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Mobile users hate banner ads, TV viewers fast-forward through commercials and newspapers can’t sell enough advertising space to keep reporters on staff. But none of these truths trumps a hard fact: the $140 billion a year advertising industry in the U.S. has grown in each of the last 3 years and is expected to top $170 billion in 2013, according to emarketer.com

And the amount spent on the most hated type of advertising — mobile — is expected to more than double — from $3.4 billion in 2012 to as much as $8.5 billion this year, Emarketer reports.

All of this spending does not guarantee the success of advertising. And it certainly doesn’t mean you should increase advertising spending for your company. But it does indicate that there remains a great deal of faith — and potential — in ad spending. Success depends on how and where you spend your money and, more important, on the content of your ads.

Advertising is not dead. But bad advertising — the annoying ones that stalk you on the Internet or demand that you type a text message to opt-in to a pitch — will soon meet a timely death. Story-driven ads, however, are here to stay.

Bears and Diamonds are Eternal

What's your story? keyboard keyBecause everyone loves a story — no matter how or why it’s told. Content marketing thrives on storytelling — and storyselling — by connecting brands with customers in meaningful ways. But compelling stories told in advertising platforms also create lasting relationships. Smokey the Bear has been urging people to prevent forest fires since 1944, and there’s every reason to believe that DeBeers’ “A Diamond is Forever” campaign will last as long as men and women believe in the promise of marriage.

The art of storytelling got lost in the infancy of the Internet. Content was nothing more than keywords strung together with an occasional verb, and ads had little meaning beyond the frantic urging to “CLICK HERE” or “BUY NOW.”

As the Internet aged, digital marketing matured. Technology has returned to its rightful place as a marketing tool, but not its driving force.

Don’t give up on advertising as a way to promote your brand and drive sales, but spend your budget wisely. Consider these three ways to increase the value of your online advertising dollars:

1.  Don’t rush to advertise.

If you’re a new business owner, resist the urge to advertise your company until you have a sound marketing strategy in place. I’ve known entrepreneurs who spent their entire advertising budget before they made a single sale — and some who overspent before they even had a product ready to sell.

Do your homework before you open your wallet. Know who wants to buy your product and why. Social media provides an inexpensive form of market research. Use your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts to ask your followers and group members what they think of your product.

Another option is to promote your product on Kickstarter or a similar crowdfunding platform. You don’t have to make raising money your goal: use crowdfunding as a way to test the viability of your product — and as a form of free advertising.

2.  Choose your keywords carefully.

Hand woman press on touch screen keyword seo buttonIt only takes a few minutes to set up a Google AdWords campaign, but it may take days or weeks of research to find the most cost effective keywords for your company. Consider how many customers or clients you need. If you’re selling toothpaste, you may need hundreds of thousands or millions to clear a profit. If you’re selling multi-million dollar railroad cars and have few competitors, you don’t need many customers.

Don’t look for the most popular keywords. Look for the smartest ones. Thorough keyword research is a long, tedious process. If you lack the patience or aptitude to do it yourself, spend a few hundred or a few thousand dollars to hire a keyword analyst — you will save money in the long run.

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About Katherine Kotaw

Katherine Kotaw is CEO of KOTAW Content Marketing, an international marketing strategy company headquartered in Los Angeles. KOTAW tells -- and sells – stories across multi-channel marketing platforms for SMBs and Fortune 500 companies as large as HBO, Disney and Mattel. Katherine teaches storytelling for the Content Marketing Institute. Connect with Katherine on social media or her website to learn more about personal and corporate branding.

  • matt

    Fantastic article! I think you’re spot-on when you suggest that new business owners’ money is better spent elsewhere than on advertising. Because you’re right — a really high Google search ranking is not necessarily all that important for every kind of business, particularly those just starting out. It goes back to the issue of quality versus quantity. Most new business owners would benefit more from having a few really good clients than a bunch of inferior clients. Who cares if your website is getting thousands of hits a day if none of the visitors are actually equipped financially to do business with you?

    Also, really great information about using keywords to your advantage. I have found that a lot of other info about optimizing keywords is murky — Katherine, you give clear, straight forward advice. Thanks for the tips!

    • Katherine Kotaw

      Thank you, Matt. There is no one-size-fits-all marketing strategy. Some companies cannot survive without advertising and others thrive without spending a dime on it. And, yes, number of hits is not important — number of sales is critical. Glad you enjoyed the article, Matt.

  • Charlotte Taylor

    I love the idea of using Kickstarter to glean public reaction to your product and as a method of free advertising. And I love how this article gets down to the nitty gritty of what to actually do to advertise wisely. The examples of Smokey the Bear and the “A Diamond is Forever” campaign ring true. Those advertising to us should treat us as though we are intelligent human beings who connect to stories on an emotional level, not robots who merely respond to pleas to “Buy Now” as though we had no other choice. As always, a strong, thought-provoking and helpful article, Ms. Kotaw.

    • Katherine Kotaw

      Thanks, Charlotte. Customers want to connect with their brands. We want to feel an emotional attachment to the designer of our dress or the manufacturer of our car. Great advertising nourishes this desire. Bad ads destroy it.

  • George E.

    Awesome article! I can’t wait for bad advertising to be dead for good and for smart, story-driven advertising to reign! I have one question: What particular qualities would I look for in a keyword analyst?

    • Katherine Kotaw

      First and foremost, someone who didn’t give me an easy answer. You can generate a keyword list in seconds. But the list is not the answer. Look for an analyst who asks questions like, “If you were going to buy (your product or service) what are 5 examples of things you would type into Google?” and “Where are your customers coming from — Can we add a geographical element to the keywords?” And — this is very important — you analyst should look beyond the keywords that are most popular to the ones that are rising in popularity. Bottom line: you want an analyst who thinks, not someone who just looks at the raw numbers. A good analyst will cost more than a keyword-churner but will save you money in the long run. Thanks for asking, George.

      • George E.

        Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question, Katherine! This is incredibly helpful. Cheers!

        • Katherine Kotaw

          Thank you, George, for taking the time to read the post — and for asking a great question!

  • B. Davis

    This sentence gave me such an “ah ha” moment: “Keywords get people to click. But messages get people to buy.” YES! Your keywords can’t be so convoluted that no one finds you and once people do find you, your message needs to be clear and memorable. I can see why you’ve been deemed an AllBusiness “Expert” Katherine Kotaw! Reading your article makes me feel inspired and knowledgeable! Thanks for the boost to my day. You certainly know how to tell a good story :)

    • Katherine Kotaw

      Thank you, B. Davis! When TV was first invented, people didn’t care what they watched — they were fascinated by anything on the screen. When the Internet was invented, people clicked on anything because it was new and exciting. TV viewers became more discerning and, now, Internet users are as well. Both want messages — stories — that inspire, enlighten or entertain.

  • Craig

    I wonder if the dramatic increase in advertising spending is because companies are planning to distribute more content or better content…

    • Katherine Kotaw

      I wonder, too, Craig. No one needs more. Everyone needs better.

  • Susanne

    Can anyone think of any contemporary characters in ad campaigns that they think are strong enough to withstand the test of time? Katherine Kotaw gives the examples of Smokey the Bear and the Marlboro Man and I think there are many other examples of memorable ad characters from the past (Tony the Tiger, for instance), but what about new ad characters developed in recent years? Do you think Flo the insurance lady will be a beloved character to our great grandchildren? I’m not so sure…

    • Katherine Kotaw

      I’m not so sure about Flo either, Susanne. You certainly raise a good question. I think you’ve raised a challenge to the Mad men and women of our time — to create characters that will last generations. I think we’re more than capable — creativity is far from dead — but it will take a renewed dedication to envisioning campaigns that will last for decades and not just until a client renews his contract.

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