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7 Steps to Banishing Bad Aphorisms

How you market determines how your customers respond to you. That's definitely not something to leave to chance.

It became hip some years ago to parrot the phrase "half of all marketing is wasted - we just don't know which half." Nobody knows which luminary deserves the credit for this bon mot. And it's a dangerous truism to buy into, for two reasons - it either gives you permission to be sloppy in your marketing, or it enables you to discount marketing's value. Both results are unacceptable.

Of course, if you market purely from gut-instinct (I know what looks good, this feels right to meblah, blah, blah) then you won't even arrive at a 50% success rate. Marketing deserves careful attention and planning. This starts with strategic development and flows down into brand strategy, which ultimately yields advertising and marketing vehicles and promotions. Assuming you have done this other work already, I'll share an advertising development process I've used for years that works very well. I can't claim to have created it, and it's been used so well over the years that most of the identifying marks have been rubbed off. Some of it I learned from Katie Muldoon, some of it came from Ogilvie's writings, some of it I learned working at Foote, Cone & Belding, and some of it  I've made up along the way.

Step 1: Remember that to establish genuine competitive advantage you have to make an offer that is quantifiable and credible to your customers. So your first step is to gather your facts. You probably won't use all these facts in your marketing vehicle, but gathering them up front will provide incredible insight. Facts include units sold, margin dollars and percent generated, return rates, research statistics, customer feedback, internal feedback, growth rates, competitive data - any data relevant to the product or service you wish to advertise. This data can be gathered for one product or for an overall brand, but advertising that is created outside of an awareness of facts will miss out on important opportunities and will ring hollow to your customers.

Step 2: Decide what you want from your customers. If you can't figure out what you want from them, they aren't going to figure it out for you! State clearly your intentions for this ad. Do you want your customers to:

  • Place an order for a specific product

  • Place an order for any product from your company

  • Remember your brand

  • Compare your brand favorably to another brand

  • Request additional information

  • Something else

The type of vehicle you are producing dictates how many of these intentions you can choose. A trade magazine ad can only choose one effectively. A brochure may choose a few. A catalog can choose more. But even in a catalog, you have to focus on each page and ask what action you intend to motivate with the page. State your expectations clearly, because intention should drive the content and design of the ad.

Step 3: State your offer. Advertising is always telling customers to do something in order to get something. Rembrandt toothpaste tells customers to "buy Rembrandt" to "get white teeth." Avis tells car renters to "rent from Avis" and "stick it to the big guys" (what? Not to rent cars? Absolutely not - you can rent a car from anyone, but only Avis lets you get that frisson of excitement from helping out the underdog). If you want the customer to remember your brand, then you are telling them to "favor our brand" to "get ___________ . . . what?" That is what this step is all about. Once you define intention in the second step, you have to figure out what your offer is and be able to clearly articulate it in this third step. If you don't do this work, all subsequent time developing your marketing piece will be wasted.

Step 4: Describe the customer for this ad. Whether you are targeting a general group of your customers or a very specific segment, develop an image of a representative customer. Demographic labels (woman, age 18-34, single, etc.) are NOT what you are looking for here! Depict the representative customer as if you were creating a personality in a novel - thinking through characteristics such as likes, needs, wants, dislikes, and any other traits that would be relevant to selling to them. It's kind of like going on a blind date. You may be equally attracted to neurosurgeons or personal trainers, but chances are you will relate to each of them a little differently. This is true in your advertising as well.

Step 5: Gather any information that will give you credibility, such as testimonials, write-ups in magazines, or third-party research data. Consumers are risk and change averse and terrified of making foolish decisions. Anything you can share with them that will give them confidence in their decision to buy from you will be highly beneficial.

Step 6: Articulate the benefit to the customer. Sounds simple, but apparently it's not, because so few advertisements do this step well.

Step 7: Anticipate objections. Consider every objection customers could make to the claim you are staking. If you can figure out the obstacles to buying from you, you can take preventative action right in your ad.

These seven steps will give you three benefits.

1. They free you from creative strangulation. One of the reasons creating an ad is so daunting for so many people is because the activity just screams "it's time to get creative now."  As soon as we are required to be creative, every ounce of cleverness we possess crawls under the table and hides. Taking these seven steps allows you to engage your brain in the activities of fact gathering and analysis, removing the initial paralysis of on-demand creativity. By the time you complete the steps you are no longer afraid of doing THE AD, because you have already done so much of it.
2. The seven steps force you to think critically. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said "Don't believe everything you think." That's so true. What we think is filtered by our emotions , assumptions, previous experiences, and biases  - not of which are the basis for good advertising. Taking objective steps before creative steps allows us to find flaws in our assumptions and to develop some ideas based on objective information.
3. Whether you are the designer/writer for your ad or, more likely, working with someone who will be the designer/writer, the seven steps help you define precisely what you want to say and to whom you are saying it. This is a tremendous gift to give your design and writing team, who will otherwise flounder and will be left to draw their own conclusions - likely inaccurate - about your business objective. 

There you have it - a seven step process for creating better advertising. Whether you create a new ad once a week, once a month, or once a quarter, this process will save you time and give you better results.

And now to replace that terrible 50% aphorism with something more effective. Consider a few creditable statements about marketing instead. David Packard (Hewlett-Packard) once said "Marketing is too important for the marketing department." And Jack Trout said "Financial success is a by-product of great marketing."

How you market determines how your customers respond to you. That's definitely not something to leave to chance.

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