Is Paying for Ads Still Worth It?

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If you have owned or managed a restaurant for a long time, you probably remember the old days before the internet boom, where investing in advertisements for your small business was a complete no-brainer.  Once upon a time, every small business owner thought it was smart to invest in some form of advertising, whether that be in local papers, phone books, or other small scale publications.

But these days, more and more restaurant owners are asking themselves: is it still worth it to pay for ads?  In the modernized, DIY, digital economy, should restaurant owners still pay for advertising spaces for their businesses?  In most cases, the answer is “yes,” though a lot more nuanced than in times past.  These days, with so many advertising options available, a lot more thought should go into investing in advertisements before you pull the trigger.  Here’s a few questions and factors to keep in mind.

How Are Your Social Media Profiles Doing?

In the long run, a strong and healthy social media presence will make investing in advertisements a lot less necessary for any business owner.  Social media platforms make it possible for you to keep your restaurant on all of your regulars’ minds without needing to run ads, as they will interact with your branding and business on their own.

But in the short term, if your social media profiles aren’t that strong yet and you aren’t seeing that much interaction and don’t have that many followers, investing in advertising for your social media pages can be a great place to put marketing dollars.  Facebook specifically has some strong advertising tools that can help you spread the word about your business through very targeted local ads, which will serve to boost your social media follows while promoting your business.  If your restaurant’s pages aren’t doing so well, investing in social media advertising now can help you save money and not need to advertise as much in the future.

Who Is Your Customer Base, and Where Do They Spend Their Time?

Depending on the style of your cuisine, how long you’ve been open, and the demographic make-up in your neighborhood, your customer base will be distinct and unique to your business.  Before deciding whether or not to advertisement dollars and where, think about where your audience spends most of their time, and who they are.

For example, if your customer base is composed mostly of seniors, investing entirely in web marketing probably isn’t the best choice.  If you could sponsor a senior center’s newsletter, run an ad in a small local paper, or reach out to your customer base more directly in some other fashion, that’d be a much smarter use of your advertising dollars.

On the other hand, if all of your customers are young and social media savvy, you may not need to invest in advertising at all.  You could offer some sort of check-in promotion to encourage likes and follows, and generate a social media following to use for marketing without spending a dollar.  Where you spend your money in advertising, and whether or not advertising is worth your money at all, depends mostly on who makes up your customer base and how you can reach them.

Leave Nothing off the Table

Just because social media and internet business is in, doesn’t meant that that’s where you have to spend your marketing dollars as a restaurant owner.  In fact, depending on your niche and area, you could find a lot more success through a more traditional marketing approach, like direct mail or newspaper advertisement placements.  When approaching the question of how and where to market your business, the more options you give yourself, the better, so leave nothing off the table.

In leaving every option open, consider as well that sometimes, advertisements just aren’t worth as much these days as they once were.  If you have an established following on social media, have already built up an email marketing list, and already have a reputation in your community, you may not have much to gain by dumping dollars into advertising.  But if you are struggling to keep your restaurant full, think about where you could make room for ads, and what kind of ads are right to run for your potential customer base.

Advertising ISN’T Dead

No matter what anyone else tells you, there’s still a place in the world of small business for paid advertising.  Social media and internet marketing has made it cheaper and easier to market your business, and sometimes you won’t need to set aside a distinct advertising budget at all.  But in other cases, especially if your audience lives offline, advertising is still a great investment.  Think about your audience and what you can afford, and remember that nothing should be off the table, even the choice of whether or not advertising is a smart decision for you.

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Rafi Cohen, a graduate of Baruch College & Brooklyn native is the Co-Founder @ Orders2me, an online ordering platform that gives restaurant owners all the features they need to grow their business in the digital age.

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