Media Buying Strategies for Small Businesses

Dave Wieser

Principal – DW Creative Marketing

Dave Wieser is Principal of DW Creative Marketing, whose mission is to “Help the Doers create their legacy.” His career of 20+ years in the advertising and marketing industry has led to a wide range of experiential roles, including media selling, media buying/planning, marketing strategy, research, business intelligence and data analytics…

You’re a small business owner, and know the importance of gaining visibility in today’s competitive marketplace. You also know that media buying can be a perplexing game, especially when you’re working with a limited budget.

So, how can you make the most of your advertising dollars to reach your target audience effectively? This article is here to guide you through the labyrinth of media buying strategies strategies for small businesses, ensuring you’re choosing the right platforms, maximizing your budget, and evaluating ad performance for continuous improvement.

We’ll dive into understanding your target audience and adjusting for success to ensure your advertising efforts bear fruit. So, roll up your sleeves and prepare to master the art of media buying. Let’s empower your small business to make a big impact.

Media Buying Strategy #1:  Understanding Your Target Audience

Before you throw your hard-earned cash into any advertising, it’s crucial you’ve got a solid grasp on who you’re trying to reach.  We cover this topic in 5 Tips to Local Media Buying, but we’ll revisit now.

Understanding your target audience is the backbone of any successful media buying strategy.  It’s not just about knowing age, gender, or location, but delving deeper into their interests, values, and habits.  That’s where audience segmentation comes into play.

Audience segmentation allows you to divide your target audience into smaller, more manageable groups based on various factors such as demographics, psychographics, and consumer behavior.  It’s an efficient way to tailor your messages to meet the specific needs and preferences of different customer segments.  This way, you’re not wasting your ad spend on people who might not be interested in what you’re offering.

Moreover, understanding consumer behavior can provide insights into how your audience makes purchasing decisions.  Are they impulse shoppers or do they thoroughly research before buying?  What motivates them to choose one brand over another?  The answers to these questions can guide your media buying strategy in terms of time periods and frequency (ie, Monday-Wednesday TV commercials only).

As you deepen your understanding of your audience, it becomes clearer where they spend their time online and offline.  This will guide you towards choosing the right platforms, an essential aspect of effective media buying.

Your customers do not look alike. Understanding their behaviors, preferences, attitudes, wants, needs, dreams and desires is critical for a successful media buying strategy.

Media Buying Strategy #2:  Choosing the Right Platforms

Navigating the ocean of digital and traditional platforms can feel overwhelming, but it’s crucial to identify the right ones where your target audience spends most of their time.  Here are a few tips:

  • Research the demographics: Each media platform appeals to certain demographics. LinkedIn, for instance, is popular with professionals, while Instagram and TikTok attract a younger crowd. Newspapers still attract an older more affluent demographic, while daytime TV can reach those with limited resources and may need help seeking professional services.  Check out our high-level findings from our media research study and see how various demographics use different media throughout the day.
  • Consider your placement and creative: Different platforms lend themselves to different types of content. Instagram is great for visually rich content, while Twitter is about quick, snappy messages. On the traditional side, running voice-only (no music) advertising on talk radio aligns with the format but might sound off on a rock station.
  • Ask Your Customers: What do they listen to, read, browse, etc.?  This is a cheap and easy way to get a sense of initial planning direction, that’s often underutilized. 

Remember, it’s not about being everywhere; it’s about being where your audience is.  And it’s not just about quantity, but also about the quality of your presence.  Your platform choices should reflect your business’s unique voice and goals.

As you continue to refine your platform choices, you’ll find it easier to maximize your budget in the next phase of your media buying strategy.

bar chart of media consumption research
From DW Creative's 2022 Media Studay, this viz represents morning media usage among all surveyed adults. Once you start slicing by demographics, the picture changes, reinforcing the importance of knowing your target audience.

Media Buying Strategy #3:  Maximizing Your Budget

Consider your budget allocation.  In the traditional channels, we subscribe to the “Glass Theory” as described by Jim Doyle.  If you envision each possible media to spend money as a glass, whereas, each TV station is a glass, each program within that station is a glass, so on and so forth.

Most businesses fill multiple glasses but never overfill any one glass.  From our experience, the most successful local advertisers (with budgets under a certain threshold dependent upon the market) spend most of their budget in very few places.

In addition, negotiating rates can be particularly challenging for local businesses without access to media buying software.  Without such tools, they may lack the necessary market insights and data to make informed decisions during negotiations and may struggle to identify the most cost-effective advertising opportunities.

However, local business owners can still negotiate rates effectively without media buying software.  Start by researching and identifying potential media outlets that align with their target audience and objectives.  Next, reach out directly to the sales representatives of these outlets to discuss their advertising needs and negotiate rates based on their budget and goals.  The reps will be more than happy to offer pricing options and in some cases, thoughtful strategy. 

Each glass is a media. The water represents how dominant your presence is in that media. Be dominant in few places.

Media Buying Strategy #4:  Evaluating Ad Performance

You’ve got your ad campaigns up and running, but how can you be sure they’re hitting the mark? Evaluating ad performance is a crucial part of any media buying strategy to ensure your investment is paying off.

Understanding performance metrics is key.  These parameters can include leads, inquiries, views, clicks, shares, likes, and comments, providing you with quantifiable data on how well your ads are performing. However, don’t fall into the trap of solely focusing on ‘vanity metrics’.  While they’re helpful to gauge initial reach and engagement, they don’t necessarily equate to sales or conversions.

This is where conversion tracking comes into play.  It allows you to measure the number of viewers who took the desired action after viewing your ad, such as making a purchase, booking an appointment or signing up for a newsletter. By analyzing conversion rates, you can identify which ads are truly driving business results.

Remember, the aim of your media buying strategy isn’t just to get your ads seen, but to convert viewers into customers.  With a proper understanding of performance metrics and conversion tracking, you’re well on your way to achieving this.

Tracking business metrics as it relates to marketing spend is critical for performance evaluation.

Media Buying Strategy #5:  Adjusting for Success

Don’t be afraid to tweak and adjust your ad campaigns for better results; it’s all part of the process.  Once you’ve evaluated your ad performance, the next step is to adjust your strategies based on the success metrics you’ve gathered.

This might mean changing the platform you’re advertising on, adjusting the timing of your ads, or even reevaluating the demographics you’re targeting.  Strategy tweaks are not only normal but necessary in the ever-evolving world of media buying.

Remember, small businesses like yours have a unique advantage in this process.  You’re nimble and can adjust quickly, unlike larger corporations that may be slower to react to changes in the market and have to go through a bureaucratic process of any budget change.

Use this to your advantage and continually analyze and adjust your campaigns.  Refine your strategies based on what’s working and what’s not. This isn’t a sign of failure, but rather a step toward success.

By regularly adjusting your media buying strategies based on success metrics, you’ll steadily improve your campaigns.  This iterative process will drive better results, increase your return on investment, and ultimately help your small business thrive in the competitive marketplace.


In closing, media buying is challenging to handle in-house but not insurmountable. Understanding your target audience, test different platforms, analyze results, tweak and adjust for continual improvement are keys to your small business’ media buying strategy.


Related Local Media Buying topics:

The pros and cons of hiring of media buying agency vs. handling in-house

How to Hire a Media Buying Agency

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