Sharon Rochford, who wrote recently, had a solid idea for a small business. The longtime Beverly Hills, California, intensive-care nurse decided to strike out on her own and open a surgery-planning consultancy, Rochford Surgical Consultants, to chaperone people through the throes of what is usually a traumatic and stressful experience.
To promote her service, Rochford developed a brochure that's very professional and represents precisely what she offers--but it may need to go under the knife. No, not for anything like a heart transplant, because the heart of the brochure is functioning just fine. But the all-important cover needs to be treated for a case of consultantitis. I'll explain the affliction and its symptoms so you can put your own advertising under the microscope.
If the front of your brochure has as its main focus a logo and terse description of your services, it may well be suffering from this insidious disease. Consultantitis, in this instance, is the belief that it may be unprofessional or unseemly for someone in the healing arts and sciences to inject salesmanship into his or her advertising. I've touched on this type of problem in other columns this year because it has become increasingly prevalent, and it would be a shame if otherwise smart business ideas went down the tube because of this advertising oversight.
How can you prevent it? Check the words on your cover for empathy and humanity. In other words, does your message reach out to readers and address their state of mind? One of the principal objectives of a cover headline is to strike as directly as possible at the heart of the situation confronting your readers.
I give Rochford credit for fashioning a concise and smart one-line description of her business: "Personalized Surgical Planning from Preparation to Recovery." But the cover needs some emotion. What kind? How much? Here's how the former nurse can decide. If she were to give a talk at a local senior citizens center about the benefits of her services, she would probably make just the right empathetic and emotional connection with members of the audience. That same kind of feeling deserves to be on the front of her brochure in the form of a headline.
For example, one way to put it might be this: "Your upcoming surgery: How to help make it come out just the way you want." Notice I used the word "help"; that's a "hedge" word. Obviously, there are factors out of the patient's control that will determine the success of the procedure. But patients can empower themselves by making smart preoperative and postoperative decisions to maximize the good effect of the surgery. Inside her brochure, Rochford says, "As soon as we have taken care of all the details and assisted you in making all the necessary arrangements, you can relax, be comfortable and let any fears or concerns go away." That same kind of connectedness to the prospect also deserves a place on the cover.
Here's another brochure cover that is professional-looking but misses the opportunity for salesmanship.
1. This logo is classy, but why not use this "eye level" space to sell the service?
2. The description of this company's services is solid, but it belongs elsewhere.
Here, the brochure cover is still professional-looking, but now it offers a reason to buy.
1. This headline speaks reassuringly to prospects and sells in the process.
2. The "how to" part of the headline creates anticipation for getting information readers want.
Q: I've read that prospects are willing to read long copy about a service business as long as you keep it interesting. So how do you keep it interesting?
A: First of all, keep in mind that longer copy doesn't mean looser copy. Don't feel that having the space to say more gives you license to tell your life story or pontificate on matters of little interest to the reader. Stay on one track only: how readers are going to personally benefit (become smarter, richer, slimmer, and so on) by using your product or service.
Moreover, keep your wording concise, just as you would if you were pressed for space. As I've mentioned before, I have a mantra taped above my computer screen: "Cut it 'til it bleeds," meaning I need to edit the copy until it's as succinct as possible--and this holds especially true for longer copy. On that note, keep in mind that when people read advertising, they rarely give it their full attention. Wording that doesn't tax the brain will keep readers interested in reading your 1,200-word sales pitch.
Also, give it great, steaming gobs of emotional appeal. Long novels about people and their emotions are usually the bestsellers. Finally, give a rough draft to someone unlikely to have an interest in your product or service. If it can keep his or her interest, it's got a heckuva good chance of maintaining prospects' interest, too. And remember to make it look inviting: A wall of words can be a complete turnoff. For visual relief, break it up with provocative subheads, sidebars and short paragraphs.
Q: I've always envied restaurants' ability to use their exhaust fans to sell their food by encouraging those tantalizing aromas to drift out to the hungry masses. What can other businesses do to capture customers that way?
A: Well, I wouldn't suggest that a gym use this tactic, but what if that gym had a marquee that, each day, displayed another provocative fact about the benefits of exercise and fitness? For example, "People who exercise 20 minutes a day have 40 percent fewer heart attacks," or "Lose 10 pounds in two weeks without dieting," or "Regular workouts greatly reduce your chances of getting cancer." Over time, I could imagine passersby becoming motivated to at least come in and see what the gym offers toward these fitness goals.
If you run a clothing store, what about placing live mannequins in the windows instead of plastic ones? If you operate a kids' electronic game emporium, you could have an actual kid playing one in the window, or outdoors in warm weather. If you're an optician, you could offer free eye-chart demonstrations outside your store. Think about what you could demonstrate inside your store, in the parking lot or near the front door that might intrigue potential customers to give your product a try.
Bookstores have "storytelling" hours in which employees read books to kids, motivating parents to come in and buy. Some animal hospitals have electronic marquees in their waiting rooms that flash a different health issue (fleas, dysplasia, vaccinations, etc.) every 60 seconds for owners to ask the veterinarians about. A few tire stores have videos playing in their waiting rooms that demonstrate the hazardous effect worn treads can have on driving safety. There's even a carry-out food service in a Chicago suburb that sets up a kiosk at the commuter train station every evening to get arriving (and hungry) workers from the city to taste a bit of what they can pick up on the way home.
You get the idea. Look for proactive ways to get the "aroma" of your product or service out to normally passive prospects, and there's a good chance you'll reel in a few of them.
Jerry Fisher is an advertising copywriter, consultant and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising ($39.95), available by calling (800) 247-6553. If you'd like Jerry to consider your materials for a makeover in this column, send them to "Ad Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or e-mail him atJerry228@aol.com