Tell your readers what to do next

31 Aug

There are times when I look at an ad and it seems to wave goodbye to me right after that. There simply aren’t any calls to action nudging me to buy the product somewhere or to order it online. It’s almost criminal to leave your readers clueless on what to do next.

I’ve seen a fair share of advertisements for small businesses where they try to emulate what the giants are doing — just a logo and a smarty-pants tagline. What these advertisers fail to understand is that the big boys get away with doing something like that because they have built a name for themselves. Very often, these ads without a call to action are usually generic brand ads that aim to remind consumers of their existence. It’s like them saying “Hey, we’re still here, business as usual.” Unfortunately, some small business owners copy the formula and they end up with zero recall value, not to mention an absence of enquiry calls because there wasn’t a number in the first place.

And this seems to be the favourite way of advertising for many new and unknown brands in the market. Sporting a logo and a tagline is cool. But it’s not when you’re a virtual unknown in a sea of competitors.

When you advertise something, that space is yours. Apart from telling readers what your product can do for them, you have to tell them where and how to get it. Should they be the first 100 to respond in order to receive an special-edition gift? Or should they visit your facebook page for exclusive information? Create an interaction between the readers and your brand. The ball is in your court. Guide your readers by the hand and tell them what to do next.

Don’t squander the opportunity in an ad by just showing your logo. You can do that when your brand is big enough.

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It had better be worth it

24 Aug

There’s no denying technology has advanced and some companies are making good use of it to publicise themselves. Customers find it easier to access information they need about products and services so all’s well ends well. Not quite. There are companies that are jumping on the technological bandwagon rather clumsily, adopting new marketing stunts that leave a curious taste in their customers’ mouths.

The take-home message is, if the customer has to go the extra mile to receive a ‘surpise’, it had better be well worth it.
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Tom Fishburne of Marketoonist sums it up beautifully with this cartoon. View the cartoon here:

Special thanks to Tom for sharing his work of art.

Those exclamation marks

18 Aug

When I browse through my mail, I can’t help but notice an excessive number of exclamation marks littered all over. Like confetti after a street party. The common culprits are flyers for warehouse sales that urge me to hurry down soon and cosmetic products that insist I must try one today.

The exclamation mark. What better way to indicate urgency and that irrepressible sense of excitement. Better yet, use three, four or even five of them at the end of every sentence. That ought to knock readers off their feet with a heavy dose of awesomeness. Now read my lips: n…o…no.

Whenever I see a phrase that ends with multiple exclamation marks, I wonder what goes into the process of deciding the quantity used. Oftentimes, I think of the marketing manager instructing the poor writer to add two more, because a single one looks lonely and miserable. Then the director comes along and decrees that three more should be added (four if he’s in a jolly good mood that day). It’s almost as if the sales revenue is directly influenced by the number of exclamation marks. If only.

Exclamation marksLike the word ‘free’, the exclamation mark is used and abused. And If you realise, the two of them are often paired together.

What is so repugnant about the exclamation mark, you ask. I wouldn’t say it’s detestable but when it falls into the hands of people who have no other way to convey excitement than to hit the key repeatedly, it becomes tiresome.

For one, its generous usage in advertising collaterals means that its original significance has been devalued to the level of pure tackiness. Somewhere along the line, marketing executives had such a field day using the exclamation mark as an act of revenge against nitpicking copywriters that the tradition has stuck ever since. Okay, I made that up but who knows?

And it seems that the liberal usage has a mind-numbing backlash on modern readers who have all become immune to its intended effect. Do you squeal and jump in joy when you read a sales pitch that has more exclamation marks than the actual word count? I bet not.

The next time you finish writing a direct mailer or a newsletter for your business, read and decide which key phrase truly deserves an exclamation mark. Or perhaps you don’t even need one. The outburst of ecstasy that appears at well-timed intervals usually comes across as more genuine. Your readers will appreciate that.

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Use white space

15 Aug

I get this incredulous look every time I advise clients to use more white space in their ads. But I can’t blame them. Ads are not free and sometimes outrageously expensive. Anyone in his right sense of mind would probably want to get the most bang for the buck. Use up every inch of space paid for. Feature all 16 functions of the product. Stuff it with 25 lines of disclaimers. You get the idea.

Showing just the product in the centre amidst a sea of white with a simple header and a few lines of introduction takes courage. It’s a leap of faith and I understand why many are hesistant to employ this technique. What if the reader’s curiosity isn’t piqued by a lack of information? What if he wants to see the side and backview of the product? What if…? These are just some of the questions that bother clients who have paid for media coverage and who believe that space should be utilised down to the last square inch.

I’m a fan of white space and I believe if used wisely, it says much more about the product than a page chock-full of information, both useful and useless. There’s a difference between choosing the best features to display and merely stuffing the advertisement like a Christmas turkey. Ads that are jammed with product shots of all imaginable angles and fancy technical information remind me of letters from the past. You see, postage a century ago was expensive. People who wanted to save that extra dime would write diagonally over the original content in a lighter ink. Money saved.

White space can be beautiful. White space need not be scoffed at.

To declutter your ad and use more white space, the first step is to think of the information that can be eliminated. Highlight only those features that differentiate your product, not those that every other product has. Choose the most flattering image, not a compilation of shots from the side, bottom and top. If the reader has any interest, it’s likely he’ll scoot down to the store for a touch-and-feel. Then consider if your ad really needs a ‘snazzy’ background simply because it looks bare. Resist the temptation. A busy background that exists merely to fill up space does more harm to your product than good.

Let your product breathe. Let it speak for itself. The clean, white simplicity draws more attention because there are no other distractions. The eyes go straight to what you’re selling. Set up a proposition and you’ve essentially created a territory where the reader knows how to explore without getting lost or confused.

Revisit some of your past ads and see if they can use white space. Sometimes, less is more.

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Tell a good story

11 Aug

The next time you’re out doing your groceries, observe what makes you reach out for one brand of coffee and not the other. Apart from the obvious difference in aroma, we’re all influenced by the story behind every brand.

CoffeeIf you’re a person with a strong sense of social responsibility, it’s likely you’ll buy the story of fair-trade brands, on how the profits are benefiting harvesters in poorer regions. If you see coffee drinking as a form of art meant to be slowly savoured by the window on a wintry morning, you’d probably react better to brands that position themselves as ‘connoisseurs’ or purveyors of sophistication.

Whatever your caffeine inclination may be, you must have agreed with the proposition of the brand before making a purchase. This is an unspoken contract between you and the brand. The point is, there is no boring product, only a boring proposition.

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling something of little interest. A story can always be created for seemingly insignificant products like paper clips or umbrellas. If the Japanese can popularise the collecting of moss balls in cutsey bottles, there’s no saying why you can’t develop an angle for your product. It’s how you package it. It’s how you bring the prospective customer on a journey of discovery.

Let them run around in your world and get them warmed up to the idea that your brand has something interesting to share. Feed them little nuggets of information. Was it fabricated with materials unique to the region? Make that your angle. Did it undergo multiple rounds of stringent inspection, far more than your rivals? Harp on that.

Anything you left out about your product or service can be picked up by your competitors and used to their advantage. Claim ownership of a story angle before anyone else does. Make it yours, and make it big.

Take a good look at your product. Walk about in your factory. Talk to your workers. You’d be surprised that the most mundane piece of information can distinguish you from your competitors.

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Define your target audience

8 Aug

One of my biggest bugbears at work is when I receive a brief with the word ‘Everyone’ proudly scribbled in the ‘Target Audience’ section. Reality check: not every bloke, missus or kiddo needs your product.

If you fail to sharpen your brand message, you could confuse potential buyers. And when these people are confused, they simply waltz over to the next brand that knows how to treat every individual like, well, an individual.

Why is it so important to define your target audience? Remember that you’re not advertising to a horde of zombies who all have more or less the same needs: tattered clothing. That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? You have to identify which group of people can best relate to what you’re selling. Find out what makes them tick, where they prefer to socialise and how often they trim their toenails. Ignore that last bit. But you get the point.

Once you get the lowdown on their preferences, you’ll no longer fumble in the dark when crafting your brand messages.

Look at it this way, finding a present for your best friend’s birthday is way easier than finding one for a complete stranger. And don’t you just hate it when you need to buy a generic Christmas present for the hi-bye colleague down the corridor?

So, imagine how ‘everyone’ would feel when they are greeted by one of your many, many leaflets that are stuffed into their face by equally disenchanted part-timers.

Defining your target audience gives your brand an industrial-strength searchlight that seeks out compatible matches.

Don’t be afraid to discard the rest who aren’t chummy with the profile of your brand. It’s ok to give up that one firefighter who really doesn’t need your accounting services. It’s ok to abandon grandma Smith down the road who sees no practical use in your construction gear. The bottom line is, you aren’t losing out much (and neither are they).

You can’t please everybody. Resources are better spent on those who are more likely to listen to what you have to say. They are already more receptive to what you’re selling. Make use of this knowledge. Woo them, charm them, convert them.

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