To be honest, it doesn’t matter if your business finances are stretched or not, savvy advertising and marketing are a must for all businesses regardless of their type or size. While large companies, we are talking the likes of Microsoft and Coca-cola here, may be able to afford to indulge in practices like institutional advertising, it is almost business suicide for many small to medium businesses who rely solely on this form of advertising to bring in there business.

What is Institutional Advertising?

Simply put, Institutional Advertising is the form of advertising whose sole purpose is to promote the image of the company itself rather then focusing on a product or service. It is normally used to create public awareness of a company and to help improve its reputation in the marketplace by building goodwill or advocating the philosophy or idea of the organization.

You don’t have to look far to see examples of Institutional Advertising, most of the advertising we experience on television, at bus-stops, or in magazines is institutional advertising.

Who does Institutional Advertising work for?

Institutional Advertising is a valid form of advertising and does work, when used by the right businesses in the right way. Many of the big companies that are “household brands” have worked hard to engrain their products and services into our minds, and so institutional advertising just helps to underline, or re-enforce that message.

While it works well for them, it is a potentially devastating route for a SME to take as they don’t have the spare capital of a multinational, billion dollar company has at its disposal and need to focus people more on a product/service rather then their brand.

Why do so many small businesses use institutional advertising then?

The simple truth is that many small/new businesses learn about advertising from people who are already in business. They may also follow the advice of “marketing experts” who trying to sell advertising for the local newspaper, TV, Radio or phone directories, or they follow what other people are doing.

The fact is that most media sales people are fantastic at the job of selling you advertising, they do this by preying on your concerns and by telling you what you are doing wrong and how they can do it better for you but when you get right down to it and listen to what they are saying about why your ad didn’t work, you know it will be that you either didn’t buy enough time/space for the ad to be effective, or you didn’t run it for long enough.

It is important to remember that these statements may not be strictly accurate for you if you are a small business – if you had run more adverts, bigger adverts, for longer periods of time, they may have been marginally more effective, but it isn’t something you can just throw money at, you have to think about who you are and what you are trying to achieve

Ok, so institutional advertising doesn’t work for SME – what does?

Firstly you need to understand your potential customer and their habits – if you are targeting an older market, then attractive adverts with clear call to actions in them in newspapers or magazines aimed at your target group could work, but more and more people are turning to electronic information these days… why spend ages looking for something in the yellow pages or Thompson local when it is far faster to search online for it?

Businesses have to adapt to this new market, although it is possible to advertise for less now as sites like Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and many others allow you to set up a free account to use them, but you need to give clear thought to what you are trying to achieve, and which platform to use.

For instance, Facebook doesn’t really work so well for business to business selling, or even some Business to consumer (would you hire an accountant, or buy specialist machines like water-jet cutters via facebook for instance?) – but it works very well for small business that are B2C and niche, particularly craft based businesses, or businesses where impulse buying is a strong factor.

Once you have identified where to advertise, you need to work out what your advert would look like. This is where you have to be careful of institutionalised advertising again; many ads follow the same format:

  • The company name as a headline at the top of the advert
  • Very little wording on the advert
  • A long list of products/services
  • Lots of wasted “white space”
  • Loads of pictures that have little or no bearing on the actual product of service being offered
  • And no clear call to action.

For your advert to be effective, you need to break this pattern – you should spend some time thinking about exactly which product or service you want to promote, your headline should be a “hook” to make people want to know more, the wording should fulfil that need, the pictures should reflect the product/service on offer, and there needs to be a very clear call to action – whether that is a “call us on XXX”, “Find us on XXXX”, “email us at XXX” or even a “find out more here” you need to tell your potential customer what you want them to do next and how to do it. Many companies lose sales because they neglect this simple task; an implied call to action often isn’t enough.