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Market and Price

Advertising Primer

At this very moment, there must be at least nine other companies competing for your customers. Some are in your line of business, while others may be in an entirely different industry. All are trying to convince your customers to buy their goods or services instead of yours. How can you win sales in this competitive environment? One way is with advertising. To understand how advertising works and how to obtain the best results, begin by refreshing your knowledge of the marketing basics.

  • Take another look at the marketing texts on your bookshelf, library, or bookstore - standards such as the Guerrilla Marketing series and others listed in the Resource Directory on page 77 are helpful. Review the fundamentals of targeting a buyer segment and marketing strategically to that particular niche.
  • Determine who your existing customers are, and define the target market you want to reach.
  • Know what you're truly selling, which is probably not only your product or service, but also an intangible such as status, self-enhancement, or peace of mind. These have been called the secret motivators of sales. Once you determine the intangible benefits of your product or service, you'll have a clearer sense of who else offers that intangible and what advertising approach and image you need in order to compete successfully.

Taking into account target market, sales message, images, and competitive environment, determine your underlying objectives in running an advertising campaign - objectives such as expanding the wholesale side of your business or developing a more affluent clientele. Equally important, establish a realistic advertising budget. By rule of thumb, it should amount to three to five percent of your annual revenues, although you'll need to consider adjusting up or down depending on the extent and spending levels of your competition. This budget should cover any community sponsorships you may provide, as well as your advertising in newspapers, magazines, Yellow Pages, newsletters, on radio and television, by direct mail, and any other promotional avenues you choose.

Think Like a Buyer

If you're like most small businesses, you receive frequent calls and visits from advertising representatives, all with convincing stories. It can be confusing to try to compare and weigh the advantages they cite. To decide if a particular advertising option is right for you, think the way a buyer does. Think like a buyer to assess which media connect you with the greatest concentration of people you're trying to reach. Examine not only demographics and geographic areas, but also programming or editorial style. Is your target market likely to watch this TV channel, listen to this radio station, or read this magazine or newspaper? Are they likely to trust and respond to the advertising they find there? Does the medium or publication cover the geographic area where your likely customers are located, without including so broad a region that you're paying mostly for exposure you don't need? Take the time to watch, listen, and read for yourself. Know your media firsthand, and get a feel for who their audiences are. Likewise, think like a buyer to figure out what would make people buy from you, rather than from companies selling either the same products and services or different ones that provide the same psychological benefits. In short, arrive at what's called your "Unique Selling Proposition," or U.S.P. - the unique or special benefit to customers that sets you apart from the competition. Your U.S.P. tells people the specific advantage they receive if they buy from you, so instead of saying you have the largest inventory in the country, put it in customers' terms: they get the unbeatable convenience of 500 models to choose from and next-day delivery. That's your U.S.P.

Six Essentials of a Successful Ad Program

If you are new to advertising or if you're using media or publications you haven't tried before, it's important to assign your ads to outside specialists rather than try to create them yourself. These specialists may be the creative group at an advertising agency, a freelance writer and designer, or the ad department of the newspaper, magazine, TV channel, or radio station where you plan to advertise. Such people are experienced in translating information about a product or service, target market, U.S.P., and goals into advertising that suits each medium and conveys an effective image and sales message.Moreover, it's extremely helpful to work with and learn from specialists for several years before you consider doing advertising in-house. Whether you work with specialists or create advertising on your own, here are six guidelines to follow in developing an ad program:

  • Do your homework - start compiling your own ad file. Collect ads you like as well as competitors' ads to give you ideas. Read books on advertising; include anthologies of the best ads of the year and how-to's by advertising greats.
  • "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." The old rule about selling products based on the benefits and excitement they provide has proved true time and time again, so focus on your U.S.P. and on those intangibles that motivate human behavior and generate sales. This rule does not apply to Yellow Pages ads, which do sell steak, but it remains the essence of all other advertising you do.
  • Stick to your own image and personality; stay with the basics of who you are. Make sure that the personality and image projected in your advertising ring true.
  • Work as a team with your ad rep or ad agency. The best advertising results from a synergy of your expertise in your business and your ad specialists' expertise in advertising. Carefully explain your product, market, and goals, and let the ad people go from there to develop their ideas. Advertising is a give-and-take process, and both sides need to communicate and work together without dictating until the outcome feels right.
  • Give each advertising medium you choose a fair test. Advertising rarely brings sales overnight. Run your ad at least five times - or at least two months in weekly publications - to test the market properly. Often, consumers need to get used to seeing your ad before they'll act on it. Results take time.
  • Don't overlook current customers. Nobody sells you better than a satisfied customer, so in your efforts to gain sales from new prospects, remember that you can build sales equally well through customer referrals and repeat purchases of existing clientele. Maintain a mailing list and, at your earliest opportunity, start producing sale notices, newsletters, catalogs, or other goodwill and sales-generating materials for current customers. Some of these items lend themselves to a direct mail campaign targeted at new prospects as well.

What's In an Ad?

Print ads generally have four written parts - headline, support copy, call to action, and company name - plus a visual. Visuals are usually more important than copies; they're more effective in attracting readers' attention and can instantly present your product or service in a dramatic and motivating way. Unless you're commissioning your own original artwork or photography, the visuals you'll use will probably be either drawings and photographs from your suppliers or non-copyrighted artwork (clip art) found in clip art books and scrap art computer programs. Choose the strongest visual among them - the one that best draws the eye and explains what you're selling - and move on to copies. The most prominent piece of copy, your headline, must not only work with your visual, amplifying its meaning, but also attract attention with a word, phrase, or sentence announcing a benefit that appeals to your target market. One expert wrote that a headline is that final, mind-changing, sales-clinching comment you'd make when leaving the office of a prospect who, until then, had responded with nothing but negatives. Others point to the enduring effectiveness of the standard headlines "Sale," "Free," and "Buy now and save." Collect ideas that are right for you from your salespeople, the ads in your file, and advertising books. Remember, it is not so much the words, but the ideas they express that sell; determine your message, then find words to convey it. Below the headline, support copy explains the headline premise and adds secondary benefits and any assurance readers might need to dispel suspicions raised by the headline, such as the assurance of "same great quality" when you're offering a "new low price." Following this copy, a sign-off is a call to action urging the reader to respond ("Call for an appointment today," or "Remember, sale ends March 21"). Your company name, traditionally at the bottom of the ad, should include your address and phone number. Make your phone number larger to help stimulate response by phone. Add a cross street to your address (e.g., "5730 Sheridan, at La Monte") if you're a new business or if, for other reasons, people might have difficulty finding you. The next step is to combine all these visual and copy elements into an eye-catching, easy-to-read ad formatted to the dimensions stipulated by the publication. It's best to study the ads in that publication in advance and consider what your ad might look like in order to stand out on the page. Experiment with different layout ideas rendered in thumbnail sketches, then fine-tune your ad to fit the layout you prefer. Obviously, it's highly advisable, if not imperative, that when you're doing ads in-house, the person composing your ad has design experience. Not only is skill required to make an ad look right, but the quality of your ad must compete favorably with others appearing in the publication. It's also a good idea to prepare your ad well ahead of the deadline. This way, you can put it aside for a few days and then review it with a fresh perspective while there's still time to make revisions. As a final check, lay your ad on a page of the publication where it will appear; make sure it stands out from the articles and other ads on the page.

Avoid These Pitfalls

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to good advertising is excess. Ads can end up so crammed with ideas and features that they appear dense and uninviting. If over-designed, they can be more artistic than motivational, obscuring the sales message. If over-written, they can become too subtle or cute. Certainly, some of the best ads ever created are clever and visually arresting, but good ads must also sell. Similarly, selling points may over-promise. Use "largest," "best," and other superlatives only if you can back them up. Avoid any claim that could be construed as deceptive. In addition, make sure the overall tone of your ad is upbeat and appealing. Emphasize the solutions you provide, not the problems you address. Get outside opinions on your new advertising concepts to be certain they carry the personality and message you intend.

Tracking Your Results

Establish a method to determine how customers found you and keep track of the results. Some companies routinely ask "How did you hear about us?" of every new customer who phones or visits. Others have a "Referred by" box on each invoice. Whatever system you use, unless you've done a coupon promotion and can simply count the number of coupons redeemed, tracking is the only way you can assess how effectively your advertising is working. Tracking tells you which ads or media bring inquiries and which bring sales - a key distinction. If you track by invoice, you can also determine how much revenue each ad dollar is producing. Most important, tracking helps you decide how to readjust your advertising program periodically to make your budget work its hardest. You'll know when to discontinue certain media and publications and when to pump more money into others. You'll be able to see which Yellow Pages directories and headings pull hardest for you, and you'll know when results are dropping off from previously good sources, signaling that it's time to give them a rest. In the end, advertising is a trial-and-error process. You may need to spend several years trying out various advertising options and assessing results to know which target markets and media mix work best for you.

How to Create an Effective Yellow Pages Ad

Yellow Pages ads resemble no other kind of advertising. They're not aimed at motivating consumers to buy a product, but rather convincing them to buy a desired product from a particular company. As companies attract business by showing they've got whatever consumers may want, Yellow Pages ads also tend to be full of brand names and information. The first thing your ad must do is get itself read. Here, your success depends partially on which Yellow Pages directory (or directories) you choose to place your ad. The bottom line is to get the greatest amount of exposure, so compare competing directories on the basis of their usage figures - not distribution figures, but the number of actual consumer uses per year. If you then divide directories' uses-per-year figures by their charge for the same size ad, you'll see which directory provides the highest number of uses per dollar. That's the directory that delivers the best value for your money. Another key factor determining whether your ad will be read is the size you decide to buy. Obviously, the larger the ad, the more attention it gets. Once you select the heading or headings under which your ad will appear - and they should be headings for the products and services that give you the greatest profitability - open to those headings and see what ad sizes your competitors have. You can then choose sizes larger, on par with, or smaller than theirs, depending on budget constraints and the competitive stance you want to take. Once you've decided on directories, headings, and ad sizes, concentrate on creating an ad that both attracts attention and stimulates customer response. Experts such as Jeffrey Price, author of Yellow Pages Advertising: How to Get the Greatest Return on Your Investment, say you can achieve those results by including the following in your ad:

  • Attention-getting artwork. After size, artwork is the greatest eye-catcher for an ad. You can use visuals from your suppliers or even non-copyrighted artwork you locate in out-of-town or out-of-state Yellow Pages. Stick with illustrations whenever possible, since photographs may reproduce poorly. Keep areas of blank space around your artwork and throughout your ad as well, so your ad is uncluttered and easy to read.
  • A headline that says what makes you special. Identify the special or unique characteristic that, for your target customer, puts you ahead of the competition. Write a short and to-the-point headline stating that advantage. If your headline must focus on just one of your products or services, choose the one that is most profitable.
  • Complete information buyers need to make a purchase decision. Your ad must convince buyers that you're the best source for what they need, so support your headline with information, usually presented in list form, about your:

Finally, try to get your ad placed in the most prominent position possible under each heading. Since positions are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis, it's advantageous to finalize your contracts with Yellow Pages publishers as quickly as possible.