Advertising- planning and design basics

Advertising, one fourth of any good marketing plan, requires planning and focus. The following elements are the minimum essentials to consider. An investment in deep planning within each element will pay off as you gain feedback and information along the way.

Step 1: Define yourself, your company, your product or service.

Your advertising can’t be creative and remarkable if you are not sure about what you are promoting or selling. You might spend millions of dollars on brilliant special effects images of a fish piloting the space shuttle over an ocean of blueberries, but it will not help you if you were intending to sell furniture to people who live in the city near your furniture store. You can waste an enormous amount of money and time on advertising that does not meet your most basic objectives. To understand the objective you have to fundamentally understand what you are trying to do.

Step 2: Choose your audience
Who do you want to reach with your advertising messages? Who are you targeting?

  • Age
  • Nationality/geography
  • Gender
  • Interests/desires/behaviors
  • Knowledge or awareness level
  • Etc.

Step 3: Choose an objective
Ask your audience what they need. What do you hope you audience will do with the information your advertising is providing?

  • Are you defining your brand? Answer the ‘who’ question
  • Are you building awareness? Answer the ‘what’ question
  • Explaining how to take an action? Create a call for action
  • Changing a perception? Answer the ‘why’ question
  • Introducing a new feature, program, or initiative? Answer the ‘how’ question

Step 4: Develop your message
Ask your audience what is important to them. Using your defined target audience outline the basic things you want to say.

  • Consider what your audience is asking for
  • Align your message with your objective
  • Keep it brief
  • Be specific

Create a website for your audience to see next as a follow-up, a place to learn more, or a place to take the first action step. Choose a URL that your ad will point to based on the content for the ad(s). This is a landing page.

Step 5: Choose words, then sounds, then images that support your message
This is where so many people want to begin. Media is the creative, exciting stuff of advertising. For obvious reasons it should be the last thing done, informed by all the previous steps.

More social media connections today means more connections in the future

Social media networks are very interesting examples of a digital media environment that creates a very specific type of information architecture. Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and other social media sites are online communities based on homophily. This characteristic is sometimes called the Matthew Effect from the work of Robert Merton. He cited the New Testament’s gospel of Matthew, “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.” As they say in political speeches dating back to Roman times, ‘the rich get richer.’

An even older version of this effect is, simply put: “Birds of a feather flock together.”

In network science this is known as preferential attachment. When you begin using a social network like Facebook you are connected to other users of that network through your choices, links, likes, and other interactions.

With preferential attachment, the more connections you make, the more connections will will make in the future. The effect of preferential attachment is obvious — the more connections you make, the more connections you will continue to make.

But the connections will not be random. (This is where the birds of a feather idea really kicks in.) Preferential attachment is truly preferential from the users point of view. If you connect with people who play poker or are fans of a particular sports team, or are relatives of yours then your connections will grow in those directions. You will gather a collection of people in your network who are similar to you in numerous ways.

network diagramWhen Facebook suggest you might like to join a group, or LinkedIn suggest you should follow a brand or company it is not accidental or random. They are pouring fuel on the preferential fire.


Media Types and Systems of Communication

Many people think of media as ‘news media,’ and not the specific use of the word to describe the material system of a communication channel.

Books are a form of media. Books are a form of printed media. That word, just two decades ago, meant the medium of printed pages, tables of contents, paperbacks or hardcovers, and whole set of materials that have since changed formats dramatically. They are not just a form of printed media anymore. Today a book can be entirely electronic published in different ways that never include a press or paper.

So a better definition of media should mean the systems of communication used within a communication channel. People who produce software will not like this type of definition because media “types” dominate their thinking. “Media types” are basic building blocks for media and by thinking about the distinction you can easily see how one is different from the other.

The media of any information system uses different media types to create an architecture of interaction. (This is what software designers call the ‘user experience.’). Media types are used to build the way you communicate with others through a particular medium. Media types include:

  • Text
  • Images (pictures or illustrations)
  • Graphics (like tables, charts, and maps)
  • Sound (everything from recorded speech, live speech, or music tracks)
  • Animation (the combination of graphics, images, and sound)
  • Video

But look what happens when you take a look back at a point in history (not so long ago) and really examine a form of media.

Media Media Types used
Newspapers text articles, editorials, directories, images (news pictures), display advertisements (graphics)
Books long form text, images, graphics
Magazines text articles, long form text, images, graphics

This isn’t even close to covering the diversity of what print media is, but it shows the constraints of this media from the 1480s to the 1980s.

Print media was, and still is, a way to create a particular type of interaction with users of the medium (readers). That architecture of interaction is very different from the interaction capabilities of online news media sites even if they are modeled after newspapers or magazines.

Today we’ve seen a transition from print media to digital media across every media format from books and newspapers to movies to software publishing itself. (People under the age of 20 have no memories of inserting and ejecting floppy disc after floppy disc in order to load a program on a computer.)


Creators of digital media must take this architecture seriously if they mean to have the most impact.

The product launch process

product launch business innovationThe product launch process is a fundamental way to create and launch new or innovative services or products into a market. The process, while developed formally by business and economics researchers, is simple but not easy.

There are six basic stages:

  1. Analyze
  2. Plan
  3. Design
  4. Launch
  5. Evaluate
  6. Improve

Analyze: The analysis stage is an exploration and detailed description of a service or product needed by your audience/market. It is not a product think tank session within your own firm. Products or services that you design because they are a ‘good idea’ or because you ‘think’ the market needs is a recipe for disaster. The easiest way to serve your customers what they want is to ask them what they need. This is an opportunity to provide great detail about what your business can provide the market you’ve defined.

Plan: Once you have ideas about the type and extent of need your market is looking for, designing the solution, or often repurposing a current product to more closely match the identified need, becomes more focused and easier to create. You have to know that your product is solving a real problem that buyers are willing to pay you to solve. Planning the design, production and launch of that solution can be done within your businesses resource constraints. This will provide the scale and scope of your design and launch efforts. Use your research to guide defining your core audience, picking a name, setting a price point, and creating a marketing plan.

Design: It is tempting for business owners and entrepreneurs to dive in that this stage instead of doing the legwork of analysis and planning. Designing is fun, creative and inspiring. everyone likes to daydream about the future and the waves of profit from a new idea. Design is really about solving problems within your plan to reach the market with a product or service. Keep the design process tied to your market goals and planning process and you will help keep everyone involved focused on real design work.

(An example: You are working with a small group of entrepreneurs to create a new baseball app. You have done your research and found several things that many fans and customers of the local baseball team want to keep up to date on. The majority of these fans own iPhones. You use this information to plan for the creation and launch of a 99 cent baseball app for iPhones in your market. If it hits certain sales figures you will use revenues to design design and launch the app on Android. Even if you don’t know much about developing apps this product launch process will help. Working with an app developer you can now guide the design of the apps features and keep development focused on what your audience wants, rather than let the project divert in different and potentially profitless directions.)

Launch: As your design efforts move forward you can search out launch partners, develop media contacts to tell your story to, and build an online presence using social and digital media resources that will let customers find you and your product/service. Letting a small group of potential customers test or try out your product will give you fine tuning design suggestions and help build buzz. Setting a launch date allows you to use your marketing budget effectively and focuses effort around your launch. There is a series of steps that any company can walk through that will help launch (or even re-launch) a product– email me for more details.

Evaluate: After the launch your sales data will provide you with the most basic information about what is working and what needs adjustment and improvement. Keeping accurate sales data and market feedback (including returns and repairs) is essential. Everything from downloads and web traffic to walk-ins and direct sales for physical store locations is crucial to tweaking your approach or pivoting to a new strategy if necessary. There are no failures in this process– every problem you face can be solved with agile management.

Improve: Use your evaluation of daily and weekly data to build a picture of your market’s response to your new product. Are there five or eight or ten things that you think should be done to increase sales and reach more people– pick two of them and implement the improvements. Evaluate again, and pick two more improvements to move on. These small innovations are valuable to your sales volume but also provide new data your next launch.


Building awareness online

Creating and building awareness of a specific product, company, candidate or cause is sometimes thought of as a problem to be solved with advertising, more complex marketing efforts or a series of postings and activities across social media.

The more effective way to start building awareness is by asking good questions of the people you want to make aware.

online awarenessAwareness research is developed and organized differently than market research.  The goal of awareness campaigns is different. Market research is aimed at finding an audience for a product or service, which makes that type of research focused on market needs. Market research gathers information about markets (regions, economic segments, demographic groups, etc.) as customers. Note that this is really different from marketing research that is concerned specifically about marketing processes, media channels and reaching defined audiences/markets. Market research is concerned specifically with identifying and defining markets.

Market research is a key factor to get advantage over competitors because it provides important information to identify and analyze the market membership, identity, needs, market size and the reach of your competition.

Awareness research is the systematic gathering and interpretation of information about the knowledge of individuals or organizations using analytical methods and techniques of the applied social sciences. If your goal is to put your name, idea or cause in the front of people bombarded for their attention in a complex world you need to know who you are reaching and what they know and don’t know about you.

You aren’t selling soap, you’re trying to change people’s minds.


What is information engineering?

Information engineering is a term describing the design and development of information for specific uses. An online course is designed to teach subject matter to a distant learner who takes action with that new knowledge. An advertisement is designed to inform, engage and entice the audience into taking action, like buying a product.

The engineering of information, the process of taking a variety of concepts, processes, and contexts and transforming them into a coherent message, using the best medium, to connect with the right audience, is a one of the most important jobs in the modern economy.

Unlike how advertising is often defined, usually as designed to create awareness and knowledge about goods and services, information engineering is the design and development of information for specific uses by identified audiences to achieve a planned goal. That may sound the same using some fancier words, but the systematic nature of designed information is a key difference. Advertising is just one type of information design.

information engineering

Bringing everything together.

Designing information requires an endpoint for that information to be consumed by someone, to achieve some end. Creating a training guide to teach someone how to operate a widget machine requires an instructional design that ends with the user learning how to operate the machine. Working backwards from that result is a primary function of information design. Too often the goal is lost in the data.