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Nine things about advertising

 11 January 2021     Donald Cooper 

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 much of the money spent on advertising is wasted. Most of it is the wrong message, or a weak message, sent to the wrong people. So, here are nine things to know about advertising before you spend a penny.

One: 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. So, before you spend a penny on advertising of any kind, do the work to be the ‘wise choice’ for your target customers.

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 clear and compelling value are you always delivering that makes you the ‘wise choice’ for your target customers? What are you ‘famous’ for? Famous is good!

Two: Who are your target customers? How well do you understand them? What do they value and what do they fear? Functionally, emotionally and financially what are they really trying to do when they do business with you and when they use what you sell? What do they want or need to know to wisely choose and effectively use the products or services 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 who your target customers are, what life’s really like for them, what media they engage with and trust, and what your compelling value message will be, you’re not ready to advertise. Save your money.

Three: 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, lawyer, 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’ and then tell your story. “There’s no point being the best if you’re also the best kept secret!”

Four: Advertising is so expensive it only makes economic sense when you’re good enough to achieve ‘leverage’. Leverage occurs when the experience you deliver is so compelling 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!

Five: 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. “You can’t build a business on lies and broken promises!”

Six: 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. People have ‘four currencies’ in their lives. A currency is anything of value to people that they don’t have enough of.  The ‘four currencies’ in your customers lives are money, time, feeling safe (physically and emotionally) and feeling special. When you fully understand the power of the ‘four currencies’ there are hundreds of ways to create, advertise and promote compelling value.

Do the work to find the right mix of extraordinary service, quality, selection, convenience, joy, kindness and price. 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?

Seven: The internet is your friend. It’s the most cost-effective, targeted and efficient advertising and marketing vehicle ever created. Create a world-class web site 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 web site is the single most important part of their total marketing and advertising program.  Here are six important tips on how to improve your web site.

Tip #1: Be clear about your compelling and differentiating value and your brand personality before you create or recreate your web site. Your web designer is most likely not an advertising or marketing genius.  They’re graphic designers and many of them aren’t even very good at that.  And, by-the-way, your 21-year-old niece or nephew is not likely a top-notch web site designer, even though they’d love to give it a try!  Hire pros with a track record!

Check out the web sites of some the best companies in the world in your industry. Do the homework. Know what excellent looks like. Don’t copy them but be inspired by them.

Tip #2: Be the ‘Caring Coach’. Offer lots of free info and ‘coaching’ tips on how to wisely choose and effectively use what you sell. What do people need to know about you and what you sell? Help them make wise choices. Does your web site deliver that info in a simple and interesting way?  If not, fix it.

Tip #3: ‘Up your video’. Your web site should have lots of video clips. A web site without lots of quality video is way out of date. Most of us have become ‘lazy learners’. We’d rather watch a video than read a long article. Video gets attention and video sells.

Tip #4: Make sure your web site and the info on it are current. I’ve just visited a client’s web site 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 six years. That’s bad for business.

Tip #5: Check for typos, bad grammar and amateurishly written text. In my work I see so many web sites 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 web site. Writing great copy is an art. Don’t have it done by amateurs.

Tip #6:  SEO (Search Engine Optimization). If you’re not near the top of the screen (referred to as being ‘above the fold’), very few people will find you. SEO is important and it’s a science.  Hire a pro.

Eight: Embrace social media. It’s basically word-of-mouth, customer relationship building and reputation management on steroids! If you’re not an expert on social media, hire a part-time expert. This is far too important to leave to amateurs.

How many Google Stars do you have? Fewer than four out of five is dangerous and can kill your business. How many Google comments do you have, what do they say and how recent are they? This all matters a lot. Your regular advertising (what you say about yourself) only works if it’s congruent with what others are saying about you through word-of-mouth and on social media.

Nine: Create three databases and then use them effectively.

A customer database to communicate creatively, helpfully and responsibly with the people who already know you, trust you and love you. Start a helpful, caring conversation. It’s practically 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 e-mails three times a week. So, I deleted myself.  They overdid it and I walked.

Building and effectively 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.

A database of prospective customers. This particularly applies to companies that sell B2B. What info and value can you send prospective customers that will convince them to switch to you? Make sure you have the correct contact info of the actual decision-maker.

A database of print and broadcast media and key influencers. If you sell B2B, include trade magazines to this list. Creating this third database is a great project for a business school intern.

So, there you have it. Nine things to know and do before you spend a penny on advertising. Are you ready to spend money to effectively promote and grow 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.

That’s it for this week. Stay safe. Live brilliantly and do at least three important or kind things each day!

Stearns & Foster
This HGO article was written by:
Donald Cooper
Donald Cooper

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now, as a business speaker and coach he helps business owners and managers throughout the world to rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability.

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