Marketing 101

Part 3: What Advertising Does Best

If the 50’s was the Nuclear Age and the early 60’s the Space Age, then the current era may well be the Information Overload Age. The competition for Other People’s Consciousnesses has never been more crowded, and the trend is expected to continue.

Those ‘other people’ are, of course, potential customers. To reiterate a concept from the first segment of this series, “If sales is all about closing, marketing is about opening: opening the door to the figurative store, opening the conversation, opening the potential customer’s curiosity.” The problem is to get the attention of those potential customers while they are being snowed-under by information overload.

The arena of marketing communications is, more than ever, like a room full of people shouting, trying to be heard over all the other people shouting. Simply shouting the loudest is probably not enough. The message you’re shouting has to somehow cut through the clutter.

That’s what advertising does best. Advertising is at its strongest getting the customer’s attention, cutting through the clutter. While advertising can be put to many other uses, the job it does most effectively – more effectively than other marketing tools - is focusing the customer’s attention and burning a new neural path in his brain in the shape of your brand information. The ad campaign reinforces this neural path at each exposure, and creates an attachment-site in the customer’s consciousness where all your other information can adhere. This is called creating awareness.

Cutting Through The Clutter

In the advertising world, it is generally held that the best way to do this job is by keeping the ad message itself very tightly focused:

Pick one idea to sell, and make an ad that puts that idea front and center.

The most stark example of this technique has traditionally been outdoor advertising: billboards, bus shelters, bus sides. Conventional wisdom has always been that a headline on an outdoor ad can’t be more than about nine words. Some people even say seven is too many. The imagery must be equally simple and direct. It is about the fast read, the drive-by impression.

It is my personal belief that all advertising in the current environment depends on drive-by impressions. Everybody’s too busy and they’ve got too many messages impinging on them. They’re driving through a magazine at 20 mph over the limit. They’re surfing the web looking for 16 foot curls. They’re fast on their way to some other content… unless you give them a reason to slow down and look you over.

This is why headlines and big graphics were invented. They must make an impression before the customer drives past, so they speak with an immediacy to match the passerby’s speed.

Instinct VS. Strategy

Many building product manufacturers have difficulty embracing this single-message, fast-read advertising strategy. Being experts on their products, they know every single sales-point. Very often, they have done a lot of sales personally, and their instinct is to pile on the sales points. They want to include all this information in an ad, because they know it is convincing.

This temptation must be resisted. Piling on the arguments may be a very effective sales technique - that is, effective for closing - but it’s not effective for opening. Sorry, it makes bad ads.

In fact, it is my belief that the more major messages you put in an ad, the less effective it is. More is less. Don’t give me seven reasons to buy your product, give me one reason that sticks in my mind, that really makes me want to learn more about it. Don’t put your catalogue in the ad, put in your salesman’s contact info or your web address.

Leaf through a construction trade magazine and look at the ads. How many do you have to read all the way through before you find out why you should read it at all? How many of them are cluttered with tons of (useful) information, yet fail to engage your interest? How many of them make you put on the brakes while you’re leafing through?

Think about it: if putting all your sales points into an ad could close a sale, you wouldn’t need salesmen. In your heart, you already know that. So, if you know the ad is not going to close the sale, leave that job to your sales force and let the ad do what it does best: get customers in the door.

Three Steps, One Message

One simple but effective ad structure works in three steps:

  1. Made You Look.
  2. Made You Think.
  3. Made You Curious

Step 1: The headline and/or primary image does the “Made you Look.” It gets attention, it slows down the drive-by. There are many ways to do it, but not all of them are relevant. That is, you can get a customer’s attention by showing someone sexy and half-naked, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into the customer remembering a brand of cement. Most effective is one that is on-message, that opens the conversation about the ad’s overall.

Step 2: The body copy and supplementary imagery is responsible for “Made You Think.” It takes the attention you grabbed in Step 1, and focuses it on the problem that your product is going to solve.

Step 3: The payoff is about “Made You Curious,” and the thing it makes the customer curious about is your brand or your product. Your product is the hero that solves the problem, the happy ending to the story. Hopefully, that makes the customer curious about how the product it might be a happy ending for his own story.

This isn’t the only way to structure an ad, just one example. But try to be aware of your own reactions when you see an effective ad.

Do It Yourself?

Given this knowledge of the basics of advertising, could you do it yourself?

You certainly could. But should you?

I believe working with advertising professionals is more effective, and therefore more cost-effective, than doing it yourself. I’ll explain why in a moment, but I first want to stress the phrase “working with.” Even if you use professional’s creative services, you play a big part in the process of creating the ad. As the expert on your product and your market, you bring the ad people the vital information for shaping a campaign. The more you can explain your understanding of your place in the market, the better ammunition they’ve got.

Ad professionals – and this could include your in-house marketing staff, a marketing consultant, ad boutique, or full-service ad agency - are experts in selecting a message from that information, and crafting communications that hit a moving target, your customer. I think the professional is more likely to craft the message to optimal impact, hence, more effective than doing it yourself.

I believe the professional’s creative fee is cost-effective, because it lowers the risk of your advertising investment. Generally, your major expense is the page-space or air-time, and the creative fees are small by comparison. Yet the success of the whole investment rests on the impact of the ad. You might hit the target on your first try, but I’d give the pros better odds.

So to recap: Ads are about getting attention and creating awareness of your product and your brand. Ads do this best by communicating a single, powerful message. The ad doesn’t have to sell the product, it just has to bring the customer to your salesman.

Next Time: Marketing Gone Wild