Advertising that Works

Begin with a good plan and execute with wise magazine selection, a powerful offer, strong copy and an appealing design.


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Print advertising works when it is done right. Doing it right is a challenge for big and small companies alike. Neither is immune from poor advertising. So, don't look to the likes of Nike, Cisco or AutoDesk for guidance on building a great ad. Each of these companies has failed, and may still be failing, to create a powerful ad that delivers results.

Advertising is not a quick fix. If you need sales next month, don't bother with a print ad. If you need sales in six months, advertising can work wonders. Conventional wisdom is that it takes six issues to start seeing significant results, and some believe that it takes as many as nine issues to produce results.

Advertising is an art form that blends creative skills, salesmanship, marketing intelligence and business savvy. Advertis-ing is a long-term investment that demands strategic thinking, strong planning and a bit of patience. When done right, advertising works.


Strategic Thinking: First Step to Success

Before you even think about creating an ad, you must decide what you want it to do. For most small shops, the goal is to generate leads that turn into sales. If this is your goal, state it clearly and plan accordingly.

The problem with many ads is that they are destined to fail. The advertiser does not recognize that there are two types of ads: brand and response. For the company seeking to generate leads, a brand building ad cannot succeed. Brand building ads create awareness and fuel perceptions of products and services. Brand ads do not generate leads.

Response ads, the kind that directly generate leads, are entirely different. A response ad is designed for just one purpose, getting the prospect to make contact and buy something. Response ads are designed to create interest, fuel desire and foster action. Response ads close with a call to action. Without this basic understanding of the difference between the two types of ads, odds are that your advertising dollars will be wasted.

After defining the type of ad you will run, you must build a realistic plan. Set a budget, define success in terms of the number of clients and specify the duration of the campaign. As stated previously, establish a time frame that encompasses at least six issues of the publication and allocate the budget to do so. If your budget does not support six issues of a full-page, four-color ad, opt for a smaller black and white ad. Do not plan to run an ad for only a couple of issues.

The final element in the ad strategy is to create a plan for measuring performance. Measurement of print ads is one of the most difficult things to do, so you must set up a plan before you begin. The obvious choices to enable measurement are to have the sales force ask if they are responding to the ad; set up a unique phone number to monitor calls; or set up a unique Web address to measure the traffic. Another key in measurement is to monitor the actual sales results. Measuring only on the number of leads may be misleading if your ad serves to get action from undesirable suspects.


Building a Great Ad

For a high-performance print ad that targets response, build from the wisdom of direct marketers. They define four key elements of a campaign, which are (in order of impact):

  1. List
  2. Offer
  3. Copy
  4. Graphics/Creative

Too many ads are created in reverse order with the list being last. And too many ads are judged by their looks. Don't let friends, family and co-workers sway the final product. Their opinions will be based mostly on the visual appeal, which has the smallest impact. Instead, pilot your ad by seeking the comments and criticism of your clients.

To get started, begin with the list, which is simply the readers of the trade publication. If you put a great ad in front of the wrong people, you will always fail. Every magazine offers a media kit that details the circulation and the types of readers. Pore over the media kit to find a magazine that is delivered to people that fit your definition of an ideal prospect. Pick a magazine for the quality of its readership, not just total circulation.

After selecting the advertising vehicle, craft the offer. The offer is critical to getting a response from desirable prospects. Without it, or with a weak offer, magazine readers will have no reason to contact you. The offer is the key element of a response ad.

A great ad has a strong offer, and the offer is the focus of the ad, not an added line of copy that appears to be an afterthought. From the moment a reader digests the headline, he should be moving toward accepting the offer. The ad sells the offer, not your company.

Creating an offer is the toughest part of building a great ad. It is easy to come up with a weak offer—call today for a free brochure—or any offer that appeals to poorly qualified prospects—get your free travel mug by visiting www.anycompany.com. A strong offer takes thought and a thorough understanding of your target market. You need an offer that has value to those that will buy from you. Examples of appealing and appropriate offers are a discount on the first order; a free item or service with a bundled purchase; or, a free whitepaper. With a powerful offer, move on to writing the copy.

The copy is the words used in the advertisement. Copy includes the headline, the body text and the offer statement. When writing the copy, remember that you are selling the offer. Also, avoid saying too much. While it is tempting to jam as much as possible into the text, less is more when it comes to the words in an advertisement.

The most important element of the copy is the headline. This is what will catch the readers' attention and engage them. Come up with something short and sweet; bold and punchy. Ask a question. State a benefit. Challenge the reader. The headline has two purposes—it stops a reader from turning the page and it hooks the reader with the possibility of a solution to his problem.

In the body of the ad, continue to write short and sweet copy that does not fill the entire ad. Focus on the benefits, not the features. Target the prospects' needs, wants, desires and challenges. Write the copy to show them that they will be rewarded for taking you up on your offer. Don't talk about the greatness of your company. The reader wants to know how they can benefit and does not care that you offer fast, affordable, quality products. These qualities are expected of you. The reader wants to know what you can do to help them.

In the copy, avoid too many benefits. According to Doug Hall, in his book “Jump Start Your Business Brain,” the impact of an ad rapidly declines when more than one or two benefits are stated. Stress one benefit and use the rest of the copy to give the reader a reason to believe your claim.

Only after specifying the list, crafting the offer and writing the copy can you proceed to graphic design. Although it is last on the list, design has the power to make-or-break an ad. Through graphic design, the ad must catch the eye of the reader and be visually appealing. Through its style, the design also must support the tone and message of the copy.

There are four basic, yet critical, items to consider when designing the ad. The design—which includes typeface and font color—must make the headline stand out. The combination of words and style will make the headline attention-getting. To continue the reader's engagement, there should be plenty of white space around the copy. Nothing sends a reader to the next page faster than an ad laden with text. For the body copy, use an easily read typeface and a color that has high contrast against the background. And finally, the design must tell the story—or support it—with its visual elements.


Reap the Rewards

Follow these guidelines and you are on your way to increasing sales through advertising. The rules are simple and obvious, but certainly not easy to follow. This is why many perceive advertising to be a waste of money.

When done well, advertising works. Start with a good plan and execute with wise magazine selection, a powerful offer, strong copy and appealing design. And remember to be patient. It may take six months for the new leads to start rolling in.