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Most ads just ‘shout’ at prospects. Here’s how to ensure that yours ads don’t get lost in all the noise.
by Ben Glass, Fairfax, Virginia
Earl Nightingale, considered one of the world’s foremost experts on what makes people successful, had some good advice for entrepreneurs who want to market their businesses. He said that if you want to learn a new skill in business, and you have no mentor or guide you can trust, the best approach is to figure out what everyone else is doing and then do the opposite. The majority is, at best, average. So it is with marketing in most industries.
Many entrepreneurs struggle with how to market their goods and services. The result is a follow-the-pack mentality. Stop reading this article right now and go and pick up the Yellow Pages directory for your area. Look at the ads of companies who do what you do. What do you see?
Are there any compelling messages that would convince you to call any particular company first? If the reader looking through the Yellow Pages knew no one in your business, could she pick the most qualified one based simply on the Yellow Pages ads? Probably not.
Most advertising does little more than to try to “shout” louder than the rest. In advertisements for personal injury firms, the messages–shouted in big print, over multiple pages, and in color–are all basically the same:
If you need a [fill in the blank], call us!
We are fast!
We will [do whatever it is] right!
We have been in business for 50 years!
Not very helpful, are they?
Think you can fix this problem with graphics? Not likely. Who cares what your picture looks like, or your building, or your “mascot”?
Response to your advertising will improve when you improve your advertising. Get out of the “I can outspend you” battle and focus instead on what you want your marketing to achieve and how you can make it stand out from everyone else’s.
To bring you a steady stream of new clients or customers with the types of business you want to handle, your marketing must achieve six specific goals. Although I’ll focus on Yellow Pages ads, the goals are the same for TV, radio, and Internet marketing.
Attract attention. Depending on where you practice, the Yellow Pages directory in your community could include several dozen pages of ads in your line of work. To attract prospective clients’ attention, you must have a different message.
Motivate people to contact you. You must give prospective customers a reason to reach out to you. What’s yours? (Don’t say a free consultation or free estimate, because that’s what everyone else is doing.)
Stop their search until you have a chance to communicate with them. Give callers a good reason to stop looking elsewhere once they have contacted you.
Prove that you are the right choice. Your response to prospective customers’ contact has to be to give them overwhelming proof, in a credible way, that you are the best company for them.
Create a sense of urgency. Let them know that the demand for your services exceeds the supply.
Filter out potential customers or clients that do not meet your selection criteria. The information materials you provide to prospective customers must help weed out (with little or no staff time) the kind of business that you do not want to handle.
Let’s talk about pizza.
When a man named Tom Monaghan started his little pizza business, he realized he was not the only one selling everyone’s favorite fast food. He quickly figured out that, in marketing pizza, there are a limited number of things you can talk about: It either tastes better, is larger, is fresher, or is cheaper. That’s how everyone else marketed pizza. To compete for attention on any of these sales pitches, he could only shout louder.
The problem with this approach to marketing is that there is always someone who comes along and shouts louder than you do. There is always someone who sells more cheaply or advertises more often. Competing on those grounds is for the foolhardy.
Monaghan attracted attention by changing the pizza-advertising game. He identified a void. Where was the void in pizza?
No other pizza company could get a fresh, hot pizza delivered to the buyer’s house quickly enough that it was still fresh and hot–and in a box that wasn’t crushed into the cheese. Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s, didn’t market the pizza. He marketed the delivery of the pizza. Remember “Fresh, Hot Pizza Delivered in 30 Minutes or Less, Guaranteed”?
What does this have to do with advertising your services? You can find the void–then fill it.
Study the Yellow Pages (or even watch ads on TV for a few days). Don’t most of the ads look exactly alike? How can you catch prospective customers’ attention? Where’s the void?
Consider this: What if you bought space but didn’t promote your business or yourself at all? Wouldn’t that look different? How would you do that?
One way is to market access to information that would be useful before a person hires one of your competitors. It’s a safe bet that few — if any – businesses in your market area devote their advertising exclusively to marketing not their goods or services, but information.
As your first marketing step, attract attention by offering useful information that would be helpful to someone who is looking for a business such as yours. For example, if you provide mortgages to prospective homeowners, the information could be about the process of qualifying for a loan. If you clean carpets, the information could be about what the homeowner could do to keep their carpet in good shape between professional cleanings. The point is, don’t make your advertising about you. When you change your marketing so that it provides something of interest and value to prospective customers, you will stand out from the crowd.
Look again at the ads in your local Yellow Pages directory. Except perhaps for a few businesses with narrow specialties, I’ll bet that no ad states a compelling reason for a person to call one business over another.
Make information your motivator. You might offer a free report or booklet. In addition to being an information marketer, I am a lawyer, representing clients in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Instead of talking about me or my firm, my Yellow Pages ad offers, free of charge, booklets I have published, including these titles:
Five Deadly Sins to Avoid in Your Virginia Accident Case
14 Ways to Guarantee That Your Long-term Disability Claim Will Be Denied (and You Lose in Court)
Why Most Medical Malpractice Victims Never Recover a Dime
You might also develop “toolkits” providing information that would help people with their problem, even if they don’t choose you.
I also recently published a book for consumers entitled The Truth About Lawyer Advertising. Of course, anyone in any business could write such a book about the advertising in their industry. This book is so popular, I cannot keep it in stock, which means that I am providing useful information that consumers are hungry for. The book’s provocative title motivates people to call. When they read the book they learn the “truth” that a decision as to which lawyer to hire cannot be made on the basis of advertising and sets out a five-step plan for “finding the right lawyer for your case.” The book also has real life examples of lawyers who were disciplined for deceptive advertising (each state has rules governing what lawyer advertising can and cannot say) and show the consumer what questions they must ask to avoid becoming an “advertising victim.” I am the only one, from among over 70 pages of lawyer advertising in the local phone book, who is advertising not our services, per se, but books and free reports. Regardless of what business you are in, the lesson is the same: The more informed the consumer is, the better chance he or she will have to make the right decision as to who to hire.
Stop the search
With this type of advertising, potential customers trolling the Yellow Pages in search of goods and services such as yours call not for an appointment, but to request one or more of your booklets. While they are waiting to receive your booklets in the mail — so they can read them in the comfort of their own homes without feeling pressure to use your company — try to stop them from continuing their search. Promise that if they take the time to review the materials we send them, they will learn valuable information. A personal injury lawyer could promise to show them:
what document they should never sign for an insurance company
what big mistakes they can make in the first few days of pursuing a claim
why a respected local judge called a chiropractor a “hired gun”
how to find a board-certified attorney
why the “standard” one-third fee may not be standard at all
Providing such honest, practical information usually convinces prospects to suspend their search until they have had a chance to read the important material you send them.
Prove that you are the right choice
When someone has initiated contact with you, you are at a tremendous advantage over every other competitor. Consumers are inundated with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of marketing messages from all sources every day, and people simply ignore most of them. But your message gets through, because the prospective clients who contact you have “raised their hands” to specifically ask for it.
Now you can make your case that you are the right company to give them what they want. You do this by doing what lawyers do in court: You pile on the evidence.
While space and time limitations restrict the message you can deliver in Yellow Pages or TV ads, there are virtually no restrictions–other than being honest and truthful–on what you can include in a package that you send to a consumer who has contacted you.
“Proof” that your company is the right choice for prospective clients, patients or customers includes your books and reports, testimonials from former clients, patients or customers (used with their permission), and newspaper articles and reports about business you have handled. If they choose you, you want them to be able to prove to their family and friends that they made the right decision.
Create a sense of urgency
People want what they cannot have. For example, would you rather be seen as the dentist who needs to chase after patients, or the one who is booked solid for a month? Even the newest dentist can honestly state that he or she can accept only a limited number of patients, and that those patients’ needs must meet certain criteria. The “urgency” that is created is that if they want you, they need to make a decision now because there is no guarantee that you will have the time to accept them as a patient later.
For someone selling services, being selective can be difficult, particularly if you want to take on more patients or customers to build your business. However, when you are considering taking on a prospect as a customer whose needs do not fit what you want your business to be, it’s often wiser to devote your time to business-management work rather than doing something beyond your expertise or interest because you “need the business.” Your time is better spent, for example, studying marketing; devising and testing new ways to get people to make an initial decision to respond to your advertising, and working on the business you already have. These are better choices than taking on business that will drain your financial, emotional, and physical resources—even if you have time you could devote to it.
Office-management and business-building tasks are legitimate and important to your success, and if you decide that doing this work would be more productive than accepting a particular piece of work, you can honestly decline the business due to your current workload. Doing so allows you time to work on these other priorities and sends the message to prospective clients, patients or customers that you are available to only deliver those services that meet your rigorous selection criteria. Think about this: people are attracted to stores and events that have long lines coming out the door. Long lines mean others are demanding the product or service. You want your prospects to feel that if they don’t act now, they may not be able to act later.
Build in a filter
How many times have you sat in your office after having invited someone in for a free consultation, only to learn in the first five minutes of your conversation that the person’s business does not fit your criteria? Then, you can’t find a graceful way to end a conversation that is clearly a waste of everyone’s time.
You can eliminate these unproductive meetings by being honest and direct in your information books and materials you sent to prospects. Tell prospects exactly what services you do and DO NOT provide. Say, for example, “We only clean carpets in homes with three or more carpeted rooms,” or “We only serve the Greater Metro area.”
How can turning away business help your business? Let them know you can help them in a different, yet important, way. Invite those whose needs fall outside your criteria to call anyway, because you know just the right business(es) down the street who can fill their needs. It’s smart management — and the right thing to do — to decline business that you don’t have the time, motivation, or expertise to do well and, when you have declined turned down their business in this way, they will respect your honesty and many will refer you clients, patients and customers with the type of business you want in the future.
Marketing does not have to be “loud” to be effective. By meeting a consumer’s need for information, you not only differentiate yourself from the crowd in a way that attracts attention and is remembered, but you also perform a public service.
As your first marketing step, attract attention by offering useful information about the type of business you are in. Don’t make your advertising about you.
Even the entrepreneur with a new business can honestly state that he or she can accept only a limited number of clients, patients or customers, and that they must meet certain criteria.
About Ben Glass
Ben Glass is an information marketer and a practicing plaintiff’s personal injury and medical malpractice attorney in Fairfax, Virginia. He is the author of The Ultimate Personal Injury and Practice Building Toolkit. Visit www.GreatLegalMarketing.com to learn more about Ben’s information marketing business. You can reach Ben at ben@GreatLegalMarketing.com or by fax at 703-783-0686.
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