(Time to read this article is about 2 minutes)

Whatever you sell, wherever you sell it, your market is over-served and under-differentiated. So, you need to create and effectively communicate compelling value or you’re in big trouble.  Part of that communication strategy often involves advertising.  The problem is that much of the money spent on advertising is wasted.  Most of it is the wrong message, sent to the wrong people, in the wrong media.  So, here are 8 things to know about advertising before you spend a penny.

  1. What is advertising anyway?“ Advertising is creative bragging.” …that’s it!  So, get good…then brag!  Don’t brag and then try to figure out how you’re going to pull it off!  This will end badly.  Do the work to ‘get good’.
    Many companies think they have an advertising problem when, in fact, what they really have is a fundamental value problem.  They aren’t doing anything worth bragging about.  What compelling value are you always delivering that make you the ‘wise choice’ for your target customers?
  1. Who are your target customers? What do they value, what do they fear and functionally, emotionally and financially what are they really trying to do when they buy and use what you sell and when they do business with you?  What do they need or want to know to wisely choose and effectively use the products or services that you sell? 
    When you’re delivering compelling functional, emotional and/or financial value to well understood target customers, creating compelling advertising is easy.  If you don’t know for sure who your target customers are, what life’s really like for them, what media they engage with and trust and what your compelling message will be…you’re not ready to advertise.  Save your money.
  1. Your most powerful and cost-effective advertising is the enthusiastic recommendation of delighted customers, the media and key influencers!   You don’t have to pay for it…but you do have to earn it.
    People love telling others when they find a wonderful product, service, restaurant, hair stylist, financial advisor, etc. It makes them a ‘big shot’ with their friends.  Plant the seed by asking delighted customers to recommend you.  Tell them, “You’ll be a hero…your friends and followers will love you!”   Create a data base of media and key influencers in your field and use it to send tips, exciting news and updates. Be a ‘story’. First you have to be a story…then you have to tell your story. 
  1. Advertising is so expensive that it only makes economic sense when you’re good enough to achieve ‘leverage’.  Leverage occurs when the experience that you actually deliver is so compelling that every new customer that your advertising attracts, enthusiastically recommends you to at least four other people!  If you’re not good enough to achieve ‘leverage’ you can’t afford to advertise! Are you good enough to get ‘leverage’?
  2. Don’t lie! People aren’t stupid.  Much of what is said in ads today is lies, or very close to it. Play it straight.  Build trust…create fans.  ‘If you aren’t building trust, you aren’t building anything!’
  1. Stop making your ads all about price, unless your sustainable marketing strategy is to be the clear low-price leader. And remember, you can only be the lowest price seller if you’re also the lowest cost operator. For most businesses, competing only on price is deadly and destructive. It’s often a sign of laziness, or a bankrupt imagination.
    When customers come to you for price alone, they’ll leave you for a lower price…and there will always be a lower price.  Price is important, but there are so many other value and experience factors.  Do the work to find the right mix of extraordinary service, quality, selection and price, and then advertise in a way that gets you noticed, makes the sale, builds your brand and grows your bottom line.  What could you do to make it NOT all about price in your business?
  1. The internet is your friend. Create a customer database and use it creatively and responsibly to advertise and promote to the people who already know you, trust you and love you.  It’s free, but don’t overdo it.  When I bought a few items from Canada’s leading menswear store a few years ago, they immediately bombarded me with promotional emails twice a week.  So I deleted myself.  They overdid it …and I walked.
    Bonus:  Building and using a large database of loyal customers not only grows your business today, but also makes your business much more valuable when you go to sell it someday.
  1. Create a world-class website and embrace social media.Research shows that 81% of consumers and 94% of B2B buyers do online searches before making a purchase.  So, for many businesses, their website is the single most important part of their total marketing effort.  Here are 4 simple but important tips on how to improve your website.
    Tip #1:   Be the ‘Caring Coach’. Offer lots of free info and ‘coaching’ tips on how to wisely choose and effective use what you sell.  What do people need to know about you and what you sell?  Help them make wise choices.  Does your website deliver that info in a simple and interesting way?  If not, fix it.
    Tip #2:  ‘Up your video’.  Your website should have lots of video clips.  A website without lots of quality video is way out of date.  Most of us have become ‘lazy learners’.  We’d far rather watch a video than read a long article.  Video gets attention and video ‘sells’.   
     Tip #3:  Make sure your website and the info on it are current.  I’ve just visited a client’s website and under ‘Events’ they list two events from 2013, three from early 2014…and nothing since then.  The clear impression is that nothing new and exciting has happened in this business for 5 years.  That’s bad for business. 
    Tip #4:  Check for typos, bad grammar and amateurishly written text.  In my work I see so many websites that are riddled with typos, bad grammar and badly written text that make them look unprofessional.   Everything we do, or don’t do makes an impression.  How we tell our story matters.  If you’re not a whiz at spelling or grammar, hire a local high school English teacher to check out your website.  Writing great copy is an art.  Don’t have it done by amateurs.
    So, there you have it.  Eight things to know and do before you spend a penny on advertising. Are you ready to spend money to promote your business, or do you have some work to do first?  Specifically what needs doing, who will do it and by when…and who will follow up?  The world is run by those who follow up. 

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