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.

By Kathy J. Kobliski

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: I created aflier and sent it to everyone on a 400-name mailing list Ipurchased from a direct-mail company but saw no results. Then Ibought a small ad in a trade magazine and, once again, got noresponse. Is there a way to get people to respond to something likethis?

A: It's a giventhat any mailing list has a certain percentage of outdated orinvalid addresses. People move, die or change their surnamesthrough marriage. For whatever reason, no list will be accurate bythe time it's typed, let alone printed and sold to you. Normalresponse 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 startwith. You didn't tell me what your product is, but unlessyou're selling a really high-ticket item, you just can'trecoup the cost of renting your list, printing the piece andpostage, 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 wasignored.
  • The design/layout didn't attract the attention of therecipient and wasn't opened.
  • The piece itself was not motivational or clear enough and wastossed.
  • The offer was badly timed and moot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The opinions expressed in this column arethose of the author, not of All answers areintended to be general in nature, without regard to specificgeographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied uponafter consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney oraccountant.

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