Often people will ask me random marketing questions. Sometimes I can answer them easily, but other times it takes a long conversation to get the right answer. One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is, “Which is better: radio, cable, broadcast TV, or print advertising?” Trust me, it’s a difficult question to answer. Companies are so different.

  No one can say that this or that medium always works for all plumbing wholesalers. I’ve experimented with all types of advertising. For companies with the money to do so, the best move is to try everything and see what works best.

  Unfortunately, we’re not all rolling in surplus right now and this may not be a viable option for most companies. So what makes one media outlet better than another? First, you need to ask yourself some questions about your company. Here are some questions to consider.

Who is your ideal customer?

You need to decide on an ideal person that you think of as a customer. For example, are you targeting a 40-year-old plumber who watches sports, owns his own plumbing business, and specializes in commercial or residential projects around your area? If that person is your ideal customer, you need to find the best way to reach him. Sports programming will work, or maybe an ad in the sports section of the newspaper. But think about how this customer spends his day.

Does he listen to sports radio in the morning, work all day, listen to sports radio in the afternoon, and then turns on the game when he gets home? You have a lot of opportunities there: You can advertise on the radio in the morning and the afternoon when the plumber is listening to his sports program, or you can advertise at night during the game. Obviously you will have to take cost into account, but there are still more questions to ask.

What are the best media stations in your area?

Everywhere is different. In Boston we have the New England Sports Network and Sports radio WEEI, so it’s fairly easy to get in front of this “ideal” customer. However, many places have more than one sports radio station and more than one sports TV station. So the best bet is to meet with every media outlet. Gather information about each outlet and base your decision on cumulative numbers.

Everyone is going to show you how they’re number one in something. Look for cumulative numbers of adults 35 and older who own their own business in the plumbing industry. If the outlet says it can’t get you these numbers, they’re wrong. Most stations have more information than they know what to do with. Their ratings and numbers are part of expansive systems that can get you the information you need.

Cost can be an issue here too, because the best station is going to cost the most money. Then you have more things to consider. If there is one sports TV station and three sports radio stations, and the top radio station beats the TV station, most likely the TV station will charge less. In this kind of situation, choose the TV station because it dominates the market. More people may listen to the top radio station, but it has a lot of competition.

How much money are you willing to spend?

Each media outlet is going to charge different prices. You can get proposals from every media station to fit your budget. But remember, you won’t necessarily gain more from being on seven channels three times a day vs. being on one channel 21 times a day. When you invest in cable television you will only reach the people who subscribe to that specific cable company. So while you may be buying multiple stations, how many people are actually seeing them?

If you buy broadcast television you’ll only be on a single station, but everyone - regardless of their cable service - will see your commercial. Spend your money wisely.

With so many advertising options, the best approach is to find your ideal customer and then do a lot of research in your market. Here is where you should start looking after you’ve identified your ideal customer.

Ideal Customer

Let’s say your ideal customer is a 35-year-old woman with a household income of more than $100,000 a year, living in a home valued at $500,000-plus. For this person, your best bet will be to look at broadcast stations such as your local CBS, ABC, NBC and FOX affiliates.

You can get some good daytime advertising that will reach the many women who watch Oprah or the morning news while getting the kids ready for school. If you’re looking for radio, target “top hits” and popular music stations. Whether the women are listening to it or the kids want to listen to it, it ends up on the radio anyway. Also, target print advertisements in the Home/Living sections of newspapers or in local magazines that feature local companies, cuisine, etc.

Or say your target customer is a 40-year-old male who owns a plumbing company that does commercial work in the surrounding area. It may require some repetition to attract this customer. Cable is a viable option in this case because you can pick and choose your stations based on what you think your customer enjoys. You can advertise on ESPN, A&E, The Discovery Channel, or even HGTV depending on how you view your customer. Keep in mind that the people who will see your message will have to be subscribers to the service you are advertising on, so make sure that you’re picking the largest cumulative service provider.

Also, sports radio stations and talk radio stations are very effective. These stations reach many men. Often you can reach them on their way to work while they’re thinking about their daily activities or after work when they’re thinking about what they have to do tomorrow.

Consider another ideal customer: a 30-year-old male who loves to do his own work around the house and doesn’t want to spend money on a plumber when he thinks he can do it himself. For television, consider a FOX or NBC affiliate, as their programming tends to lean towards men. For radio, an alternative rock station or talk radio should work well. Also advertise in magazines that feature “how-to” sections that will spark his interest.

It’s a challenge to find your exact ideal customer. I have addressed a few possibilities, but if you have any questions or would like advice on how to best reach a certain target customer, just send me an e-mail, and I will do my best to help you plan the most effective advertising campaign.