How to advertise

In this guide on how to advertise, we cover the seven key steps of the advertising development process. Learn how to set your business objective and write a great brief. Learn how to get the best out of advertising and media agencies, so you raise your game in advertising.  

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. Read our key tips on how to write a great communication brief and how to brief your marketing agencies.

As consumers we are surrounded by advertising every day. Recent estimates put the average daily exposure to advertising at between 5,000 and 10,000 advertising exposures a day. 

That’s a lot of advertising!

This level of advertising exposure leads to information overload for most consumers. And as a result, most advertising is ignored. So, how you do make your brand advertising stand out and break through all this advertising noise?  

What role does advertising play in your marketing plan? And how do you actually create an advert from beginning to end?

Read our guide on how to advertise to find the answers to these challenging questions. 

Nighttime advertising billboards

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The advertising development process

The advertising your customers eventually see is the end result of the advertising development process.

If you want to learn how to advertise successfully, there are a number of steps which need to happen before an advert goes live.

The process is set up to help you raise the quality of your advertising. It forces you to answer a number of key questions. And it makes sure you involve the right people. 

 

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

This combination of key questions and the right people make it more likely you will create more impactful advertising. Advertising that is relevant for your target audience and builds your brand identity. Your advertising needs to integrate these two important parts of your marketing.

Relevant, impactful and unique advertising attracts and influences consumers. It drives sales in the short and long-term.

To do this, your advertising needs to pull on strong creative and media principles to deliver the right message in the right context.

It’s an iterative process with measures and learnings captured after you go live. These then feed in to 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

Your first step when it comes to how to advertise is to identify the business objective for the advertising. And to set the budget based on that objective.

This objective is normally defined as part of your marketing plan. Within the marketing plan, you will have the marketing mix. These are between four and seven “P”s for how you manage your brand. 

Advertising sits under the P for “Promotion”.  Promotion covers a wide range of communication activities from sales force to PR to digital marketing.

These communication activities have the overall objective to create a connection or conversation between your brand and its consumers. 

Marketing mix 4Ps and 7Ps example variables

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

A simple definition, but there’s actually a lot going on in that definition. Both calling attention and paid placements are important considerations when it comes to how to advertise successfully.

Calling attention to a product or service

If consumers don’t know your brand, then you have zero chance to make a sale. Zero. So, a big part of advertising is to call attention to your brand. So that consumers are more likely to consider and try your brand. 

In terms of the brand choice funnel (covered in the marketing plan guide), advertising is most heavily used at the start of the funnel. Its most common use is to drive awareness.

When an advert calls a consumer’s attention to a product or service, consumers will recognise the brand and what it stands for. 

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

If that advertising is persuasive that the brand is relevant to their needs, then the brand becomes part of their consideration set. That is, the list of brands from which they choose to try or buy.

Your advertising needs to have a message that speaks to the needs of the target audience. And makes them both be aware and consider your brand.

This ‘message’ usually involves the need to bring some creative skills to your communication. This will involve a mix of writing, graphic design, photography and video making.

Paid placements in media

But the message alone is not enough. Your consumers also need to see or hear the advertising message. This is normally done though paid placements in media. 

Media channels create content that attracts, entertains and educates an audience. Media channel owners use the size and make-up of this audience to sell advertising space to brands. This is how they make money and support their content creation.

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 are an advertiser is that 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, what you also have to consider is that 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.

But at the end of that time, your advertising drops out. And it is replaced with someone else’s advertising. This leads to the concept of advertising campaigns. Where you run advertising with a specific start date and end date. 

Objective and budget help measure performance and ROI

There are two reasons why the business objective and budget are important factors to consider up front.

Firstly, you need to set a target or measure so that you will know if the advertising has worked.

What is it you need the advertising to do? What change in attitude or behaviour do you need to the advertising to create? And what business impact will that change in behaviour create? These are important questions to keep your project on track. 

And secondly, because it is a paid channel, you need to set your budget so you can set a target for the return on investment. This budget needs to cover both production and media costs. 

This lets you set up a business case for the investment. For your advertising to be worthwhile, the extra profit generated needs to be more than the cost of the advertising itself.

We cover more of this evaluation of advertising in our guide on that topic.

Budget – message vs media splits

Historically, many businesses set a specific budget ratio between message creation (production) and media spend. This typically was around 10-15% of the TOTAL budget on production and the remainder on media.

The argument was you don’t want to create an amazingly flashy and expensive advert and then not have the media budget for anyone to see it.

This ratio split still holds true in the world of TV advertising. But, with the advent of more content-led marketing in digital media channels, the right ratio is now less fixed. Online content can go viral without the need for big media spends. We cover more of this viral nature advantage in our guide to digital media.

Step 2 – The advertising / communications brief 

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

Depending on your marketing plan, you can choose to write one overall communication brief across all the channels. Or you can write a brief for each channel.

We’ve seen both approaches work. But with the overall communication brief you tend to produce more integrated campaigns. This is a good thing, obviously.

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

How detailed you make the brief depends on the context of your business.

A start-up entrepreneur on a small budget or an experienced marketing manager with a multi-million dollar budget will have different needs. They will write quite different briefs. But the key point is even with vastly different circumstances, they both still write a brief. 

Role of the communications brief

The communication brief summarises the job to be done. It sets the guideline sand expectations for all involved. This is an important document which should be agreed on by all parties early on in the process.

This document becomes the guide and the reference point for future decisions. It helps everyone remember why you are advertising and what the purpose is. The communication brief becomes the “rules of the game” on how to advertise your brand.

We briefly cover how to use a communication brief in our skill guide on brand activation. But here, we will go into the communication and advertising brief in much more detail. Because it’s such an important part of how to advertise successfully. 

There are many different views on what should go into a brief. But in our experience, it needs to cover five key areas. Brand, objective, communications, rationale and project. 

Brand

Here, you should include key elements from your brand identity. The important point from an advertising brief point of view is that these elements usually remain consistent in all of your advertising briefs and campaigns. This consistency is important. As we’ll come on to later in the guide, consumers rarely ‘get’ your message first time. It needs to be repeated over a period of time to make it more likely to stick.

This consistency and repetition in your advertising is helped by including these key brand identity elements right up front in your brief. They ensure that the response you get fits with your brand identity and works to reinforce previous advertising that you have done.

These key elements should include 

  • brand vision : why your brand exists 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 that 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 are 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. This is where it is specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. 

The marketing objective is usually related to one of or more of the following. 

Brand choice funnel

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

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 centred on a new or innovative project, the measures might be slightly different again. Here, as we covered in our guide to marketing innovation, the project may be related 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 likely be quite 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 consumer attitudes and behaviours? Have these trends created an opportunity, or an issue for your brand? Maybe consumers 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 your consumers?

Consider for example, how some brands responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Brands which may have been used to dealing with consumers face to face had to change the way they interacted with those consumers 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 we cover in our guide on how to evaluate advertising, you only have the consumer’s attention for a limited amount of time. When you focus on one core message, this tends to be more impactful than multiple messages. This part of the brief helps you focus on what that most important element is. 

Communication objective

The communication objective then is the quantifiable measure that you will 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 consumer 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 be related 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

The ability to write a good brief takes practice. Rarely do you get it right first time. But it’s an important skill to learn when it comes to how to advertise successfully.

One of the major temptations is to include as much background information as you can. You want to make sure the agency “doesn’t miss anything”. This is not always helpful.

It can be tough to leave things out, but the clue is in the name “brief”. 

Writer writing showing writing skills

When you include too much information, you will confuse the message. It won’t be clear to the agency what the priorities are. So, aim to keep it tight. Be clear in how you articulate your needs.

Aim to write your brief on a single page. But don’t ‘cheat’ by reducing the font size down to fit more in. Or changing the size of the page to A3 so you can fit more in. We’ve seen both of these done in the past.

So tip number one is aim for brevity and simplicity.

You should also follow the basic tips of good writing that we cover in our writing skills guide.

Consider the first version of the brief as a draft and don’t worry about the length. But once done, go back through and edit to tighten up the message.

Ask colleagues to review and question what you’ve written before it goes to the agency. They will often be able to spot unneeded or confusing messages. This feedback and editing process might add time to the process up front. But it will make your brief clearer and more focussed. 

So tip number two is to edit and get feedback before you give the brief to the agency. 

Step 3 – Agency briefing

So, while the brief is a written document where you capture succinctly the needs of the product, the next stage is where you share that brief with your marketing agencies. This will depend on which agencies you use and how you use them.

But if you remember back to our earlier definition of advertising as “calling attention to products or services” and “paid placement in media”, you will need to identify who will do each of those two jobs. 

While there are some agencies which offer both services, it’s more common to have a lead creative or advertising agency who will handle the message creation. And a media agency who will cover the placement of the advertising into media channels. 

This meeting should take place face to face where possible. The brief should be sent out in advance of the meeting so that everyone has time to prepare. In this agency briefing you should talk through each element of the brief and check for clarity and understanding. 

Purpose of the marketing agency briefing meeting

At this stage, it’s an opportunity for the advertising and media agencies to check their understanding of what you are asking them to do. They can for example check which elements you are willing to be flexible on. And which you will make mandatory. Typically, they will ask questions around the scope and the boundaries of the project. They may have initial rough ideas on which they want to get your initial impressions.

At this point, you are 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 that will help paint a picture of the consumer?

If your agency hasn’t worked with your brand before, bring the product in and get them to use it. Or set it up so that they experience the service you offer. The richer and more inspiring you can make the brief, the more likely you are to get a more creative response 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 who will work on the project must be in this initial meeting so they can hear first hand your requirements. 

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 in order to continue to support you day to day. Remember, it’s their role to make sure that your views are being represented in internal agency meetings. 

Step 4 – Agency Proposal 

Based on your brief, the agency or agencies will typically go away and put together a proposal on how they will tackle the business, marketing and communication challenge you have given them.

In bigger marketing agencies they will sometimes call this proposal a ‘reverse brief’. They will have their own internal briefing document where they will translate your brief into their format. This is presented back to you to check that they have understood and articulated your brief correctly. The positive part of this step is that it gives you a chance to check you have been clearly understood. It’s also easier for the marketing agency if they have a common standardised briefing document to brief all their internal teams.

Where this can get more challenging, is that as a client you can feel like you have lost some ownership over the contents of the brief. It can feel you have become part of the agency’s standardised process rather than getting a solution exactly fitted to your needs. We would advise that you agree with your agency up front which version of the brief will be the defining document for the overall process. From a client point of view, our advice is your original brief should still be that master version. 

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

The advertising idea

The advertising idea is the creative agencies response to how to communicate the message to you target audience in a way that will persuade them to change the attitude or behaviour that you need them to do to deliver against 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 that and bring additional psychological and creative insights into how consumers perceive and process information and experiences from advertising.

Post it on wall with light bulb illustration to highlight creative problem solving

The agency should be able to present an idea of what works with a particular target audience in terms of the style, the tone and the story that will sit around the advertising.

Advertising idea – examples

For example, if you look at Lynx deodorant advertising, the insight is that younger men worry about how they smell. If they smell better, they are more likely to attract the opposite sex. 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 seperate guide. But in simple terms you should consider whether the advertising idea will deliver on your objective. 

Does it seem relevant to the target audience? Can you put yourself in the shoes of the target audience and show how they would react to the advertising idea?

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

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

Depending on your time and budget pressures, this would be the time when you could test out the idea with some qualitative research to get a feedback on the concept. We cover more on how to do this pre-launch testing in our advertising evaluation guide.. 

Some watch outs with the advertising idea 

Your aim is to try to see the advertising idea from the point of view of the consumer. This is harder than it sounds. Remember, they will not have the same depth of knowledge about the brand as you or your agency. So you have to try to put your own knowledge to one side and think about how they would respond to the advertising idea. 

Watch out for any advertising ideas that play back or stick too much to the wording of your positioning statement or brand identity. While consistency is important, often your positioning statement or brand identity will tend to use “marketing” type words, which consumers might not use in more normal day to day language. You should aim for clarity and simplicity in the message. 

We share some examples of how marketing language can lose non-marketing people in this article.

The media plan

We cover the media plan in much more detail in our guide to media planning and buying. But in terms of advertising, the channels and context where the advertising idea should also be presented back as part of the proposal.

Often, where and when an advert will appear in media terms can create 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. 

Nighttime 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 providers and the advertising idea needs to sit within the context of when and where it will be seen. The media choice should fit with the behaviours of the target audience where you will have enough reach of the right type of audience. And they will in the right frame of mind to see your advertisement.

How will the media be delivered?

You should also consider 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” so you can get a better feel for what the end result will look like. 

Reach and frequency

The media plan in the proposal should also give you an initial top level view of how and where your media budget will be allocated. It should outline reachhow many of your target audience are likely to see your advertising – and frequencyhow often those consumers will see the advertising.

While reach is obvious, frequency is not so obvious, but is driven by a lot of advertising research that adverts need to be seen multiple times before they become noticed and create an impact. It’s very 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 but as a rough 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 and define both the advertising idea and the media plan before presenting a final version of the implementation plan.

This plan should cover a list of the key actions that the agency will carry out once you have agreed on the advertising idea and the media plan. How detailed the scope of the plan depends on the scale of the advertising project and your own relationship with the agency. But do bear in mind, once the proposal is agreed, the agency will be spending YOUR budget, so it’s generally better to have clarity and detail up front.

Step 5 – Production

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

If it’s a TV advert or video for example, where and when will the content be filmed? Who will be the main team working on the filming such as the director, writer and cast? If it’s a print or outdoor advert, who will be responsible for the photography, graphic design and copywriting?

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

Film crew

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, so you need to make sure with the agency that what is being produced will be something that ‘fits’ in to the media. 

This production phase will consumer the biggest part of your creative budget, so you should ask for clear timings and budget breakdown for all key elements. You should also check what expectations are required 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? 

Step 6 – Post-production and Go Live

The timeline should also cover the period after the advertising is created because in most circumstances, what is produced usually needs to be edited or crafted before it appears. For example, if there are multiple scenes in your TV advertising, you will need editing to cut the different scenes together. And to make sure that music and graphics all 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 the timing, costs and the expectations of you while this happens. 

Finally, before the advertising is pushed live, there is normally an approval stage. This might require external approval from the media provider or industry bodies in the case of TV advertising to make sure that 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 is done. But, you still have one important last step which is 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 will have the most direct impact to sales data and should make the effort to share this where possible with your marketing agencies.

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

Rulers and tape measures to symbolise measurement

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.

And you should also consider any of the specific communication objectives you might have included in your brief. For example, views, impressions, clicks, likes and so on. These can be sourced from the media provider themselves, through your own digital data channels or through third party reports.

Final thoughts on how to advertise successfully

If you follow a basic advertising process, you increase your chances that you will deliver higher quality advertising. However, there are no guarantees when it comes to advertising. A lot 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 two important elements are then backed up with the creativity and production expertise that a 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 cases such as this, you would 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 actually push the content live. We cover some of these newer channels in our guide to digital media

You should consider this guide on how to advertise as part one of raising your game in advertising. It gets you to the point where you will have advertising in front of consumers. But there’s an important second part to make GREAT advertising, rather than just any old advertising and that’s covered in our next guide on how to evaluate advertising.

Three-brains and marketing communications

We have 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, click the button below to send us a message.

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. 

Marketing Communication brief - blank template
Click to download the pdf

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