brand equity. But the content will be different.

Communications

In the communications section of the brief, you should cover the communication challenge, the communication imperative, the communication objective and the consumer insight.

Communication challenge

The communication challenge sets the scene and context for the brief. It should cover key relevant facts as they relate to consumers, competitors or the wider category.

For example, have you noticed any trends in customer attitudes and behaviours? Have these trends created an opportunity, or an issue for your brand? Maybe expectations of quality and value, level of service or sustainability have changed? What do you need to do to adapt to those new circumstances?

Has a competitor changed their marketing approach and you need to respond to it? Maybe it’s a new product launch, or a different message or a different price point? Bear in mind, those consumers you target will also be exposed to the communications from your competitors.

Finally, maybe there has there been a change in the way that products and services are delivered in your category? Does this mean you need to change how you communicate with customers?

Consider for example, how some brands responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Brands which had been used to interacting face to face had to change the way they interacted with customers to maintain social distancing.

Communication imperative

While the communication challenge allows you to identify a number of different factors which give context, the communication imperative asks you to identify the most important. As per our how to evaluate advertising guide, you only have the consumer’s attention for a limited amount of time. When you focus on one core message, this tends to impact more than multiple messages. This part of the brief helps you focus on what that most important element is.

Communication objective

The communication objective is the quantifiable measure you use on the advertising specifically. It may be the same as the overall marketing objective. Or it may be more specific to the communication itself. So for example, the number of views, clicks, likes or impressions might be the overall communication objective.

Insight

You should have identified an insight when you created your brand identity. It’s the deep underlying insight about your target audience that will help the marketing agencies to generate creative ideas. When you can tap into a strong insight about your target audience, it will make your advertising more relevant and impactful because consumers will ‘recognise’ the insight as something they think, feel or do. 

Rationale

The rationale closes the loop on your brand elements by pulling in your Point of Difference justification from your positioning statement. These are the Reason Why, which help the consumer to understand your message. And the Reason to Believe, which helps the customer to believe the message.  

These are the proof points why your brand can meet the needs of the consumer and help the agency build a message around these justifications. 

In this section, you should also include a description of the target response. Can you bring to life what the target audience needs to think, feel or do differently in response to your advertising? 

Reason why and reason to believe definitions RW = help consumers understand RTB = help consumers believe

Project

The final part of your brief should cover project specifics.

What is the expected timeline for example and how much budget has been made available? You should also include any additional measures and KPIs not already captured in the business or communication objectives. These might relate to how the marketing agencies perform the task. For example, delivery on time or budget, the quality of the outcomes or compliance with regulatory, IT or retail customer constraints. 

Tips on how to write a good brief

Writing a good brief is a skill in it’s own right, whether it’s for advertising or other marketing projects.

It’s important to be clear on why you need to write a brief, who writes it, when it should be written and how long it should take. 

Check out our article on writing briefs for a review of these general principles about brief writing.

That article also covers our tops tips to write better briefs which include the value of keeping it brief, practicing writing briefs and the benefit of organising your background information to make it easier to access and use.  

Person wring at a table - close up of their arm with a coffee mug in front of them

Step 3 - Agency briefing

The brief is a written document where you outline the advertising job to be done. The next stage is to share that brief with your marketing agencies. This depends on which types of agency you use and how you use them.

Remember our earlier definition of advertising. “Calling attention to products or services” and “paid placement in media”. You need to identify who’ll do each of those two jobs.

While some agencies can do both, it’s more common to have a creative or advertising agency handle the message creation, and a media agency the media buying

Do this briefing meeting face to face where possible. Send the brief out in advance. Give everyone time to prepare. In the agency briefing talk through each part of the brief. Check for clarity and understanding.

Purpose of the agency briefing meeting

At this stage, it’s an opportunity for the agencies to check they understand what you want them to do. They can for example check which parts you’re willing to be flexible on. Typically, they’ll ask questions around the scope and the boundaries of the project. They may have initial rough ideas and want to get your initial impressions.

At this point, you’re passing over the responsibility to the agencies to run the next key steps in the process. 

You should see this briefing as an opportunity to inspire the agency teams. Think about how to bring it to life as much as possible. When you talk about your target audience, are there any stories, videos or testimonials you can share? These can help paint a clearer picture of the customer.

If your agency hasn’t worked with your brand before, bring the product in. Ask them to use it. Or set it up so they experience the service you offer. The more inspiring the brief, the more creative a response you’ll get from the agencies. 

Agency representation

In our guide to marketing agencies, we cover the three main functions in an advertising agency – account management, strategy and planning and creative teams. ALL should be present at this briefing session.

In particular, the creative team must be in this initial meeting. They need to hear your requirements first hand. 

The strategy and planning team will generally take the lead on how to play back the story / plan to you. And obviously the account team need to be across the brief as they’re your voice in the agency.

Step 4 - Agency Proposal 

Based on your brief, the agencies will go away and put together a proposal. That covers how they’ll tackle the business, marketing and communication challenge you’ve given them.

In bigger marketing agencies they’ll sometimes call this proposal a ‘reverse brief’. They’ll have their own internal briefing document, where they  translate your brief into their format. This present this to you to check they’ve understood your brief correctly. This gives you a chance to check you’ve been clearly understood. It’s also easier for the marketing agency if they’ve a standardised briefing document to brief all their internal teams.

Where it’s more of a challenge is that you can feel like you’ve lost some control over the brief. Your document (and thinking) is not the master document any more. You may feel you’ve become part of the agency’s standardised process rather than getting a bespoke solution. Make sure you agree with your agency up front which version of the brief is the master document. For us, that should always be the original brief you wrote. 

In the agency response, they should present at a minimum three areas. These are the advertising idea, the media plan and the project implementation plan. 

The advertising idea

The advertising idea is the creative agency response to how to communicate the message to your target audience. It needs to do it in a way that’ll persuade them to change their attitude or behaviour and deliver your business objective. 

This idea should pull from key elements of your brief. Notably the consumer insight, the benefit and the reason why and reason to believe.

But it should go beyond those. It should  bring extra insights into how customers perceive and process information and experiences. (see for example our articles on behavioural science and design psychology). 

Yellow post it with illustration of a lightbulb pinned to a wooden pin board

The agency should also recommend the style, the tone and the story that’ll drive the advertising message.

Advertising idea - examples

For example, if you look at Lynx deodorant advertising, the insight’s that younger men worry about how they smell. If they smell better, they’re more likely to attract women. So the advertising ideas all relate to the desire to attract women by smelling better.  

But younger men also respond well to content that’s bold, humorous and pushes the boundaries of acceptability. So the advertising ideas also plays out in the style of those adverts. 

Compare that to a brand like Berocca, where the insight is that tiredness can catch up with you anytime. So the advertising idea shows how quick access to an energy boost can help you make it through tough days and nights.

How to evaluate the advertising idea

We cover how you evaluate an advertising idea in more detail in a separate guide. In simple terms start by considering whether the advertising idea will deliver your objective. 

Does it seem relevant to the target audience? Can you put yourself in the shoes of the target audience and imagine how they’ll react to the idea?

Is the idea impactful? Think about when and where the it’ll appear. Do you think it stands out enough to capture the attention of the target audience? 

Finally, does the advert seem unique? Is it an idea or concept you feel you’ve seen elsewhere, or that any of your competitors could run? If so, it’s less likely to stand out and do the job it needs to. 

Depending on your time and budget pressures, this would be when you could test out the idea with some qualitative research with actual customers. Check our advertising evaluation guide for more on this pre-launch testing. 

Watch outs with the advertising idea

Try to see the advertising idea from the customer’s point of view. It’s harder than it sounds. Remember, they don’t know the brand as well as you or your agency. Try to put your own knowledge to one side and think about how “normal people” will respond to the advertising idea. 

Watch out for advertising ideas that stick too much to the wording of your positioning statement or brand identity. While consistency is important, these planning tools tend to use “marketing” type words. These don’t always translate well into the day to day language of customers. Keep you message clear and simple. Avoid jargon and try to put it into words the customer would use themselves.  

(Check out our article on giving creative feedback for more on this topic. Also, our article on marketing to non-marketers article has more on the misuse of marketing words with non-marketers). 

The media plan

Our guide to media planning and buying guide covers the full ins and outs of media. But in terms of advertising, the media channels and context where the advertising idea will appear must be part of the proposal.

Often, where and when an advert will appear in media terms helps inspire more creative ideas for the message. 

For example, think about the time of day or the time of year the plan will appear.

If your product is consumed early in the day or late at night, it makes more sense for your advertising to appear at these times, relevant to the time of purchase. 

Young man standing in Times Square at night looking up the bright media advertising billboards

Think about when your product is bought. Is it part of a weekly shopping cycle? Or is it tied to a particular time of year like Christmas, Easter or the summer holidays?

There are a wide choice of media channels and suppliers. If you’re budget’s big enough, sometimes you’ll be asked to meet directly with the media sales team

The advertising idea needs to sit within the context of when and where it’ll be seen. The media choice should fit with the behaviours of the target audience. You want enough reach of the right type of audience. And for them to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate your advertisement.

How will the media be delivered?

Think also about the physical delivery of the advertising idea through the media channel. Is it to be viewed on a screen like a TV advert or website video? What if it’s a static image for an outdoor roadside billboard or will be seen only on a social media post on a mobile?

The media agency should be able to bring to life the context in which the advertising idea will be seen. Ideally, they can mock up an idea of what the advertising will look like “in situ”. (often mocked up using Photoshop). You need to get a feel for what the end result will look like.

Reach and frequency

The media plan in the proposal should also give you a top level view of the media budget allocation. It should outline

  • reachhow many of your target audience are likely to see your advertising.
  • frequencyhow often those consumers will see the advertising.

While reach is obvious, frequency isn’t. It’s driven by a lot of advertising research that adverts need to be seen multiple times before they get noticed and make an impact. It’s rare for one viewing of an advert to change someone’s behaviour. So the repetitive effect of having higher frequency advertising helps to make your advertising more likely to have an impact. 

The right frequency can vary by category and product. As a rule of thumb, a frequency of between 5 and 7 is very common. That is, your media agency should propose a media plan that lets your target audience see your advertising between 5 and 7 times. 

The project implementation plan

The final part of the proposal will be the project implementation plan. Often the agency will want to agree the advertising idea and media plan before presenting a final version of the whole plan.

This plan should list key actions the agency will carry out once everything’s agreed. How detailed you go depends on the scale of the advertising project and your relationship with the agency. Bear in mind, once the proposal is agreed, the agency will be spending YOUR budget. Clarity and detail up front is in your interests.

Step 5 - Production

In the implementation plan should be the main details of the production phase. This is when you actually make the advert itself.

If it’s a TV advert or video for example, where and when will the content be filmed? Who’ll be the main team working on the filming such as the director, writer and cast?

If it’s a print or outdoor advert, who’s looking after the photography, graphic design and copywriting?

In all parts of production, you want to make sure the media specifications have been shared, so that all relevant timings and formats are being produced.

Two cameramen and a sandman posing on a lawn in front of some trees

For example, does your TV advertising need to be a certain length? Does your photography need to work in portrait and landscape? For online digital media formats, there can often be multiple sizes of where adverts will be placed. You need to make sure with the agency what they produce will ‘fit’ the media. 

This production phase eats up the biggest part of your creative budget. Ask for clear timings and budget breakdown for all key elements. Check what’s expected from you as the client during this part of the process.

Do you need to be available for the shoot for example? Do you need to be available to give feedback at certain points in time? If you’re needed, you must make yourself available. 

Step 6 - Post-production and Go Live

The timeline should also cover the period after the advertising is made. What’s produced usually needs to be edited or crafted before it appears. For example, if there are multiple scenes in your TV advertising, you need to cut the different scenes together. And to make sure music and graphics come together to make a single cohesive advert.

If your photography needs to be finessed with Photoshop for example, you need to be clear on how that’ll work. What’s the timing and cost? What’s expected of you in terms of giving feedback

Finally, before the advertising launches, there’s normally an approval stage. For example, external approval from the media provider or industry bodies. You need to make sure  the advertising complies with all relevant legislation and advertising standards. But you also want to make sure you have the final say on what gets pushed live. 

Step 7 - Review performance

Once your advertising goes live, it can feel like the job’s done. But, you still have one important last step. You have to track and monitor the impact of your advertising. This is usually a joint effort between you as the client and the marketing agencies. 

You’ll have the most direct impact to sales data. Always share this where possible with your marketing agencies. 

Look for shifts in performance that coincide with the timing of your advertising. Though as we discuss in our how to evaluate advertising guide, advertising can have both a short-term and long-term impact. 

Three different types of rulers seen from above on a plain background

If you have a market research agency and track brand choice funnel, and brand health data, look for shifts in attitudes and perceptions from these measures.

Consider also the specific communication objectives you had in your brief. For example, views, impressions, clicks, likes and so on. You can get these from the media agency, through your own digital data channels or via third party reports.

Final thoughts on how to advertise successfully

If you follow a clear advertising process, you improve the impact of the advertising you deliver. However, there are no guarantees with advertising. Much of the success in advertising comes from how you pull together your understanding of your target audience and the clarity of your brand identity. These are then backed up with the creativity and production expertise that a good marketing agency brings. 

Of course, there are some specific areas of advertising like social media and search where you need to create much smaller but more frequent content.

In those cases, you’d normally still have an overall brief to set the direction over a longer period of time, say the next 3 to 6 months. But you’d have a more on-going test and learn agile approach to push the content live. We cover some of these newer channels in our digital media guide. 

Consider this guide on how to advertise as part one of raising your game in advertising. It gets you to the point where you’ll have advertising in front of customers. But there’s an important second part to make GREAT advertising, and that’s covered in our next guide on how to evaluate advertising.

Three-brains and marketing communications

We’ve worked on many marketing communications projects including advertising development and have good experience across all aspects of communications. We know how to connect this expertise back into driving your brand marketing and growing your sales. 

If you want to know more about how we can support your marketing communications and advertising to grow your business  through our coaching and consulting services, contact us and let us know what you need.

To achieve clear and consistent marketing communications, the first step is pulling together a clear brief for everyone involved in creating your activity.

That includes key elements of your target audience understanding and brand identity as well as stating your business and project goals. 

Download our blank template with accompanying notes to get your started on the process of creating a great marketing communications brief. 

Download it here or from our resources section. 

Powerpoint and Keynote versions of this document available on request. 

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