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6 Lessons From the Legends of Advertising

6 Lessons From the Legends of Advertising
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The following excerpt is from Craig Simpson and Brian Kurtz’s book The Advertising Solution. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

No matter what your advertising message is and what platform you’re using to broadcast it, there are basic principles of promotion you can use to make sure you’re working as effectively as possible to spread the word.

From all my reading and extensive research on some of the best master promoters, I’ve arrived at these 10 overriding lessons for putting together a promotional campaign that produces the best results. 

Lesson 1: Know your product

In order to sell something, you need to develop some kind of description of what you’re offering that you can present to prospects. At this point, many would-be promoters make the mistake of sitting down before a blank sheet of paper or computer screen and waiting for inspiration to come to them. But all our legends tell us that’s not the way to create great copy.

Related: 18 Things Testing Your Ads Can Teach You About Effective Advertising

Everything you need to get started and see you through the entire process is right before you. The sales pitch you’re struggling to come up with is in the product itself and the information you have about it. The task is more a matter of doing your research and organizing what you find than trying to create something new out of your own head.

No matter what you’re selling, start by gathering all the information you have about it. If you’re selling a product, get all the details on how it’s made, what it does, how it’s an improvement over the competition and any special effort that’s put into creating it. You especially want information about unique or quality features. These will form the basis of the smaller headlines and subheads in your final piece. What is the chief benefit it offers? This might end up being your main headline, but don’t worry about that yet. Just start by finding out everything you can about your product, and the ideas and connections will soon start to take shape.

Lesson 2: Know your audience

Another aspect of crafting a successful message is to specifically gear it to the desires, needs, interests and language of the people you’re trying to sell to. If your best prospects are teenage boys with an interest in skateboarding and hip-hop, you’ll present your message very differently than if your best prospects are conservative, middle-aged men. What works well for selling to one group will fail miserably at appealing to the other.

The ad legends all say that you have to spend time immersing yourself in the culture your prospect lives in. Go to the movies they attend. Read their most popular magazines. Listen to them talk in elevators, in restaurants, at ball games or wherever your prospects tend to hang out.

If you’ve got the means, consider asking them about themselves. Send out questionnaires to lists of people who are like your prospects or interview them personally. You can also learn a lot about them by taking your list of prospects to a company that does “list modeling.” These companies have access to a surprising array of information from places like warranty cards and surveys that people fill out without even thinking about it, which is then compiled by a large number of consumer and business data cooperatives.

As a result, these companies can give you a pretty good picture of what your buyers look like. Are most of them dog owners? You can use some kind of dog imagery in your examples. Are they active sportsmen and women? That gives you more ideas on how to appeal to them. Are they predominantly single? That’s also important information.

All this gives you a much clearer idea of whom you’re selling to and how to speak their language, capture and hold their interest, and influence their choices and behavior.

Lesson 3: Make sure you get every part of the package right

Every promotional package is made up of a number of different parts. Each of them serves a different purpose and is essential to the overall success of the campaign. If you’re writing a sales letter, a web page, a blog or an ad in a publication, you should have a headline that captures attention and gets people wanting to read more. That should be followed by copy that further presents your case and convinces readers they need and should get what you’re selling.

Related: 8 Tips for Producing Advertising That Sells

If you expect people to give you money, or even their email address, you should offer some sort of guarantee. It could be a money-back guarantee or an assurance that you won’t sell their email address to another company. The purpose of the guarantee is to make prospects more comfortable about risking their money or personal information.

You’ll need an order page or order form where you’ll put in more sales copy and provide a way for people to give you the information you need to complete the deal. The order form should be clear and easy to use, or you may lose people at the end. For online applications, the “abandoned shopping cart” is partly the result of an order area that’s not user-friendly.

You might also want a FAQ area, special instructions, news items, inspirational quotes from famous people, photographs, cartoons, charts and tables -- there’s no limit on what you can include in your promotional package, as long as it supports your sales message and keeps people reading. The bottom line is, be certain that each part of your campaign pulls its weight and strengthens your message.

Lesson 4: It’s all about the prospect

Of course, you are interested in your product and in convincing your prospects. But what are your prospects interested in? Themselves and what they want. That means that to be successful, you must be very interested in those things too.

The purpose of your promotional copy isn’t to build yourself up or impress people with your vast vocabulary. The purpose is to pull prospects in. While you want to get them interested in you and what you offer, the way to do that is to make your campaign about them. This means you should be talking about your product in a way that keeps the prospect’s desires and needs in the forefront. Your copy has to address what the prospect cares about, and how your product will fulfill those needs.

If you maintain the proper balance, you’ll be able to get in all the important information about the product while personally engaging your readers and making them understand how important it is to acquire what you’re offering.

Lesson 5: Showmanship will differentiate you

Nobody’s going to make the effort to read something that looks uninteresting. There’s just too much to distract us these days. People’s attention spans are getting more and more abbreviated. If you want to influence people’s behavior, you have to grab and hold their interest long enough to get your message across. Sometimes that takes a little showmanship.

So what can you do that will make your sales piece or banner ad or TV commercial or job application really stand out from everything else competing for your prospect’s attention?

Physically, there are clearly things you can do. If you’re sending out a direct mail package, you can use a brightly colored envelope. You can use attention-getting graphics, or place wording on the envelope that’s a little intriguing or even a bit outrageous. You can send out some kind of lumpy mail -- an envelope containing something that feels bulky and interesting. When prospects pick it up, they can tell there’s something inside and their curiosity drives them to check it out.

Related: 11 Ways to Write Powerful Ad Headlines

If you’re promoting yourself online, you can use intriguing headlines or images on banner ads or choose blog titles that will capture interest. You can also use blinking banner ads or video ads. And a bit of showmanship in the subject line of an email can lead to a better open rate.

A little showmanship can make the difference between being overlooked and being noticed.

Lesson 6: Testing trumps all

If there’s one thing our ad legends all agreed on and emphasized in their writing and thinking, it was that testing is everything in marketing. Don’t rest on your laurels by assuming you’re getting the best results possible. And don’t assume that something you’re doing isn’t working at all and should be dropped. One small change in a headline or color you use can turn a losing campaign into a winner.

If you’re not measuring your response rates, you could be missing out on better results or wasting your money altogether. Learn how to assess the results of your campaigns: it could make the difference between just getting by and having a smashing success.

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