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Clever advertising

My wife and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary last week. We have some close friends whose anniversary is the day before ours, so the four of us drove up through the Ozarks to Branson, Missouri to observe the occasions and take in some fall colors.

On the way up, we passed a billboard in one of the many towns we drove through. Since I’m in advertising and things like that interest me, my friends pointed it out. It was for a jewelry store and it read:

“We sell wife insurance.”

We  chuckled a bit, and the other couple both said that the ad had gotten their attention. I then turned to the wife and asked her, “Does that ad make you want to buy jewelry from that business?” She immediately said no. I turned to the husband and asked the same thing. He also said that it did not make him want to buy from them. The billboard’s cleverness got their attention, but it did nothing to persuade them to actually go into the store.

Why is that? Because while the ad is clever, it doesn’t strike a chord within its audience. It fails to make a connection.

A lot of small business owners mistake clever advertising for good advertising. Clever might grab your attention, but good advertising not only gets your attention, it awakens something within you and lingers in your mind long after the campaign is over. It does that by touching something within the viewer that they immediately recognize as true.

My question to my friends sparked a short conversation about what makes good advertising and why that particular billboard missed the mark. As we were talking, my friend’s wife brought up a billboard that I had done for one of my clients. Here is the billboard she was talking about:

Jeff's Jewelry Billboard "Show her Love"

The wife actually said that she loved this billboard. And she isn’t the first to tell me that. In fact, someone else had mentioned this same billboard to me a week or two before, saying it was one of their favorites. What’s interesting about that is that this billboard hasn’t been displayed in almost two years. But people still remember it. And talk about it. It strikes a chord within them and they can identify with the message, and they want to do business with that advertiser.

Does your advertising do that?

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How to create a brand

“Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image.”

— David Ogilvy

That isn’t as complicated as it sounds. But it does take some thought before you begin to create your ad.

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The other day I saw an ad…

I hear this phrase all the time from small business owners, even from marketing directors. They want their ad to look like someone else’s ad. Huge mistake.

“In advertising, not to be different is virtual suicide.”

William Bernbach

Your ad has got to strike a chord within the viewer and make them think of you and nobody else but you.

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The main advantage of a small business

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll notice that I talk a lot about reputation and why someone should do business with you rather than your competitor. I think small businesses can compete with large companies, and I suspect you think so too or you wouldn’t be a small business owner.

TechCrunch writes about a recent survey that says that 82% quit doing business with a company because of bad customer service. It’s easy to see why a large company can give poor service. A smaller more personal company will always be able to run circles around a larger company in this area. But only if they choose to do so.

If you are still looking for that defining reason for someone to do business with you rather than your competitor, take a hard look at the customer service you provide. If your service truly is better than most, then make that a part of your marketing message, maybe even make it your sole message.

But  you’d better be committed to providing outstanding service. If your service isn’t great, and you tell people it is, then you’ll sink your own boat.

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Apple: a lesson in branding

We’ve talked about branding a lot on these pages. Here’s a video of Steve Jobs introducing Apple’s “Think Different” advertising campaign which launched in 1997. He gives one of the best explanations of what a brand is that I’ve ever heard.

Notice that although he talks about their product and how he believes it’s the best available, he recognizes that a brand is more than what you sell, it’s what you stand for. So they set out to define what they stand for and distill it down to a simple message. Jobs gives a well thought out look at branding a business, and the result is a great example of how a fresh message that resonates with its audience can reinvigorate a business.

And, it’s something that you can do for your small business. Simply ask yourself what you really sell and begin to tell people in a way that’s easy to understand.

(Hat-tip to Jason Kottke)

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The need for simplicity

TechCrunch has an excellent article on the need for simplicity in communicating what you do. While the examples in Michael Arrington’s article are bigger than the small businesses that read this blog, the advice still applies no matter what you are trying to sell or to whom you are selling.

You would think this would be an easy task for a small business, after all, they operate in a smaller market and often don’t have a large variety of services to offer. But when you look at many small business advertisements or marketing material, so much is crammed into the space it gives you a headache looking at it.

I recently completed a print ad for a new client (you can see the ad here, and I did their logo a couple of months ago). When the ad ran, I picked up a magazine to have a look and verify that the ad ran correctly. The magazine is local, running almost exclusively local business advertisements, and does a pretty good job of targeting its chosen demographic. But what struck me was how busy most of the advertisements were. Most of them had no real message. They were just a quick shout out of their name — “HEY, DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME!” Unfortunately, the shout out often got lost in the noise of their own ad and the noise of the other ads around it.

The few ads that had simple messages stood out like an oasis in a desert. They caught your attention because their message was so simple it was easily understood at a glance. One of the ads that stood out to me was for a local gift shop (who is not a client, by the way). Their ad broke through the clutter by having lots of white space and featuring just one product. It was effective because it stood out. It also was a national co-op ad, which explains why its execution was so much better than many of the other ads, and is a rare example of how to use co-op advertising effectively.

The message your small business communicates to its potential customers is vital to your business. Good communication of a simple message brings in new customers and has people talking about your business in a positive way. Poorly conceived communication leads to muddled messages and you get lost in the crowd and forgotten. Take the time and make the investment to craft your message and communicate it well.

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Commodity versus Quality

A blog I frequent linked to another blog that had a tongue-in-cheek list of rules for emergency medical service. Rule #29 got my attention:

When responding to a call, always remember that your ambulance was built by the lowest bidder.

That’s a humorous perspective, and it’s one that many small business owners should apply to their advertising and marketing. Some things, like rice or copper, truly are a commodity, meaning that there is no difference in quality regardless of where you buy it or who supplies it. But art and communication are not commodities. Excluding thieves and rascals, you will get what you pay for when it comes to your advertising and marketing.

Advertising and marketing communications are one of the last areas of industry that remain hand-crafted by individuals. It can’t be automated or mass-produced on an assembly-line. Someone, either you or someone you hire, has to sit down and thoughtfully solve your problem of crafting and communicating your unique message.

Your goal is not just to advertise, but to advertise effectively. That means that you shouldn’t just turn to anyone with a discounted version of Photoshop to create your ad or website, nor should you ask just anyone with a video camera to make your marketing film or TV commercial. Your advertising and marketing is vital to the success of your business. Quality advertising and marketing is effective. Anything else is a waste of money. Don’t make the mistake of treating it as a commodity.

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The most important aspect of your website

When most people think of a website, or think of putting a website together, they think of how it will look. But unless you are planning on simply showing a bunch of photos you’ve taken, then how your website looks is not your first concern. For any business, small or large, the chief concern of their website should be what it says. Why have a website except to say something worthwhile to your potential customers?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a great looking website. In fact, how your website looks and functions sends a message to your customers. But first and foremost, your website must say something of value to your customers. A graphic designer can make your website look good, but it takes an entirely different skill to craft your message and make it resonate.

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Soda Pop by Mom and Pop

The Trader Joe’s post reminded me of a video I saw a while back featuring Galco’s Soda Pop Stop. The proprietor is a great example of a small business owner who is passionate about what he does and embraces the fact that he operates a small business. The way he does business is very different from his larger competitors. Because of that difference, he stands out.

Here’s the full video:

Obsessives: Soda Pop from CHOW.com on Vimeo.

You may not have a store full of soda pop, instead you might be an accountant or a home builder, or you might run a furniture or jewelry store. Whatever business you’re in, you’ve got to find a message that strikes a chord with your customers and proclaim that message as often as you can.

You haven’t found your message? Here’s a good place to start.

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The small-store vibe of the neighborhood grocer

Fortune has an interesting article about Trader Joe’s, and it has a lot of food for thought for local small businesses. A lot of times small businesses try to make themselves look big. I think this is a mistake. For one thing, it’s deceptive, and if you are willing to mislead people on that point, then they’ll assume you’ll mislead them in other areas as well.

But it is a mistake for another reason as well: There are a lot of consumers who want to do business with small businesses and retailers. If you are pretending to be a large company when you’re not, then you’re sending the wrong message to these potential customers.

Trader Joe’s is fueling its growth by looking small. Here’s a quote from the Fortune article:

[I]t must find a way to maintain its small-store vibe with customers. ‘They see themselves as a national chain of neighborhood specialty grocery stores,’ says Mark Mallinger, a Pepperdine University professor who has done research for the company. ‘It means you want to create an image of mom and pop as you grow.’

If you’re a small business, embrace that fact and let your advertising and marketing speak the truth.

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