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For many businesses, their advertisements are purely utilitarian: Display your company’s logo, phone number, and a picture somehow related to the work you do. Sign the check, wait for the ad to run, and hope you get a return on your investment. Often, the latter fails to materialize. The business owner becomes discouraged, and often stops running ads altogether – after all, advertising (whether in a printed publication or on the web) is expensive. When budgets are slashed, marketing is often the first line item to be cut.
Now granted, there is a lot of uncertainty in the marketing world. Nothing is a guarantee – especially when fickle consumers enter the picture. But with the right direction, your organization can get a strong advertisement that gives you the maximum chance for success. Here are a few tips:
Have a clear call-to-action
When a potential customer stumbles upon your ad in a newspaper, magazine, or on a website, they’re typically looking for content other than advertising. An ad needs to catch their eye in the space of a few seconds, because if it doesn’t, they aren’t going to give it a second look. That’s why a clear call-to-action – the headline of your ad – is crucial. Simply putting up your business name and phone number is not enough. You need to give the reader a reason to want to contact you. Perhaps you highlight a particular feature of your product that stands above the competition; a price point that is highly competitive in the market; a depth and breadth of service that other companies in your industry do not offer. The point is, you need to grab the reader the second they look at your ad space. Simply stating “Vehicle Sales and Service – (207) 555-5555” is not sufficient; perhaps “Over 100 Vehicles Under $10,000” would attract more attention. You get the idea: Provide your prospective customer with an incentive to give you their time, and you are much more likely to get them to give you their money.
Consider the audience before you buy
When you purchase advertising, you are paying for direct access to that publication’s customer base. It is in their best interest to fill as many pages as they can with ad spaces – it’s where virtually all of the money in the publishing industry comes from. But it is in your best interest to ensure that the venue is a good fit for your products and services. For example, a beautiful and clever advertisement for consumer electronics is probably not a good fit for a magazine about women’s health. Then, once you have chosen a subscriber base you would like to speak to, the next step is to tailor the message to that audience. What predispositions are they likely to have? What other products and services are they likely to use? What call-to-action will they respond best to? Remember, an otherwise eager customer can be turned away by an ad concept that does not speak to their sensibilities. But on the other hand, if you target an audience with a built-in interest in your product (think kitchen appliances in a cooking magazine) with a message that they identify with, there is a good chance you will get a sizeable return on your investment.
Remember: Photography is king
Sometimes, good photography is hard to come by. Photographers are expensive, budgets are tight, and it’s tempting to take the easy way out and use whatever you have lying around – be it clip art, low-resolution shots, or outdated material. Don’t fall for that trap. After all, an advertisement costs the same whether it looks like a million bucks or an absolute disaster. And nothing can do more for the look of an ad than a strong photograph. We’ve all been to a restaurant where the photos in the menu were faded, poorly lit, and made the food look much less appetizing than it really was. And on the other side of the coin, we’ve probably all seen advertisements in glossy magazines where every wisp of steam and bead of moisture is perfect, and the food looks better than reality. Which would you rather eat? A good photograph sells an ad. A poor one can ruin an otherwise identical design. When in doubt, it’s always better to spend a little more to improve the quality of your investment.
Don’t be afraid of white space
We all know advertising is expensive. Even in smaller, regional publications, prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per insertion. Because of that, many business owners try to cram as much information into their ads as possible: Multiple logos, long lists of products, a dozen thumbnail-sized images, and a paragraph of text – all of it bold and capitalized, of course, to ensure that it stands out. Unfortunately, all that does is make your ad an ugly mess. The more you try to fit into a design, the more each element competes for attention and space. A reader can’t possibly pay attention to everything, and often they end up noticing nothing as a result. Don’t be afraid of simplicity. White space is your friend, not your enemy. A single photo, call-to-action, logo, and contact information can say more than three-dozen headlines bristling with exclamation points, blaze-orange starbursts, and SALE banners. The next time you’re reading a nation-wide magazine, take note of the ads run by major corporations. Many – if not all – of them are comprised of a limited number of strong, elegant building blocks. If that approach works for companies spending millions on advertising, it will certainly work for you.
Give prospects what they need to act
Say you’ve got the perfect advertisement. You’ve carefully chosen your audience, crafted a message that truly speaks to them, and chosen a design that catches every eye that passes it. Copies just came off the press, and they look fantastic. You sit by the phone and wait for the calls to come. But they never do. What went wrong? Maybe you didn’t give customers enough information to act. It’s more common than you might think. Suppose the aim of your ad is to drum up walk-in visits to your physical location. But you never gave the address on your ad. Sure, you gave your phone number – but what if some people don’t feel like calling? And your website was listed, too – but you forgot to post the address there as well. Whatever the reason, you just lost a sale.
Bottom line: Give your customers whatever they might need to make the purchasing decision you’re asking them to make. If you want them to visit a certain portion of your website, give them a direct link; don’t make them hunt and search for the proper page (many will not even bother). If you’re looking to increase phone sales, note the direct line prospects should call. If you’d like more visits to a physical store, list the address (and maybe even directions, if the location is difficult to find) on your ad. Your aim is to remove every obstacle between you and the customer. Make it easy for them, and there’s a good chance they’ll thank you with a sale.