Several years ago, there was a big box appliance store with multiple locations in southeast Michigan that promoted a one-day sales event on New Year’s Day. The TV commercial was memorable. It dramatized a “sale so big” that people we were lined up outside the store with faces pressed against the glass for hours before the store opened, waiting to snap up the bargains. The commercial was over-the-top in its depiction of these crazy-eyed shoppers who were willing to wait outside for hours on a cold winter day in Michigan to buy a washing machine! It was so preposterous, it was downright funny!

how-long-does-it-take-for-advertising-workAs a recognized marketing leader in the region, this commercial also made me worry about the expectation of my other clients. Did it raise their expectations for similar results? In a word…yes.

With their massive broadcast media budget, I have no doubt that the sales events of this retailer were huge. They spent tens of thousands of dollars on a one to three-day event. I knew this because I was selling the commercials! If you wanted to get a great deal on an appliance, you shopped with the crowds on New Year’s Day.

This was pre-internet. No Facebook. No Google. No smartphones. We were just beginning to use email in the office. It was mass merchandise produced for masses of people promoted by a mass media. Blast those commercials day and night on all channels and you were bound to find some customers. After all, we couldn’t “target” people who needed to buy a new washer/dryer/refrigerator. I shudder to think how much money was wasted on a one-day event like this—and it was the tradition of every large retailer to follow this same pattern.

When money is invested in advertising, the assumption is that people are going to call or come in to your store to do business with you right away. (i.e. crowds of people pressing their face against the front door just waiting to come in!) In a perfect world, it works this way every time. But, we don’t live in a perfect world!

Marketing has evolved. And so have we.

As the principal of a digital marketing agency, it’s not unusual for me to speak to prospects who feel that their website isn’t working. The most common complaints are that it – the website – isn’t generating business and nobody is coming in and asking for what is being promoted online. Many of them grew up watching the same or similar television commercials as me and have this unrealistic but no less deep conviction that if you put the message out there, people will rush through the front door clamoring for your product or service. They believe that a new website will shift the tide and produce the results they are expecting.

Upon further examination, we usually find that they aren’t doing any online marketing to promote their website. They don’t have a blog, so there is no new content on their website for the crawlers to search and rank. They aren’t promoting their website pages or online store on social media. They don’t use pay-per-click advertising. They haven’t even considered email marketing. In other words, they launched a website and assumed that the entire world would flock to their store and buy whatever it is they are selling.

The internet doesn’t work that way!

Whether you communicate your message with a professionally produced TV commercial and invested thousands of dollars in well placed time slots or you promote yourself using the fairly inexpensive tools and resources available on social media, your results are going to depend upon one thing: your commitment to persistent targeted promotion.

Here is a real-life example.

I am a member of an international non-profit organization that helps people improve their communication and leadership skills. In my 11 years as a member, I have served in various club leadership capacities including VP of Public Relations. We are non-profit. We don’t have an advertising budget. Zero. Nothing.

Each year we lose a small segment of our members, so we do “whatever it takes” to find new members. We rely upon free publicity in local community newspapers generated by press releases we submit. We relabel our magazines and put them in offices or libraries—anywhere someone might read them. We promote ourselves on Facebook and Meetup. We email our past members and guests on a regular basis inviting them to return. And, although they are considered old-fashioned by many, we post flyers in local hot spots.

Why am I sharing this with you?

The original question asked how long it takes for advertising to work. Well, it depends.

The first time I was VP of PR for my club, all communications had my personal email and telephone number. Two years later when I was club president, I fielded a call from someone inquiring about my club. When I asked how they found us, they told me that they had torn a phone number off of a flyer two years earlier. Two years! (And they say that flyers are old fashioned!)

When I was a member of another club whose membership was dangerously low, I began sending weekly emails to our past guest list. Email marketing is an investment of time not money, so I relentlessly pursued our past guests in search of anyone who was willing to invest in their future by improving their communication skills. One day a gentlemen walked into our meeting. It had been two years since his first visit. I didn’t remember him, but he remembered me. He thanked me for never giving up on him. After two years, he was finally ready to commit. Two years!

In both cases, it took two years for the person to take action. It didn’t matter how much money was spent. They weren’t ready when they first heard or saw our messages. It was the repeated reminders that finally moved them to take action.

How long does it take to see results from advertising?

It takes as long as it takes.

With so many variables like budget, location, copy, competitive pricing and timing, there is no single answer. Advertising is not one size fits all.

It’s imperative that your marketing and advertising is consistent. The person whose washing machine is working today will ignore your expensive TV commercial. But, if tomorrow the washing machine stops working, they will go online and begin shopping for a new one. Whether you market yourself through paid advertising, public relations or online marketing, consistency matters.

Plan your marketing carefully. Invest your marketing budget wisely.

Be relentless in the pursuit of your next customer.

Your prospects are waiting to be asked. When is the last time you asked them to do business with you?

Your customers are looking for you online. Are they finding you, or your competition?