7 Steps To Better Advertising

Follow the C-words to make sure you're communicating


By Kim Parrish

I had a small business owner recently tell me that advertising back in the 90's seemed easier. “Everyone had money, and people were beating down the door to buy our products,” she said. “Now it seems like our advertising and branding has become much more critical.” With many small businesses struggling to just to make payroll today, I think we can all see her point. Use these C-words to make a review of your business advertising, and make sure your branding effort is communicating like it should.

1. Think Capture

There is nothing like a first impression. As business becomes more competitive in a downturn, you must make every effort to ensure you are capturing the eye and attracting the attention of your audience. Online, on the shelf, print, tradeshow, transit, whatever—the principle is the same. Take a long hard look at your current advertising and ask yourself; does this approach reach out and rise above the clutter? Pull samples of your competitors and see how yours measures up; if it's not dominating visually, you may be losing your market share before you ever get seen. Let's face it—if you don't capture their attention, everything else is a waste of time.

2. Think Clear

In a better economy with larger budgets, companies can afford to get more risky with advertising. Creatives are encouraged to develop avant-garde approaches and muddy executions that can often lead to confusion on the part of the viewer—marketing teams are more willing to say, “anything goes, as long as we get the logo up there.” But these days, just getting the brand out doesn't cut it anymore; buyers are more educated, more cautious and more selective than ever. Make sure you are being clear with your audience; give them straightforward benefits, with plenty of facts to help them make a decision.

3. Think Credibility

A few weeks ago we outlined several key areas where credibility can suffer regarding a company's image and branding. Certainly, one of the easiest ways to build credibility in the marketplace is a vibrant website. Although most business owners I consult have some type of web presence, I am still surprised how many small and medium sized companies are not really using their websites effectively as a cohesive part of their overall marketing. Old, sleepy websites do nothing to develop brand advocates and communicate a winning message to your customers! Still, we consistently see a failure to develop new, relevant content on a consistent schedule. Many business sites on the web today are 5 years old or more and have no real sense of branding. Read more here about avoiding website stagnation.

4. Think Compelling

Years ago in college, one of my advertising instructors told his class the best way to create a "compelling" ad was to include a photo of an upside-down nude woman holding the product. With over 20 years in the industry, I never went that far, but I have had great success with pets, children and funny faces! The dictionary defines the adjective as; “having a powerful and irresistible effect; requiring acute admiration or attention.” If your sales have continued to drop in this chilly recession, look to new ideas and concepts for making your marketing image more compelling. A truly compelling idea, supported with strong graphic design, well-written copy and good photography can go along way in breaking ice with new buyers. This doesn't mean you need an image of an upside-down nude woman to sell your product; a good advertising team can show you how to break through the clutter with a powerful message that avoids confusion and compels the viewer to look closer.

5. Think Customer

Does your advertising and branding really speak to your customer? I used to work with a good friend and marketing pro (the late Perry Wolfson), who would actually get down and walk on his knees through the aisles of retail toy stores to see exactly how children were viewing the products on the shelves. Look at your branding materials through your customer's eyes and ask yourself, does my advertising still resonate with them like it should? Am I really addressing their needs and their concerns? Businesses of all sizes are scrambling to utilize social media and user groups to get back in touch with their market one customer at a time—and for good reason—many of them have already lost a lot of their buyers to competitors offering new promises and new benefits. Use surveys, research, phone calls, use focus groups if required, but make sure your advertising is making an impact with your audience at their level. Make sure you are centering your effort on your customer.

6. Think Creative

Great creative doesn't just win awards, it gets results. Is something preventing your company from projecting new creative ideas into your market? Marketing directors and brand managers who are getting their budgets slashed may find that current management is too entrenched to be open to new internal ideas. In this situation, you may need to outsource a creative team to help you convince them that new ideas can result in more effective marketing, and help produce a faster ROI. Sometimes hiring a creative consultant is a great way to break down barriers, bypass the politics and get things done. Entrenched management may not always approve, but at least they can't claim you didn't try to help the situation.

7. Think Communicate

A few months ago, I saw a documentary about the history of Nike®. The story revealed how Phil Knight—the former CEO of Nike—originally felt that much of advertising was basically a waste of time. Of course he learned better, and eventually went on record saying, “Now we understand that the most important thing we can do is market the product.” Knight finally understood how advertising and branding are essential for communicating to the market. Of all the C's on the list, this is the “Big C.” As you review your advertising and marketing during this tough time, do you know what you are really communicating to your audience? Use these C's to open new avenues of communication. Don't think advertising, think message!

Kim Parrish is an award-winning creative consultant, his Orlando advertising firm develops cohesive branding, campaigns, website solutions and SEO, print collateral, and package design for a wide spectrum of companies—from small start-up firms to global brands like Wal-Mart® and NBC/Universal®.

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