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18 Things Testing Your Ads Can Teach You About Effective Advertising Testing is the only way you can know your promotions are working and make sure you're getting the best response possible. Find out more about how research can help you create ads that work.

By Craig Simpson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The following excerpt is from Craig Simpson's The Advertising Solution. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes
It's highly unlikely you'll hit on the ideal advertising formula right off the bat based on what you think will work. Without testing, you really have no idea which approach to focus on or which approach will be the best use of your resources.

Related: 4 Phases of Market Research to Ensure Success

Ad legend David Ogilvy always stressed the importance of working hard to get the information needed to create a really great ad, one that did its job of persuading people to buy. Ogilvy offered a list of 18 benefits that he called the "miracles of research":

1. Research will confirm your reputation. Research can tell you where your company stands by measuring its reputa­tion among various communities: consumers, journalists, academia, the government, etc. Through polling and inter­views, you can learn exactly what these people think of you. If you discover that a bad reputation is inter­fering with your company's growth, you would now know exactly where the problems lie and what you need to do to polish your image.

2. Research will force you to do your math. By applying math­ematical models to the responses you get to tests of a new product you're about to release, you can predict sales. That can help you decide how much you can comfortably afford to spend to advertise the product, based on your expected profits. If the cost of advertising isn't justified by the poten­tial profits, you might want to rethink your plans.

3. Research will tell you if this is a good or bad product before you launch. Research can measure consumer responses to new products while they're still in the conceptual stage. Are people even going to be interested in the product you plan to produce? It would be best to find out early in the process. This can save you a bundle if it keeps you from wasting money developing and advertising a product no one will want to buy.

4. Research will help you compare yourself to your competi­tion. By testing a new product that you plan to develop against one your competition is already selling, you can see whether your version will be able to match the popularity of your competitor's product. You'll also learn what you need to do to make your version more attractive.

5. Research will eliminate guessing. You can test different formu­lations, flavors or fragrances ahead of time to determine which version of your product will be most appealing to your target customer. This will help set you up for success from the outset.

6. Research will lead you to the best design. Package design plays a big role in the success of products. For example, the color of a package or the font used in a product name can make a huge difference in how appealing it is to potential buyers. Research can help you determine which design will get the most favorable attention and motivate people to buy.

7. Research will create your positioning. You can use research to determine how best to position your product. Maybe you've created a new snack food. Will you get the most sales by offering it as a yummy treat or a healthy one? Testing will help you discover which approach will appeal to the biggest audience.

8. Research will determine your target audience. Do you know who will actually want to buy your product? You would do well to determine your target audience before rolling out a big campaign. For example, you may think your product will appeal to 20-somethings and plan to advertise to that demographic, when in fact you should be targeting 40-somethings. Research could keep you from making a costly mistake.

9. Research will uncover what consumers really want to know or have you talk about. What kinds of variables do buyers focus on when they think about your product? What language do they use to describe it? For example, do they select a type of soap primarily for its cleansing properties or its beauty properties? The answer will determine which bene­fits you should stress in your advertising. Your research will help you identify the important variables.

10. Research will create your umbrella brand. Once you have a successful product with an established name, you can use that name to sell related products. For example, when Lever Brothers wanted to extend the success of their Dove brand but weren't sure what kind of product would be the best fit, they did some consumer research that showed they'd have a winning product by placing the Dove name on dishwashing liquid.

Related: 10 Quick Ways to Increase Your Ads' Clickthrough Rates

11. Research will keep you moving forward. You may have a successful product, but you must keep checking to see if consumers continue to see your prod­uct as desirable -- and that requires research. If your image is slipping, you need to know about it. Ogilvy said that in many cases, this happens when consumers notice you're using cheaper ingredients. So before you start making major changes to your formula, do research to find out whether it's noticeable, and if your customers find it objectionable.

12. Research will enable you to get the jump on your competi­tion. Ogilvy suggested using research to check up on what your competitors are doing. What are their profit margins, and how do yours compare? How much are they paying for raw materials, as opposed to what you're paying? Who are their suppliers? Ogilvy claimed the information is out there if you know how to look for it.

13. Research will shine a light on your best benefit(s). Every great ad contains a promise. But do people today obey this critical lesson? No, they haven't. Ogilvy said:

"Advertising which promises no benefit to the consum­er does not sell, yet the majority of campaigns contain no promise whatever."

Ogilvy reported research showing that advertisements using headlines that promise a benefit are read by four times more people than advertisements without such headlines. Determining the best promise for an ad, said Ogilvy, is the most valuable contribution research can make to the ad creation process. A promise that's both persuasive and unique will be the most powerful, but don't try to guess. To prove your promise is doing the job, you need data to back you up.

14. Research will identify your best bonus. An important part of many ads is the "premium" offered -- some kind of free gift or bonus. Some free gifts will be more appealing than oth­ers, and some will be of no interest to your target audience. Research will show you which premium will get you the biggest response.

15. Research will ensure you're being understood properly. It's critical that you know how your target audience is interpreting your ad. You may think you know what your ad is saying, but your prospect may not read it the way you do. You may think you're being funny, but your prospect may think you're being disrespectful or annoying. Only by testing your advertising will you know if it's conveying the right message.

16. Research will tell you if you've converted buyers from the competition. Ogilvy said testing recall of TV commercials had no relation to their success at getting con­sumers to buy the product. The more important issue to test is a change in brand preferences. Has your target audience actually been converted away from your competitor in favor of your product?

Related: Research Is Key to Creating Promotions That Sell

He also said to keep testing ads for "wear-out." Eventually, even the best ad will lose its power because people's values change over time. Even if your ad is working, keep testing to see if its numbers continue to hold up. As soon as they start slipping, be ready with the next big campaign idea.

17. Research will tell you if they're reading and remember­ing. Despite the fact that recall doesn't equate to buying, if people don't read or remember ads at all, they can't be persuaded by them to take action. Research can tell you whether people are reading and remembering your ads.

18. And research can (and will) settle arguments. There are bound to be disagreements as people consider different aspects of an ad. Having research available can help you make the best decisions possible, backed by science.

Being successful at marketing doesn't come from making decisions based on opinions or feelings. To get people to buy your product, you have to know what they're thinking, what they like and what you have to do to get their interest, overcome their skepticism and win their hearts. The only way to know these things for sure is by doing the research.

Craig Simpson

Author and Owner of Simpson Direct, Inc.

Craig Simpson has managed thousands of direct mail campaigns and grossed hundreds of millions in revenue for his clients over the past 15 years. Simpson is the owner of Simpson Direct Inc., a Grants Pass, Oregon-based direct marketing firm, and a respected speaker/presenter on the topic of direct mail. He is the co-author with Dan S. Kennedy of The Direct Mail Solution. He blogs at

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