Monday, August 22, 2011

Advertising's Nasty Four-Letter Word

Back in the good old days when parents actually corrected their children’s behavior, your mother might wash your mouth out with soap if you used certain four-letter words. Today, you should do the same to whomever writes your advertising (even if that’s you) if your ads contain the most offensive four-letter word in advertising, “have.”

It’s scary how often we hear this terrible, nasty word. “We have name brand merchandise.” “We have friendly, knowledgeable personnel.” “We have the latest equipment.” “We have everything from soup to nuts.” You don’t need to look very far to see how prevalent the "have" approach is in retail (and other) advertising. Newspaper ads tell readers what the store has with pictures of items with prices next to them. TV spots show pictures of items with prices superimposed on them and an announcer telling the viewer what they are seeing. Radio commercials do the same without the pictures.

Why is it a bad practice to tell the customer what you have? Because that takes up expensive space and time that could be put to much better use giving the customer a reason to do business with you. Good ads don’t tell the customer what you have. Instead, they answer the key question, “What’s in it for me?” That’s an important distinction to make when every advertising dollar needs to produce maximum results. The lack of worthwhile information in advertising is one of the main reasons people tune it out and why so much advertising doesn’t produce results. When customers stop listening to your advertising, it’s money down the drain.

Learning how to demonstrate product benefits instead of features is one of the most important skills a salesperson can master. The same holds true for good advertising. A benefit is something that satisfies one or more of the customer’s needs. A feature is simply a component of the product. People don’t buy features and products; they buy benefits.

Keep in mind that prices in your ads are nothing more than features of the items you’re selling. And like other features, prices don’t mean much out of context. So the same principle holds true: Don’t just tell the customer how much it costs; tell them what benefit that price delivers. Instead of saying “All gloves are 50% off,” tell the customer to “Buy two for the price of one.” Or, even better, “Protect your hands two times for the price of once.”

There are two exceptions to the “have” rule. The first is when you want to announce something new or exclusive—and even then a benefit should be included. The second exception is in the print or online Yellow Pages. Customers usually use this medium to find specific items, so you do need to tell them you have what they’re looking for. These customers are generally knowledgeable about what they need and want—-they’re just looking for a source. That’s also why it’s a good idea to spread your listings among many headings—-you increase the chance of reaching someone looking for a specific type of product or service.

Communications expert Dorothy Leeds says that every customer listens to their own personal radio station, called WII-FM. That stands for “What’s In It For Me.” Good advertising is like a song that gets played often on that radio station. So stop using that four letter word “have” and start telling the customer what you’re going to do for them. Give them a reason to get in their SUV, drive to your shop, and open their wallet. Tell them how they will benefit from doing business with YOU.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.

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