Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Four "I's" of Advertising

The task of your company's marketing program is to create opportunities for you to sell your products and service. A vital part of this marketing effort is an advertising component that not only supports your sales force, but actually precedes the sales effort.

An effective ad campaign produces four "I's" for your company: Interest, Image, Information and Inquiries.

1. Interest
The first job of any advertisement is to grab the attention of the audience. If an ad does not have "stopping power," it is a waste of space or time. Potential customers must have a reason to become interested before they will read or listen to your ad.

Bold graphics, intriguing headlines, informative photographs or illustrations and attractive layouts are all ways to make readers stop, look and pay attention. Ads that are thrown together with little regard to these important elements deserve the fate they receive-fading away into the background. To be sold, you must be bold.

2. Image
Your advertising is the public face of your company. Potential customers may never meet you, may never visit your gleaming offices, may not even see your delivery truck!

But, like it or not, they will form an opinion of your company through the only means available-your advertising. Obviously, the version of your company presented in your ads should be the one most likely to elicit a positive response from the audience.

Look at your advertising with a customer's eye. Is your ad sloppily produced? Crammed with copy? Run on a spotty and irregular schedule? Readers (or listeners) will notice these details. They will equate "sloppy and irregular" with your company.

On the other hand, an ad that is clever, clean and attractive will serve to show the world that you take pride in your work and your company's image. Now, which ad will "turn off" a potential customer, and which will make them sit up and take notice?

3. Information
Now that you have their attention and good will, what will you say to your potential customers? Tell them what they want to hear.

"How can your product or service save me time or money? How can it solve my problems? Why will I be better off if I buy from you? Don't sell me on features, sell me on benefits."

The key is to ignore what you see as features and concentrate on what the customer needs in the way of benefits. Deodorant makers don't sell dry underarms-they sell social acceptance. Family restaurants don't sell good tasting food-they sell convenient fun for all. Automobile manufacturers don't sell transportation-they sell excitement and status. You do not sell oil-you provide comfort, convenience and safety.

4. Inquiries
A good salesperson always "asks for the sale," a function too often overlooked in advertising. While you can seldom close the deal in the newspaper, every ad should attempt to make a connection between your company and the audience.

Ask the reader to call or write to order or to get more information. Offer free literature. Invite the customer to visit your office. Use a toll-free telephone number or postage-paid reply card to make it as easy as possible for the customer to connect with you. Get that name, address and phone number!

This is called a qualified lead. Here is someone who has taken the time and effort to express an interest in your product or service. This is a bona fide opportunity to sell. By creating an atmosphere in which a potential customer makes the first move, your chances of actually selling to this person are four time greater than if you had approached them via a "cold call."

Now follow up as if your business depended on it. Return the call, send the brochure, make the appointment. Advertising's "Four I's" have put you in an enviable position.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

You Are Not a Writer

"I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters." -- Solomon Short

I wish that I could write like Thomas Paine. His words, distributed through pamphlets and newspaper editorials, inflamed and inspired an entire colony to create a nation. The words still resonate today.

But I am not Thomas Paine. My writing is geared toward purposes that are more “commonplace” than “Common Sense.” Still, in my own small way, my writing is effective. I am proud to say that I am an advertising copywriter. And you are not.

Please don’t think I am tooting my own horn, or trying to drum up more business. I just want to point out that writing good copy for your company’s ads, brochures, newsletters, web site or fliers is HARD WORK.

It takes years of experience to understand the nuances of crafting a headline that attracts attention. Thousands of hours of practice to create a compelling tale about your product or service that tells the whole story in just a few short sentences or paragraphs. Intimate knowledge of language and psychology to write a “call to action” that gets people to act.

Yet every day, company owners and managers who attended business school, or came up through the accounting department, or who recently climbed down off a ladder or out of a truck cab; think they can sit down and dash off a winning composition that will sell millions of their widgets to an eager public.

Do yourself a favor. By all means write down your thoughts, identify the key selling points of your product, record the reasons you think people are buying from you now. Then hand your notes over to a professional who can take these rough components and craft them into a masterpiece of brevity and persuasive language.

You may not start a revolution. But you just might see a better return on your marketing dollar.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Points of Contact, Points of Influence

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”

This is especially true when it comes to marketing your business. Making a good impression is the first step in promoting your company to prospects and customers alike. Letters, telephone calls, postcards, newsletters, client meetings, social events, the way your receptionist greets visitors—these and many other occasions are valuable “points of contact.”

These points of contact are also “points of influence.” Each offers an opportunity to affect the perception of your company—either positively or negatively. How your company is represented at each and every one of these points of contact plays a key role in influencing how others think of your business.

Try to make every point of contact a point of positive influence. The first step is to make sure every employee in your company understands that they represent the business at all times. That includes those parts of the day and week when they are “off the clock.” Foolish behavior and loose talk can be just as devastating to your company’s image in a social setting as in a boardroom.

Next, establish standards. A part of every job description should include standards of dress and behavior that are expected. Start with key areas that are part of every business day, such as telephone etiquette, correspondence, fax procedures and customer hospitality. These are areas where “little things” mean a lot.

Standards must also be applied to all printed materials, from business cards and letterhead, to brochures and newsletters. The printed materials that leave your office serve as silent envoys for your company. Make sure they represent you favorably. Don’t settle for “good enough.” Put your best face forward in all of your marketing and business paperwork.

Every day, you and your employees make contact with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of customers and potential customers. Making the right impact every time requires discipline, training and practice at all levels of the company. Make each opportunity count. Turn these points of contact into points of positive influence.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ready for the Recovery?

Good news! Congress has finally agreed on an outrageously expensive economic stimulus package (on top of the $800 billion of our money they have already thrown down the banking rabbit hole).

This is a sure sign that the recession is almost over and the recovery is on the way. Why? Historically, Congress has only acted after a crisis has passed. That way our political "leaders" are assured that they won't be held accountable for their actions.

So, even though credit is still tight and many companies continue to struggle, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And, if you are smart, you'll start right now to prepare your business for the better days ahead. Here are four steps to take now to position your company for the recovery:

1. Branding - Branding is not just for corporate giants anymore. If the recession has taught consumers anything it is the need to be more selective in how they spend their money. Your company had better be on the list of "good" suppliers who deliver quality and value, even before the need for your products or services arises.

2. Accessibility - I am still amazed at how many businesses make it difficult for customers to find them or get in contact. You should work to lower every hurdle between your customers and your company. If you can possibly sell on-line or take orders through your web site, do it. Pony up for that toll-free telephone number. Make sure everybody has your e-mail address and respond to questions within 24 hours.

3. Manage Your Leads - When you do get a phone call, e-mail or web inquiry, make sure you have a system in place to respond. A sales lead had a very short lifespan. Immediate acknowledgment is a must, followed up with consistent communication. It is also essential to have an internal accountability system so that leads do not fall through the cracks. Opportunities to make sales are too precious to let slide.

4. Reexamine Your Marketing - Are you still spending a ton of money in the Yellow Pages? Is your local newspaper eating up the bulk of your advertising budget? Have you ignored web-based advertising because you simply do not understand it? Conduct a full audit of how you are marketing your business and be prepared to make drastic changes. Don't continue to do something just because "we've always done that." Figure out how your customers are getting their information and make sure you are there.

The recovery is coming. It is never too soon to get ready and put yourself in a position to emerge from the recession as a stronger, more marketing-driven company. Get started today.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Understanding PR

I was recently floored by an otherwise intelligent (or so I thought) business person who told me that, with the economy in its current state, his company simply cannot afford PR.

This is a person who does not understand what public relations is, or what it can do for his business. He probably thinks PR is just a way to get "free advertising." It is not.

Here is what PR is:

- Public relations is not a luxury, it is a strategy that is key to the success of your business.

- Public relations is the way to manage key messages about your company, both good and bad.

- Public relations supplies credibility for your business by connecting with important audiences through channels that are not seen as paid advertising or promotion.

- Public relations is a two-way street, providing feedback from customers, prospects and the wider market that can help you further refine products and services - IF you take the time to listen.

- Public relations is a dialogue established between your organization and the world.

So, if "free advertising" is all you are after, PR is not for you. But if you want to help manage how your company is viewed by customers, prospects and other key audiences, take PR off the "luxury" list and put it where it belongs - under "essentials."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Going On the Attack

Just as “a rising tide lifts all boats,” the extended period of economic growth over the past decade has given almost all businesses a free ride toward profitability. Now, however, the tide is ebbing and many companies are struggling to remain afloat.

Unfortunately, with customers and cash pouring in so easily for so long, many business owners have forgotten how to be competitive. After all, there was plenty of business to go around – let’s all share in the good times!

Well THAT party is over. It is time now to sharpen your competitive edge and ramp up your marketing in order to capture your share of the business that is out there. Let me correct that last statement: You need to capture your share plus a healthy chunk of your competition’s share in order to survive. And that means getting lean and mean and going on the attack.

What is the first thing weak competitors do when times get tough? They cut their prices. That is the first step on the road to insolvency. Recent reports confirm that retailers and automobile manufacturers who rushed to offer steep discounts earlier this year in order to attract shoppers are now paying an even steeper price in lost profits. Plus they have now conditioned customers to expect a sale, and reinforced their behavior by rewarding customers for waiting to make a purchase. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The right way to approach the market is by differentiating your company, its products and services. When you convince customers that what you offer is different and better than anything else, you can rise above “commodity pricing” and stand a better chance of maintaining your profit margins.

But differentiation takes an investment in marketing. You must tell customers – both old and new – how good you are and how smart it is to do business with your company. Pull no punches, and don’t worry about hurting the feelings of your competitors. Keep hammering home the benefits of choosing your company in order to attract the attention – and money – of a wider range of customers.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Shifting Sands of PR

What if you held a press conference and nobody came? Or sent out a press release that nobody read? Or wrote an article, but there was nobody left to publish it?

These three staples of "traditional" public relations are in danger of becoming extinct. As more and more people choose to get their news and information on line, newspaper and magazine circulation continues to fall. Combine this with the economic pressures that are squashing advertising revenues and the result is a newsroom that is half empty, fewer reporters and less space to publish anything but the most essential news.

What does this mean to your organization's efforts to distribute news and information? New channels must be found or developed. And the best place to look is to the very source that is leading the charge away from traditional news media: the internet.

Instead of trying to use a third party distribution point (the media), we can now take our message direct to those whom we wish to reach. It is easy to see the potential benefits: clear communication of information without interference or interpretation, and the opportunity for immediate feedback or action.

The downside is, getting information out through the internet is hard work. In the past, if you could convince and editor to run your story, it would be seen by a wide audience. This "shotgun" distribution must now be replaced by a more narrowly targeted approach. The acquisition of e-mail addresses from clients and business contacts becomes essential, as does the requirement to provide good, solid and helpful information.

Content is king. If you have good information to share, using new media such as electronic newsletters, social media groups and blogs is an excellent way to keep in touch with customers and prospects directly. But know that people are quick to spot (and reject) an obvious sales pitch. Marketing must once again become a more subtle, long term process.