When you think about it, marketing has an increasingly difficult task -- to cut through the clutter of 20,000 ad messages a week and plant your message into the brains of busy, lazy, and distracted buyers with short attention spans. That's not all. These short attention spans are being divided among an increasing number of media channels and choices. What's a marketer to do?
Realize most of your marketing is not good enough
A first step in cutting through the clutter is to realize there is a problem. According to Media Post's Center for Media Research,
"Americans Are Fed Up With Bad Ads (with) 87% of American adults 18 and over are putting their foot down on the number of irrelevant ads they are willing to see before they ignore a company completely."
This latest data is not a vote of confidence for ad performance.
Measuring ad performance is far too rare
In his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy (the adman that many claim is the model for the Don Draper character in Mad Men) quoted Stanley Resor, the head of J. Walter Thompson for 45 years as saying,
"Every year we spend hundreds of millions of dollars of our clients' money. At the end of it, what do we know? Nothing."
Not much has changed since then. Most marketing content is void of mechanisms for measuring performance. Ogilvy continues...
"Just look at any ad in a magazine or commercial on TV. Few, if any, provide a way to measure the effectiveness of the communication. As an ad agency executive told me, "Our focus is on selling clients to hire and retain us -- not on selling their products."
Everyone has been talking about ad metrics for eons, but the direct and digital marketers seem to be the only ones that are incorporating performance metrics in any meaningful and comprehensive way, and many of them are still inadequate. How can ads be improved if advertisers do not even bother to measure if they work or not?
Creating more effective content
During the Golden Age of advertising, there were a good number of people in the marketing business that consistently created effective ads. Some of them had an innate understanding of the triggers that sell people, such as Shirley Polykoff and Bill Bernbach. Others, such as David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves and John Caples, developed a methodology for measuring and cataloging what worked and what didn't. This methodology involved the following steps.
- Target better. You always start with identifying the target audience that is most likely to buy your products. Find out what they want that they are not getting from competitors. Also, find out what will get them to buy yours over others and what they consider uniquely important about your products.
- Focus on benefits. Buyers pay particular attention to benefits that are important to them. Too many ads present features without benefits. Ads that sell more effectively focus on benefits.
- Achieve uniqueness. Once your audience tells you what is unique and important about your products, focus on these unique benefits in the headline of your communications. Rosser Reeves called this the Unique Selling Proposition.
- Position as news. If your product is new or newly improved, you should use a "news word" in the headline. News words or phrases include the following: introducing, new, for the first time, never before, suddenly, now, new and improved, and recently discovered. According to the data, positioning your products as "news" will result in a double-digit lift in attention and retention (≥10 percent).
- Make body copy longer. I know what you are thinking. This is inconsistent with the shorter attention spans discussed above. Actually, there is a lot of data that longer copy sells better than shorter copy irrespective of the attention spans of the media consumers.
- Use experts instead of celebrities and sex. Many intuitively believe that using sex and celebrities in ads will sell your product. Celebrities are effective at selling products when they are considered expert users of the products. Similarly, sex sells only when you are selling products related to sex.
- Measure ad effectiveness. Code all communications so that leads and sales can be traced to the advertising that generated them. Manufacturers will say that this is impossible to do if you sell your products through distribution channels. It may be harder than trivial, but it is certainly not impossible. I know. I, and many of my clients, have done it, and it works. You will not get a 100 percent sample, but you don't need that. All you need is a statistically significant sample.
Selecting the right media
After you create effective content, you are not out of the woods. You have to select the media that your target audience frequents. If you don't, you are wasting your time and money because your message will not reach your audience. Getting back to the woods, there's the old expression, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?" Nope, unless your audience is comprised of forensic scientists, they are unlikely to receive your message.
Moving Buying Window
With the right content and media, you have to select the right timing and frequency to be sure to reach your audience when (1) they are paying attention and (2) their buying window is open. That is, one's buying window is open when they need or want what you are selling. If you are renting apartments or selling burgers, those that just ate and rented apartments will not be paying attention. If your content is really good, you can pop open a buying window that is closed. Most of the time, you need to time and repeat your content to be make sure it penetrates the buying window when it is open.
Once you create better content that cuts through the clutter and plants your "Unique Selling Proposition" in the minds of buyers, there is still another obstacle. You have to convince your bosses and clients that your content will work. This is where you need irrefutable data to sell them on why they should approve what you recommend. Too many marketers learn this too late in the game. When they do, they discover that fifty percent of their job is developing the right strategies to optimize content, media, timing, and cost. The other fifty percent involves selling those that are paying for the ads that it is the right strategy. This is why step seven in the section above is critically important. It is perhaps the most effective way to continually improve ad performance and prove what works and what doesn't.
I hope the above suggestions help you to improve the effectiveness of your marketing. It has worked for clients, students, and me. Best of luck, and let me know how it works for you.