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Wow Customers With Your Ads

Try these tips for writing copy sure to draw a crowd.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In any product category, roughly half the public will be in relational shopping mode, while the other half will be thinking transactionally. A customer in transactional mode:

A. Thinks short term.
B. Cares only about today's transaction.
C. Enjoys the process of shopping and negotiating.
D. Fears only paying more than he had to pay.
E. Is willing to spend lots of time investigating.
F. Considers himself an expert.
G. Hinges every transaction on price.

Consequently, transactional customers are always the quickest to respond to advertising. And what they respond to is predictable. Although I usually advise against targeting customers in transactional shopping mode, I figure if you're going to do it anyway, you might as well know how to do it well. Here's how to write the ads that trigger instant traffic:

  1. Begin with a product that has wide appeal. Transactional ads don't create desire; they merely capitalize on a desire that's already there.
  2. Reduce the price below what is considered the typical discount. The more desirable the item and the lower the price, the faster the traffic will come.
  3. Explain why you're offering the price reduction. Your volume of quick-response traffic will be directly tied to the credibility of your desperation.
  4. Create urgency by having a time limit. "Everyday low prices" may be a reasonable brand position in the long term, but it's no reason to rush to your store today.
  5. Discount a highly respected brand that isn't usually discounted. A low price is unimpressive when there's a question about the quality.
  6. Use specifics, which are more believable than generalities. Avoid ambiguous claims such as "up to 70 percent off" and vague disclaimers like "on selected items."
  7. Schedule a high frequency of repetition for your TV or radio ads-or use a second color (like red) in key lines of your newspaper ad-to support the perception of urgency.

Leverage these seven factors and you'll increase your store traffic quickly. But be aware: The more often you use these tips, the less well they'll work. Consider the dwindling response to Little Caesars' initially successful two-for-one "Pizza! Pizza!" campaign.

You'll know your company is addicted to transactional advertising when customers begin asking, "When does this go on sale?" The price of this strategy is that you train your customers to wait for the next sale. Their sense of urgency is diminished with every new "Sale!" ad you write. In the end, the brand you're building will be weak. A number of studies on customer loyalty have clearly indicated customers that switch to you for reasons of price alone will switch from you for the same reason.

Style vs. substance: There's a big difference between saying something powerful and merely saying something powerfully. What message communicated in your ads doesn't expire? Is the most powerful part of your message true "for a limited time only" or "while supplies last"? Are you training your customer to wait for the next sale?

Unlike the transactional customer, a customer in relational shopping mode:

A. Thinks long term.
B. Considers today's transaction to be one in a series of many.
C. Doesn't enjoy comparison shopping or negotiating.
D. Fears only making a poor choice.
E. Hopes to find an expert he or she can trust.
F. Considers her time spent shopping to be part of the purchase price.
G. Is likely to become a repeat customer.

The goal of relational ad campaigns is to become the company that customers think of immediately and feel the best about when they-or any of their acquaintances-need what you sell. Customers in relational shopping mode are impressed by:

  1. The owner as spokesperson. Think of Dave Thomas for Wendy's, or George Zimmer for Men's Wearhouse.
  2. An unaffected, natural style, tinged with vulnerability. Your willingness to share your hopes, dreams, shortcomings and failures will endear you to relational shoppers. Let them feel as if they know you.
  3. Genuine statements. Hype and self-aggrandizement are simply not acceptable.
  4. No time limits. "Here today, here tomorrow, here when you need us" is a powerful message, no matter how you say it. Relational customers pay little attention to ads that expire.
  5. Statements that indicate honesty. Never claim to be honest. Just make the kinds of statements that only a person of real integrity would make. The public isn't stupid. After awhile, these ads will begin paying off better than you can imagine.
  6. Statements that indicate competency. Don't use the word "expert." Just make complex concepts easily understood, and the relational customer will say "expert" in his mind. Remember, the fear of the relational shopper is that he'll buy the wrong one.

Ads that target the relational mindset seem to do nothing at first, but they work better and better the longer you run them. Ads that target the transactional mindset work miraculously at first but less and less well as time goes on.

Which type of ads will you choose?

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.

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