Ever since the first business opened its doors, business owners have been trying to discover the secret that makes advertising work. So, have I finally discovered that secret? No, I haven't but I do know that there are some things you should do that are proven to help make your advertising more productive, and more profitable.

The Advertising Rule To Remember

The most important rule in advertising is that any advertising you do must pay for itself. In other words, it must produce more sales and profit than it costs. It must be an investment; it can never be an expense.

Over the years many traditional advertising strategies have been developed. Times and customers have changed and many of these so-called proven strategies have not changed with them. In this article I'll deal with three areas where advertising agencies and business owners make mistakes in designing and implementing their advertising messages. Avoid these and your advertising will have a much better chance of working.

Strategy One

Advertising agencies love to win awards for their designs and conceptions. That's great for them but what does it do for you. The most important thing your advertising must do is to bring paying customers into your business. If that doesn't happen what good are glitzy ads? Some of you may remember the ads for Nissan Trucks... “Dogs love trucks.” It featured an Oriental gentleman and a small dog that appeared at the end of each ad. Customers loved the ads they just didn't buy the trucks. In case you haven't noticed, those ads are gone.

That's a perfect example of an ad that’s an expense — not an investment. The only thing you might be able to salvage from that campaign is some "image" advertising. It kept the company name in front of customers. So it's back to the drawing board and a new advertising campaign.

Why It Fails

To be successful your advertising and marketing campaign must accomplish two things:

1. It must be based on the customer’s wants, needs, and expectations. The customer has a need and an expectation that the benefits of your product or service will fill that need.

NOTE: Don't be sucked into the discount or reduced price mentality. If you try and compete with discounts the only winner will be the person with the largest advertising budget. Customers will pay for benefits, if you show them those benefits.

2. It should position your business as a better choice than your competitors. You don't need to be negative about your competitor, but if the customer is unhappy and looking, your advertising should point out the differences.

a. It should also take sales away from your competitor and
b. re-enforce the message to existing customers that you are the best answer to their wants and expectations.

For example, the Avis ads that say, “We're number 2, we try harder,” does two things. It positions them as the number 2 rental care agency (even though they were number 6 when they began this campaign). The ads give the impression that Hertz, the leader, doesn't have the time to give good service. It is also very difficult for the competition to copy. The Nissan ad discussed above did not do these two things. Customers dismissed it as entertainment, not a serious ad.

Strategy Two

Louder, bigger and better is always more successful than soft sell...RIGHT?? Wrong. Pick up any newspaper or magazine and you'll see ad after ad, bigger and louder than the next, trying to draw your attention.

So, how do I compete against these kinds of ads? The answer is to look at the reader. What is the reader looking for? If I need tires I may look on every page of the paper looking for the tire ads. If I don't need tires I will simply ignore those ads no matter how loud they are.

Did you know that a person reading the newspaper devotes five times more attention to the articles than to the ads? Why not make your ad have the look and feel of the media presenting it?

Instead of using a traditional display ad why not try presenting your ad as an article. The newspaper will have to put the word "advertisement" above your article but most people won't pay that much attention. Use a good headline and present your case in story form. Most of you are probably too young to remember early TV sitcoms. One of my favorites as a kid was "The Burns & Allen Show." starring the old vaudeville team of George Burns and Gracie Allen. The sponsor of the show was Carnation Evaporated Milk. During the show, a neighbor, who was the show's announcer, would come over and spend a minute or two talking about Carnation Evaporated Milk as part of the show. He would leave and the show would go on.

The point is that the product was shown to be a natural part of the life of these two people and as a result they sold a lot of evaporated milk.

Why It Fails

This one is pretty simple. The more you try to be different by being loud or bigger the more you blend in with others doing the same thing. Use the media to your advantage and stand out in the areas the customers are more than five times more likely to see.

Strategy Three

You've worked hard building your company. Now you naturally want to tell customers how great your company is. Don't waste the print space. Customers could care less how big or great YOU think you are. All they are interested in is, can your product or service, fill their needs. Customers have become conditioned to turning off the hype of a company just like we do with politicians.

This is particularly damaging to a business in a small town because most people are familiar with your business from friends and relatives that have already shopped you. Hype rarely works in small towns.

A better way is to use your business position to let people know that you are knowledgeable about your industry. Your advertising might use something like:

Stop by our office for your free copy of "13 things you should know before you buy your next house." We all want to know the inside information. We prefer to buy from experts in the field.

Why It Fails

The main reason this one fails is because the customer comes to you for the wrong reasons. They look past the real benefits of your company and just see the hype or even worse they see you bragging about your own success. Nothing wrong with bragging a little bit, just make sure the real message of your advertising isn't lost.

Some Final Thoughts

Never forget the first rule of advertising discussed above. Advertising must always be an investment; it can never be an expense. Don't let your ads blend into the background by being the same as all others. Rely less on graphics and hype, and more on the wants and needs of the customers. And let customers know that you are the authority in your line or industry. Unfortunately there's no “cookie cutter” secret to advertising, but there are ways to improve the performance of your ads. Ask this question, “Would that ad get my attention?” If not, head back to the drawing board.

More From KMMS-KPRK 1450 AM