Sunday, November 29, 2009

Marketing: Developing A Successful Ad Campaign

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “To make a small fortune in the horse business, you have to start with a large fortune.” I have previously covered the subject of preparing a horse for sale and trying to get him sold. As most folks understand, it takes a little bit of effort and laying of ground work to close a sale on a single horse, not the least of which is making sure the public actually knows the horse is available for sale.

Something most horse owners never really think about, however, mainly because it’s not a necessary part of their activities as their lives revolve around horses, is a serious and successful advertising campaign.

Of course, many trainers, breeders and stable owners or managers spend a great deal of time strategizing their plans on how to promote their programs and facilities. But how did they get to the point where they needed to market their products (breeding stallions, foals, sale horses) and services? You can bet in the beginning it was nothing fancy, but rather, ideas that evolved regarding how best to promote what they have to offer.

In today’s world, the fact is, people want to be told what you can offer them and how they can benefit from their association with you. But there are some very important rules ~ number one, BE PROFESSIONAL! Always conduct yourself in a professional manner. Check, double check, triple check your spelling in any advertisements, websites and so forth. Nothing makes me run away faster from dealing with a so-called "professional" than repeated mis-spellings and grammatical errors. I don't expect everyone to have a Language Arts Degree, but for Heavens sake use your spell check!

If someone questions you about your horse(s), answer those questions honestly without losing your cool. Sure, it's not pleasant to feel like you are being challenged about facts or other things pertaining to your horses and business, and no one wants to be interrogated like it's the Inquisition, however it is imperative to the health and long term well being of your business that you always take the time to be courteous and give complete, satisfactory answers no matter how small the matter may seem.

Let’s examine how a breeder or stallion owner approaches the concept of marketing. It all starts with having a ‘product’ that you want the public to show some interest in, hopefully purchasing that product. Any knowledgeable stallion owner, for instance, understands the vital importance of having good, professional photographs of their horses taken. Sure, your best friend or spouse may have snapped some cute pictures of your horses before, but stop to think about if those sort of candid shots are really going to attract the attention of someone who will want to lay down good money for a stud fee.

Photographs of a stallion who looks ragged and is dirty screams that you don't care about the horse or your reputation. In this business (like any other), reputation is everything. Every negative comment or statement about you, your program or your business will wipe out twenty or more positive comments.

Honestly, the same goes for anyone trying to sell any horse. After all, that’s what stallion owners are selling, of course: A product that produces baby horses (or those baby horses themselves)! Breeders who have young stock for sale will splurge for quality photos as well, because they know that attracts the interest of buyers looking for a quality horse. Most breeders today will have a photographer out to shoot all of their youngsters from each year’s foal crop. True, it is a lot of work and quite costly, but if you want your horses to bring top dollar, the investment is money well spent.

Another consideration will be where to market your horse(s).

There are a variety of options, and they range from free to rather expensive. On the internet you can find various websites which offer free listings, some will be free text ads, others offer free photos or even video, while many do charge a nominal fee. To be truthful, I’m really not a big fan of internet horse sale sites. The single most important factor in choosing one upon which to list your horses, though, is site hits (otherwise known as page views). Sites people just don’t visit are not going to be effective in selling your horse! Not only that, there are sites which generally attract people who are not interested in paying good money for quality horseflesh ~ Craigslist comes to mind as the most glaring example. Stay away from it!

My personal preference is regional print magazines, avoiding the text-only classifieds. Naturally, if you have a National or World Champion quality horse (who is proven at that level), seek out the nationally distributed glossy publications for your chosen breed or discipline, otherwise, stick to what’s published locally. Remember, you should expect to at least recoup some of your ad costs when selling either horses or breeding, so keep in mind what you will be paying when utilizing the glossies. If that full page, four color print ad costs $800-$900, you won’t be making much back if your horse sells for only $1,000! The fact is, you get what you pay for. If you have quality horses and are interested in selling them for decent prices, invest a little bit in promoting them right.

Another thing to keep in mind will be how recognizable your advertising is. Of course, this isn’t so important if you’re just a private owner with one horse to sell, but keeping some continuity to your ads will begin to establish your name. All of my ads, flyers and my website are distinctively mine, so folks pretty much know what they are looking at, who they are dealing with and where they can expect to go when they see what I have available. Along those same lines is a consistency of having your advertising out there in front of potential customers. Again, not so vital unless you have a stallion to promote or a boarding/training barn to fill, but I consider it a really major part of my advertising budget. One flashy, expensive ad in one magazine or advertising paper may make a statement, but ads running on a consistent basis where your name is out there in front of the public on a regular basis makes it harder for them to forget you.

Let me say in closing that no matter what, your advertising will speak for you, so be sure what you say is inviting and makes people want to contact you for more information. That is what it boils down to if you want to exchange your offerings for money.

Remember that old saying ~ IMAGE IS EVERYTHING. It might be an old cliche in advertising, but still rings true throughout all walks of life and every industry.


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