When you sit down to create your next piece of advertising, consider this: Rather than just telling prospects how they'll benefit as your customer or client, why not give them an actual dose of that benefit before they buy?
In other words, educate them. Ingratiate yourself by generously and unselfishly sharing some of your secrets or expertise on the subject at hand before asking them for money. The prospect will see you as someone who obviously knows your stuff and whose advice, service or product seems worth paying for.
Offering just such an "ad-ucation" is my suggestion to Marlow Wootton, executive director at Walla Walla Community Hospice in Washington. While a hospice is not an entrepreneurial enterprise in the typical sense, it shares the same advertising challenges of any small business. Wootton sent me some of the ads the hospice runs; for a makeover, I picked the one I thought was the best of the lot.
Since I've always been a pulpit-pounding advocate of testimonial advertising, especially in an area as emotion-provoking as this one, this particular ad emphasizing customer comments is a good start. I like the headline "Dear Hospice" because it's unexpected and thus draws me in. But because Wootton is not satisified with the response from the ads the hospice is running, I'm going to suggest one that incorporates the testimonials but adds "ad-ucational" elements.
Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and welcomes submissions to this column. He is also author of the manual Creating Successful Small Business Advertising. For more information, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope in care of "Advertising Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92714. Or contact Jerry via CompuServe at 73150,132 or America Online at Jerry 228.
Hospice care is a pretty alien subject to most people. We know such institutions exist and that they offer support for people who, as Wootton's literature puts it, "face limited life expectancy." But this is the kind of organization many of us know about only in the most peripheral way. (For example, in recent years we've read about the formation of AIDS hospices to care for individuals in the last stages of that disease.)
Therefore, when faced with the inevitable death of a loved one, we generally have no intimate knowledge of how a hospice can assist us. Can it help us maintain the quality of a loved one's life? Can it perhaps help us through the grieving process? We can certainly learn something about such organizations from hospital discharge personnel, but advertising in this service category is rather restrained in broaching the subject of terminal illness.
My idea is to get a little bolder, with an ad displaying the following headline: "Advice to Families of a Dying Loved One." These words may be jarring to the target audience, but I'd gamble they would be attention-getting without offending. And they would be followed by some advice I put together from background material on the subject.
My copy would read: "During the next crucial days or weeks or months, your loved one's ability to cope with his or her illness will depend largely on the understanding, unity and energies of the family. It is for this reason that you should handle your activities economically and not exert yourself to the point of collapse when you are most needed. Compassionate assistance through hospice care can contribute much toward helping you maintain a sound balance between serving the patient and respecting your own needs."
This would be followed by a section of testimonials drawn from the previous ad, then a mention of the Medicare coverage, and end with an offer (and picture) of a free report, Your Questions Answered About Compassionate Hospice Care. So the ad educates in the form of advice as stated in the headline, then ends with an offer of a more substantial education in booklet form.
Not every interested person will automatically request the free report. But even if they don't, they may inquire about the hospice's services anyway, because there is the perception that anyone extending such an offer must have credibility.
In truth, no matter what service or product you sell, it can benefit from the ad-ucational approach. As an example, if you were selling bottled water and you said to me, "Hey, Jer, water is water. What's to educate?" I'd respond that years ago a beer "educated" its way to the upper echelons of the brew business.
Perhaps you've heard the story. Even though all beer was made in pretty much the same fashion in the early 1900s, Schlitz was the first beer to explain to the public exactly how their suds were created. They talked about the yeast that was used in the maufacturing process, the deep Artesian well the pure water came from, and the bottles that were sterilized as carefully as surgical equipment. It was quite a story, even though other brewers did it exactly the same way. But because Schlitz went to the trouble of explaining its meticulous process to beer drinkers, it became the most popular lager of its time.
Your educational material need not be as elaborate to serve your needs; perhaps a special report or booklet will suffice. Just make certain the identity you give it implies a lot of perceived value.
A final point: Make sure you're not sharing so much information that you give away the store. Offer just enough to pique customers' interest but not so much they don't need your services after they've read the freebie.
Whether you offer complimentary ad-ucation or not, you still have to create compelling promotional copy to sell your product. However, if you often have the experience of sitting down with the proverbial blank sheet of paper, thinking, "I've got such an ordinary product. How will I ever come up with a strong way to sell it?" you're not alone. But there is a remedy. For just such occasions, I offer a humorous, but inspiring, advertising send-up that will show you even the most unextraordinary of products can be compellingly presented.
The headline on this old, instructive ad is "How to sell a secondhand pencil that has no eraser," and the ad reads like this:
"Forget laundry bills forever! This pre-tested, chrome-yellow, hard-finished writing instrument positively will not leak and keeps your hands free of ink and your clothes safe and spotless.
"Fabricated from the finest second-growth hickory, it is graphite-filled with fine-grained, jet-black carbon that cannot snag or catch on any paper surface. Oven-baked enamel coating, with die-stamped copper in two-toned filagree. Removal of the eraser guarantees pencil to be 100 percent latex-free.
"No push-pull, no click-click. The point is always there, ready to write. Free from unsightly pocket clip, it writes in any weather. Funnel-shaped point is handsomely decorated with scalloped edge. Refilling unnecessary; can be discarded when finished. Fits any standard sharpener. Send for free information today!"
Walla Walla Community Hospital, P.O. Box 2026, Walla Walla, WA 99362, (509) 525-5561.
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