12 Deadly Communication Sins of Advertising
by JoJo Tabares
You don't have to be a marketing genius to be able to spot a bad ad. Every consumer can pick them out; they are the ones that annoy us. They interrupt our day and waste our time. So why should we even have a discussion about bad ads? Because identifying a bad ad is what our customers do. We on the other hand are often oblivious to the miscommunication a bad ad can send to our customers!
As small business owners, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what a good ad is. Finding the best possible combination of words, concepts and persuasion for each audience/venue is a daunting task and I don't even pretend to be a marketing expert. However, as a communication expert, I know well the consequences of annoying a customer with salesy hype at the most inopportune time. By following some simple rules you can avoid making some of the most common business communication errors.
Error #1. Being an Uninvited Guest
Generally an ad, sales pitch or sales call is an unwelcome interruption for our customers. Even if they sign up for a double opt in eNewsletter, they are interrupted by their daily email to find our communication awaiting their immediate attention. We small business owners need to sensitive to that. If we are to persuade this potential customer to take a look at our wares, we must communicate that what we have to offer is worth the interruption. Our first mistake is merely assuming that all of our customers are eager to see or hear what we have to say. When we understand that we are merely an unwelcome interruption to their day, we can begin to tailor our message accordingly. First we need to capture their attention in the headline. This headline must be tailored to the specific group of potential customers to whom you are speaking. Make sure that it addresses their needs! In an effort to sell more widgets, we small business owners tend to want to appeal to a wide range of customers. Think about how you like to be addressed. Do you like to be spoken to as if you are one of the masses? Or do you appreciate it when someone takes the time to find out what you need? We will discuss the body of the ad later on.
Another common error of being uninvited is to post an ad on an email group like Yahoo inappropriately. Many groups do not allow ads at all. Some groups allow ads only on specific days. To post an ad on a non ad day is almost an unforgivable sin. Spam is a big issue for people these days. It is vital to get to know your groups before you begin posting in order to avoid making a very bad first impression. Most of these ads don't get read at all. These ads are quickly deleted and sometimes members will email the moderators asking that *justice be done*. :D Be careful not to leave a bad taste in your customer's mouth or you will not eat of the fruit of success. Bad press travels ten times faster than good news and about a hundred times as often!
Along these same lines is the dreaded sales follow-up phone call during the dinner hour. If you call your customer on the phone, always make sure to call at a convenient hour. Don't call during dinner! Yes, you will be sure to catch her in, but an old sales proverb goes like this: Hungry customer with dinner waiting is not in the market for whatever it is you sell!
Error #2. Hype it Up
Today's consumer is very savvy! People can spot hype a mile away-unless it is their own! Too much glitz and glam can make your company, product or service sound too good to be true. Just as I began writing this article, I got a phone call from a salesman who told me that I had been chosen to win a free computer, $1000 shopping spree to some website I never heard of, a cell phone and a $500 something or other! lol I didn't listen that closely as I replied "Yeah, sure!". Nobody gets something for nothing and your customer's mind will not let go of the feeling that you are going to take them for everything they've got. So ...maybe you don't call your customers and offer them a free $1000 worth of your products, but have you ever sent out an ad that said made outlandish sounding claims? "Make $2000 your very first month!", "You will never need another ...." While these claims may be true and certainly do catch your customer's attention, they do not lend credibility to your company and are dismissed immediately if not sooner.
Error #3. Feigning Ignorance
Have you ever posted something on one of your business email groups knowing that it probably isn't allowed but you didn't want to take the time to ask? When caught, we usually say something like..."Oh! I am so sorry. I didn't realize that wasn't allowed!". Now sometimes we truly had no idea that a certain rule exists, but many times we secretly hope we will get away with it and rely on the kindness of people to forgive our little sin. Be careful! I have seen people do this once too often and it can backfire in a big way. The net is a surprisingly small world. Many of your group members are also on other groups with you. Once they get to know you, you have a reputation. It's wonderful to have a reputation for being honest, trustworthy, kind, uplifting... But a reputation for posting "Ooops! I didn't know..." emails will catch up with you.
Error #4. Liar, Liar Pants on Fire!
I hope nobody reading this article is making a practice of lying to their customers, but I have seen spam come through with subject lines like..."Knew you would appreciate this site!" and "How are you?". Anyone who knows me knows that I most certainly wouldn't appreciate a website that sells pornography so when I open an email to find this website link, I am a little miffed to say the least! This is an extreme example, but I have also seen subject lines that have nothing what-so-ever to do with what they are selling. Most people find it offensive to open an email entitled..."re: your inquiry" only to find an ad for something that they had never *inquired* about. If you do send out emails, for whatever reason, keep your subject lines pertinent to your message.
Error #5. Loooooooooong Sales Copy
There is a controversy over this among the marketing gurus out there, but in my humble opinion, long sales copy only sells to men and then only when they are deeply interested in that subject. If you market to women, keep it brief! Most women are busy wearing many hats: wife, mother, housekeeper, baby sitter, career woman... Most of the women I survey say that they don't have the time to read long hype-y sales copy that doesn't reveal what they are selling until the very end. Most women like short and sweet ads that grab their attention and give them a way to find more information when they have the time to do so.
Error #6. Grammar and *Speling*
The written word has always required proper grammar, spelling and punctuation, but it recent years, email has become an accepted form of communication with our customers. Email is generally a more informal communication prone to incomplete sentences, abbreviations and typos. These are all generally accepted as appropriate among friends and co workers, not, however, for customers! Misspellings, typos and bad grammar all tell our customers that we don't take the time to do things properly. Done enough it can make a message almost unintelligible! One of the most basic mistakes I see is not creating paragraphs. Nobody wants to read one long run-on sentence. When the eye sees a two page sentence, it sends a message to the fingers to hit that happy delete button. Skip lines between thoughts to make it easier for your customers to follow you. You don't even need to indent anymore. It is perfectly acceptable these days.
Error #7. Trite Right
Nothing says blah like "Great!, Fantastic!, Superb!, Marvelous! and FREE!" These words are so overused that they no longer hold any meaning for people. Use unique words when you describe your products/services. Marvelous can mean almost anything! These are typical sales words. They scream "I WANT TO SELL YOU SOMETHING!". Don't use them.
Error #8. Shouting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Speaking of screaming, don't use all caps and don't use a barrage of exclamation marks. Marketing copy with a large quantity of words in all caps (or a sea of exclamation points!!!) gives the impression that you are an amateur. Nobody wants to pay an amateur. They want a professional.
Error #9. Not So Covert Mass Mailers
Convenience is not the mother of success. Sending out the same ad to all of your 35 yahoo groups may be easy, but it doesn't inspire confidence in your company and here's why. You may forget to make sure that each one of your 35 groups allows ads on that day. We already talked about the consequences of that, but if they see that you have blanketed all of you groups with this *spam*, members are more likely to take offense at being one of the 'little people'. You will likely convey that you are there just for Ad Day and not as a contributing member of the group. If you create a group in your email client for mass mailing your ad to all of these groups, the return address on the email (Acme Mailing List vs Yahoo ABC Group), these members may suspect that you have harvested their email addresses for mass mailing purposes and could report you for violating spam laws. See how long your small business lasts then! Your customers want to be treated as special. Tailoring your ad or marketing message to a specific group can make all the difference in your success!
Error #10. Have Some Wine with That Cheese...
Be careful to look over your marketing message for anything that might seem unprofessional for your industry before it is sent out. Have you ever looked at some of those infomercials and cable TV commercials? Some of them make my daughter cringe. You may be a small business with a small budget, but you don't want to give the impression that you are a cheesy, cheap company.
Error #11. Pushy Post Script
Once you have made your point, back off buster! It is one thing to bring home a point; it is quite another pushy matter to pound your customer over the head with it. You goal should be to present the information so that the intelligent thing for your customer to do next is to call or visit your site to get more information. Long sales copy with different fonts, colors, sizes and six P.S.'s are an insult to their intelligence. If you can't make them interested enough to want more information in five pages of ad, you won't succeed by adding a P.P.P.P.P.S.
Error #12. What in the world IS this?
Another area of controversy is the website or sales letter/call that gives a long involved presentation before it ever gets to the point of telling you why you are listening. Many of us will not stand still long enough to read a book unless we believe it will be worth our time. If you can't tell me who you are and why I should be interested, I may think you are hiding something or don't have a case. Don't waste my time.
Additionally, email ads with no signature are likely to be filed in the eRound file. Surprisingly, I see a good number of email group ads come through on Ad Day with no company name, no web address, no signature of any kind. You should program your signature line in your email client (e.g.: Outlook) to appear on all of your communication to your groups, but especially on your ads. Not only can't they order if they can't find you, but they won't remember you when they are looking for that item. More importantly, they won't get the impression that your company has staying power enough to want to find out what you left off.
Remember, make your communication easy to follow and tailor it to the individual as much as you can for best results.
JoJo Tabares is a speaker, the author of several published articles on communication skills, the resident communication expert at Homeschool Talk Radio and the author of the Say What You Mean series of Christian and humor based communication studies including Say What You Mean When You're in Business. For more information on JoJo or the Say What You Mean series, please visit http://www.ArtofEloquence.comor call 1-866-4SPEECH.