Radio Advertising For Small Business: The Four String Theory

Just because your small business doesn’t have a big marketing budget doesn’t mean effective radio advertising is out of your reach. You just need to know how to make all of your resources count. I call this this “The Four String Theory” of radio advertising.  Understanding this theory requires about 6 minutes of your time.

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Bohemian Rhapsody, the 1975 operatic classic by Queen, was the most expensive rock song ever recorded.  The song took three weeks to produce and required 180 separate overdubs. New recording technology had to be invented just to complete to synchronize and combine all of the component parts into the completed song. So, you may ask, what does this have to do with advertising a small business on radio?

When you decide to advertise on the radio, you are entering into a battle for the listeners’ consciousness against marketing giants like Home Depot, GEICO, Dunkin’ Donuts and, not to mention, deep pocketed local car dealers, department stores, and chain restaurants. So with your limited resources, can you expect to effectively compete against the big spenders? Just ask ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro.

Four Strings Beats A Queen

A typical ukulele has four strings, is about 23 inches long, and costs about a hundred bucks.  But if you know how to play it and employ a little creativity, you can recreate the grandeur of Bohemian Rhapsody at about .01% of the cost. Take a look how Jake does it:

Advertising On The Radio With Just Four Stings

In the same way Jake can take on Bohemian Rhapsody with just four stings, a small business owner can take on the d spending giants if she knows what strings to pluck.  Here are the four strings I recommend

  1. Think Outside The Prime Time Box...A lot of big advertisers insist on advertising during “drive time.” This drives up the cost of advertising during those times. A small business, however, does not have to pay a premium price to reach this audience, however.  On a typical radio station, 80% of the prime time audience can be reached at nighttime, overnights, on the weekend.  Often times, the commercials during these times can cost 25% of what it costs to advertise during prime time.  The calculus is very attractive for a small business on a budget: reach 80% of a station’s audience for 25% of the price.  Now that’s good business.
  2. Use Shorter Length Commercials…The standard length of a local radio commercial is 60-seconds.  Often times, radio stations will offer deep discounts on commercials that are 10 or 15-seconds long.  With a little creative patience, you will be able to hone your message to that short length. Don’t believe me? Then take a listen to the commercials on your local National Public Radio station where the maximum commercial length is 15-seconds or fewer. Even the most complicated messages can be communicated in this diminutive time frame. Bottom line, if you purchase shorter commercials as part of your advertising campaign, then you can get many more commercials for your budget.
  3. Create a Specific Objective For Your CommercialThe Small Business Guide To Effective Radio Advetising describes two types or marketing objectives for a radio commercial: Branding and Promotion.  Branding is when you want the consumer to believe something about your business. An example of a branding objective could be: Get working mothers to believe that my daycare service is the safest place in town to entrust their children. Promotional objectives are used when you want your target consumer to take specific action. An example of a promotion objective could be: Get people who maintain their own cars to buy 3 quarts of motor oil at my store this weekend. By choosing a specific objective for a radio commercial, you can ensure that every word, every concept, every benefit advances you toward fulfillment of the objective.  Caution: Often times, an advertiser selects one of the following as a marketing objective. Both can be advertising suicide:
        • Create Awareness
        • Build store traffic

    Neither “objective” provides strong guidance to build an effective radio campaign. Can you convert awareness into cash register receipts? Will attracting people to your store who aren’t qualified prospects result in a successful campaign? The answer to both questions is a loud, NO!

  4. Utilize The Unique Bond That Radio Station Personalities Have With Their Listeners…The personalities (aka DJs) on a radio station have a unique bond with their listeners. Scientists call this a parasocial interaction. In a recent study at The Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism found that 82% of radio listeners have this type of bond with their favorite personalities.  More than half these listeners have considered or purchased a product advertised by their favorite DJs.  Most radio station’s offer advertising plans where these DJs will talk-about or endorse your product.  There is a premium cost associated with these endorsement plans, but well within the budget of most small businesses.  This is an excellent way to transfer the esteem a listener has for their favorite personality to your product.

When Jake Shimabukuro plays Bohemian Rhapsody on his ukulele, he does not use every note and chord available to him. He plays just the ones that are vital to the song.  Similarly, when a small business creates advertising using the four strings mentioned above not every string is needed every time. Fortunately, most reputable radio account executive have the resources and the experience to help your create a great rhapsody each time you advertise.

Read about Maine small businesses that have achieved success using radio:


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