Have you ever stood at the glass-encased directory in the lobby of an office building and, while scanning it for the firm you're visiting, come across nondescript company names that made you think, "I wonder what they do?" What kind of business is Niemeyer & Associates? What do they make at Fisher Technologies? What do they do at O'Connor Industries? And what the heck is The Campbell Connection? Chances are, you'll go to your grave never knowing that Niemeyer is a terrific home and office interior design firm, Fisher makes a device that automatically controls the chemical balance in your hot tub, O'Connor builds prefab sheds for the backyard and Campbell can get you a great deal on a used PC.
My point is not really that your amorphously named company should also have a description in its building's directory (although that might get you an accidental customer or two), but that a company name alone, particularly an unremarkable one, won't sell beans. I find, however, that a surprising number of entrepreneurs still use the most important panel of their company brochure--the front page--to introduce the name of their enterprise and not much else. That decision always gets my Golden Noogie Award.
The newest honoree is Matt Boggan of Knoxville, Tennessee, who wrote recently. Boggan runs a company called Team Paragon, which designs custom overhead lift-and-transfer systems for people with physical disabilities and for those who take care of these individuals. Boggan wrote to ask, "What can I do better to ensure that my mailing will be opened and read and will inspire the customer to call for further information?"
My short answer is: Don't use Team Paragon's name as the centerpiece of the brochure/mailer cover. Although for a nondescript company name Team Paragon is somewhat intriguing, it still can't hold a candle to some sort of benefit statement about what the company offers. So let's get down to creating one.
This brochure cover assumes the company's name will grab people and usher them inside.
1. The company name is somewhat intriguing, but there's no selling message to attract the target audience.
2. This logo has some good thought behind it, but there needs to be more of a tie-in to the actual product.
The symbolism created by the headline and the background image dramatically alludes to the benefit.
1. This headline conjures up imagery that might appeal to a disabled person's desire for independence.
2. The subhead follows with an explanation of just what the headline is alluding to.
Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter in the San Francisco Bay area and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising, available from Bookmasters by calling (800) 247-6553. If you'd like Jerry to consider your materials for a makeover in this column, please write to him c/o "Ad Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614. Or you can reach him at Jerry228@aol.com
The best way to get a prospect's attention, bar none, is to imply, via your headline, that you can help him or her solve a problem. That's it--you've got their attention. You're saying "I've got a way to make your life easier and better than it is now." And that's specifically why they're willing to tune in to your message. Without an enticement, you're talking to a wall.
In Boggan's case, he's got quite a remarkable problem-solving device. It's a custom monorail system that zips a disabled person virtually anywhere he or she wants to go in the house. The rider can install a rail from bed to bathroom or front door to bedroom or living room to kitchen and so on. There's even an optional switching feature like that on a railroad track that lets the rider leave the bedroom and bypass the bathroom to go down the hallway to the living room. It offers unique access and independence, and Boggan has now created the same sort of device for use in buses and vans.
So how can he characterize this device in a way that has special meaning for prospects? My suggested brochure-cover headline, roughly based on an idea Boggan himself concocted for other material, is "Now????Wings' for the Physically Disabled," followed by a subhead that reads "The first customizable monorail system that whisks you almost anywhere you want to go in the house."
Boggan's idea to describe his product as "The Next Best Thing to Wings" emerged from a brainstorming session that I think can inspire every entrepreneur. His experience shows how not being satisfied with the expected can transform your advertising from mundane to attention-getting. Here's how it happened, in Boggan's own words:
"I had been struggling for quite a while to find a good slogan for my company. We had tried `Pride And Dignity Thru Mobility' and `Custom Mobility for the Physically Challenged,' but I really didn't like either of those. They were too much like other slogans in the disability business. Around the shop, we had often called our system The Flying Machine, so one day I was online and found an animated graphic of a flying dove. After a bit of free-associating and brainstorming, I came up with `The Next Best Thing To Wings.' For someone who's been confined to a bed, a wheelchair or a home environment, it's tremendous freedom to move about without effort. It's like leaving the nest. It's the means to an expanded world." Boggan should know. He's 30, and has been disabled since birth with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which essentially renders him quadriplegic.
His brochure needs to capture the feeling he describes, starting with the more dramatic opening and then leading to a headline on the inside that reads: "Introducing a new, higher level of access and independence." This would be followed by a subhead that explains "A lift and transfer system that offers you more freedom and movement than you've ever known before." Two additional elements the brochure should definitely include are a section of testimonials and a bio-blurb on Boggan so that prospects know the developer is someone who understands, firsthand, what they really need and want.
Q: I can't decide whether a Yellow Pages display ad is a good investment for my family-counseling practice. It's a bit of a budget-buster, and many people prefer to be referred to a counselor. Any opinions?
A: I think such an ad can be a darn good investment (and an adjunct to your referral business) if you put some sweat into making it a distinctive piece of advertising. Unfortunately, many Yellow Pages ads are essentially rubber stamps of each other, containing only the most routine information and offering little to separate themselves from surrounding competitors. So with all these clones singing the same song, it becomes an eeny-meenie-miney-mo kind of decision for prospects.
Create your Yellow Pages ad as if you were making the most persuasive argument possible for choosing your services over others. With psychological counseling or similar professional services, however, a slightly different--though no less arresting--approach is required. You could not and would not use any form of hard sell as we know it. But what could be effective is an excerpt from a letter you may have received from someone who felt they benefited from your wise counsel and wanted to let you know in writing. Ask permission to use a snippet--printed without attribution, of course--and without any details that might give away the client's identity. This would become the centerpiece of your ad. And although it would be an unorthodox approach, it would be in good taste and, more important, would separate you from your peers.
The Yellow Pages rivals the Holy Bible for distribution and has a shelf life of an entire year, so you'd be in one of the most powerful advertising mediums on the planet. Develop an ad for it that's drop-dead great, and it could become a continuing practice-builder for you.
Team Paragon, (888) 281-5290, http://www.paragonmobility.com