I have a confession: I am a junk mail junkie. Unlike most sensible people (you, perhaps?) who throw junk mail into the trash, I read everything. Offers for credit cards and insurance, car dealership flyers, coupon mailers, newspaper ads, and long-form sales letters get read from beginning to end. I’ve been doing it for 40 years. My mother would be so ashamed.
It’s not that I have nothing to do and lots of time on my hands. My problem is that I am addicted to advertising. When I started my first business, I couldn’t afford to hire an agency to develop my ads. So, I let the newspaper write my display ads for me. Big mistake. Perhaps The Washington Post had a good ad department, but my hometown newspaper did not. The ads that my local paper created were awful, and I decided that I could do better myself.
That’s when I started analyzing other company’s advertising. After all, banks and car manufacturers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop and test each advertising piece. I could learn from their example. I studied headlines, sub-headings, paragraph headings, body content, offers and calls-to-action. Who was the ad aimed at? How did it get my attention? Did it hold my interest until the end? If not, why not? When I found something that I thought might work for my business, I placed the ad into my files for future reference. I also read all the copywriting books that I could get my hands on.
Antiques dealers and other small business owners can seldom afford to hire an agency to develop their ads. Like I did, they either write the ads themselves or have a friend, relative, employee, student, or ad sales rep write the ads for them. For this reason, small businesses ads are almost always poorly written and ineffective.
Nevertheless, small businesses are still in need of effective advertising. By following a few simple guidelines, antique dealers can produce effective advertising copy that will have a positive effect on their sales.
My seventh-grade art teacher once told me that “before you can accurately draw something you must know what it looks like”. Sound advice. Let’s explore how a good ad reads. I’m not a graphic artist and am not qualified to discuss layout so I’ll leave that subject on the table. My focus here will be how to deliver your message so that your ad will be noticed and read.
Let’s start with an example of a poorly written ad, and then see what we can do to improve upon it. A typical ad for an antiques dealer will use the business name as the headline and the business tag line or motto for the sub-heading. The body copy will consist of a list of services or inventory types. The ad will close with contact information, store address, and hours. Slightly better ads will contain an offer of some sort. I’m sure you’ve seen hundreds of ads that fit this description. Here’s a fictional example:
Always Accepting Quality Consignments
See Us For:
123 Main St. Anytown
The above ad will, over time, build an awareness of Joe’s business. What it won’t do is bring customers into his store right now. Joe’s ad makes the classic advertising mistake: he says what he wants to say, not what his customers want to hear. You see, no one gives a fig about Joe’s business. Directories are full of antique dealers who provide exactly what Joe is advertising. How can Joe attract a reader’s attention, develop interest in his store, build trust, and motivate his readers to act? Moreover, how can he do so in the space of a few sentences?
To develop an effective ad, Joe must first answer a few questions:
Who is his audience?
What’s the best way to reach them? If Joe wants to attract his existing customers, then an email or direct mail campaign will be cheaper and more effective than a newspaper display ad. If he wants to attract new customers, a newspaper ad is better, but he can’t “shotgun” his ad. He needs to focus: what demographic does he wish to attract? What motivates the individuals in the demographic? The psychological truism “motivation affects perception” should be applied here. If Joe wants his ad to attract attention, he has to speak to the motivations of his target group.
What product will Joe offer?
What are the benefits of the product to Joe’s target group? The second most common mistake dealers make in their ads is to list the features of their store or product rather than the benefits. Customers don’t buy features, they buy benefits. There’s an old sales training saw that goes “no one buys an eighth-inch drill bit because they want a drill bit; they buy it because they want an eighth-inch hole”. “Antique Toys” is a feature. “Relive the fun of your childhood” is a benefit related to antique toys. What are his target customer’s emotional triggers?
Customers buy on emotion, not logic. How do they feel when they collect a particular item? What emotional need is filled when someone buys Joe’s featured product?
Does Joe have a testimonial that indicates that he has previously filled a customer’s emotional need for his product? A July 2009 report from eConsultancy states that 90% of online consumers trust recommendations from people they know and 70% of consumers trust the opinions of unknown users. Testimonials build credibility; use them.
What offer can Joe make to motivate a customer to come into his store or visit his website?
An ad that does not contain an offer is a waste of money. Effective offers will be time-sensitive and offer some value to the targeted group. Offers don’t always have to be based on lower prices; anything of value can be offered. The offer doesn’t have to be one of Joe’s products, either; it can be tickets to a ball game or entry into a drawing. One effective offer is to cross-promote with another related business, like a furniture store or such. The point is for Joe to give his customers a reason to come into his store now.
In the next edition of Behind the Gavel, we’ll apply the above guidelines to our sample ad, and see what we come up with. Bookmark this article so you can reference this week’s column.
In the meantime, take a few minutes out of your day and have a look at the junk mail and ads that come your way. You never know when you’ll find something that you can use.
Previously published in Antique Trader Magazine