Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Creating Effective Advertising Materials

Don't understand why your ads and direct mail aren't working? Find out what you may be doing wrong and how to fix it.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: I created a flier and sent it to everyone on a 400-name mailing list I purchased from a direct-mail company but saw no results. Then I bought a small ad in a trade and, once again, got no response. Is there a way to get people to respond to something like this?

A: It's a given that any mailing list has a certain percentage of outdated or invalid addresses. People move, die or change their surnames through marriage. For whatever reason, no list will be accurate by the time it's typed, let alone printed and sold to you. Normal response to a good direct-mail piece is only about 1 to 2 percent, so there's not much point sending out only 400 pieces to start with. You didn't tell me what your product is, but unless you're selling a really high-ticket item, you just can't recoup the cost of renting your list, printing the piece and postage, let alone make a profit with that small of a list.

You had no response at all, which indicates that one (or more) of the following bloopers was in play:

  • The list targeted the wrong people, and your piece was ignored.
  • The design/layout didn't attract the attention of the recipient and wasn't opened.
  • The piece itself was not motivational or clear enough and was tossed.
  • The offer was badly timed and moot.

If you used the same ad in the trade magazine, you probably had the right audience that time, so the ad itself, both in the magazine and in the direct-mail piece, may be to blame. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What's the product's benefit to the consumer-what need or desire does the product fill? (Did you emphasize that benefit in the ad clearly and in a strong way?)
  • How is the product superior to that of your competitors? Is it higher quality? Less expensive? More convenient to buy or use? Is it one of a kind? (Did you stress those advantages or conveniences in the ad as reasons for consumers to come to you instead of to a competitor)?
  • Does the product have a season or a window of opportunity in which the most purchases are likely to occur? An example would be snow skis, boats or lawnmowers. (Did you properly time your direct mail and magazine ads so you didn't miss the season?) Or is the product one usually purchased on an "as needed" basis, such as a car or a major appliance? In this case, it wouldn't be unusual to see zero response to one magazine ad or one direct-mail piece.
  • Can your product be purchased and used at any time? (If so, did you include a motivator like a coupon or a gift with purchase for immediate use?) If your product is not a high-ticket item, you may have better luck using a ZIP code mailing service such as Val-Pak or Carol Wright, which are both reasonably priced and do mailings to local geographical areas all year long.

Next time, consider all the information above, then think about the ideas below:

  • Include a testimonial or indicate that references from satisfied customers are available.
  • Repeat your ad. You need to be consistent in your whatever form of media you use.
  • If you did your own design and layout, ask your sales reps to help with that--it should be a free service when you purchase ad space from them. If you're interested in learning how to craft great print ad copy, I recommend Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan.

Take another look at your advertising materials, follow these tips and you just may see more customers knocking at your door.

Kathy Kobliski is the founder and president of Silent Partner Advertising, where she oversees multimedia advertising budgets for retail and service clients. Her book, Advertising Without an Agency, was written for businesses owners who are working with small advertising budgets and can't afford professional help. You can reach Kathy via her website at

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks