I spend a lot of time each week looking through various local and national newspapers – not for articles but for advertisements.
Having done this for several years, with very few exceptions, I’m absolutely amazed at how boring, similar and useless most advertising is.
The waste going on is staggering. Wasted money and wasted opportunity.
Marketing By Accident
You could summarise the structure of most ads from small businesses as follows:
- Company name
- Company logo
- A laundry list of services offered
- Claims of best quality, best service or best prices
- Offer of a “free quote”
- Contact details
Then they hope and pray that on the very day they run their ad, a prospect in immediate need of their product or service stumbles across it and takes action.
This is what I call marketing by accident.
A qualified prospect happening upon the right ad at the right time sometimes results in the happy accident of a sale taking place.
If these “accidents” never happened then no one would ever advertise. But as it happens the occasional random sale or lead will come from this type of advertising. It tortures business owners to death because while the ad generally loses them money, they fear not running it because some dribs and drabs of new business have come out of it – and who knows next week it may bring in that big sale they’ve been hoping for.
It’s like these businesses are visiting a slot machine in a casino. They put their money in, pull the handle and hope for a jackpot – but most of the time the house just takes their money. Occasionally they’ll get a few cents in the dollar back which raises their hopes and emboldens them to continue.
It’s time to start marketing on purpose – treating advertising like a vending machine where the results and value generated are predictable, rather than like a slot machine where the results are random and the odds are stacked against you.
To start marketing on purpose we need to look at two vital elements.
What Is The Purpose Of Your Ad?
When I ask business owners what the purpose of their ad is, I usually get a list like:
- Getting my name out there
- Letting people know about my products and services
- Making sales
- Getting people to call in for a quote
These are all very different and you cannot possibly do all of these with one ad. In typical small business style they’re trying to get maximum bang for their buck.
But by trying to do too much, they end up achieving none of their objectives.
My rule of thumb is one ad, one objective. If something in the ad isn’t helping you achieve that objective then it’s detracting from it and you should get rid of it.
That includes sacred cows like your company name and company logo. Advertising space is valuable and these things taking up prime real estate in your ad space often detract from your message rather than enhance it.
Rather than trying to sell directly from an ad, my preferred objective by far is simply to have prospects put their hand up to indicate interest. This lowers resistance and helps you
build a marketing database – one of the most valuable assets a business could have.
Once your objective is clear, you need to communicate it to your reader. What exactly do you want them to do next? Do they call your toll free number to order? Do they call you or visit your website to request a free sample? Do they request a free report?
You need a very clear call to action – not something wimpy and vague like “don’t hesitate to call us”.
You need to be clear on what they should do next and what they will get in return.
Also, give them multiple ways to take that action. For example, if the call to action is to order your product, give them the ability to do it online, over the phone or even via a mail-in coupon.
Different people have different preferences when it comes to modality of communication. Give them multiple means of response so they can choose the one they are most comfortable with.
What Does Your Ad Focus On?
Have you ever been to a party or gathering and been seated next to someone who just spends the whole night talking about themselves? It gets old pretty fast. You keep giving half-hearted smiles and polite nods but your mind is elsewhere and that exit sign is calling your name.
Similarly, most advertising by small businesses is inwardly focused. Instead of speaking to the needs and problems of the prospect, it is focused on self-aggrandizement.
The prominent logo and company name, the laundry list of services, the claims of being the leading provider of that product or service. All of these things are shouting, “look at me!”.
Unfortunately, you’re in a crowded market and with everyone shouting “look at me!” at the same time, it just becomes background noise.
By contrast, direct response marketing focuses heavily on the needs, thoughts and emotions of the target market.
By doing this you enter the conversation already going on in the mind of your ideal prospect.
You will resonate at a deeper level with your prospect and your ad will stand out from 99% of other ads that are just shouting and talking about themselves.
Don’t be the advertising equivalent of that guy at the party obliviously talking about himself the whole night while his uninterested audience looks for the exit.
Also don’t leave anything to chance. Know exactly what you want your ad to achieve and the exact action you want your prospect to take.