April 20, 2014

Let Off-Line Advertising Pull Its Weight In Difficult Times

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Today, with the advent of the Internet, many business owners overlook the value of off-line advertising. The perception is that direct mail, and advertisements printed in newspapers and magazines, are expensive when compared with the cost of creating a blog, or brochure web site.

Printed media, however, may be used to drive traffic to your web site where you are able to provide more information about your product or service. You may need to do this if you offer lots of products, or an expensive service.

The sorts of products that are wide ranging include: wedding favours, inexpensive jewellery, fishing lures, ladies underwear, or shoes. The list isn’t exhaustive. The web site is an online catalogue with an electronic order form.

Products that cost more include: life-insurance, premium quality jewellery, fishing holidays, escort services, – quality cars, yachts and planes. The web site will provide detailed information via professional copy using words, illustrations, and video. The aim is to obtain a lead and so must include a telephone number so that a prospect can easily speak with someone in the sales department.

Although print advertising may be used in conjunction with your web site it has its own 100 year history, which preceded the Internet. Lessons learned during its history are ignored at your peril even now web sites are commonplace.

My introduction to print advertising came when I returned to my home town after an absence of twenty years. My family had disintegrated. My credit had been extinguished, and I felt that if my life was going to collapse further I would sooner be living somewhere where I had been happy than in Manchester, where I had also been happy, but where everything had gone wrong.

When I left Blandford Forum in 1970 it was a sleepy town consisting of numerous pubs and shops with fading flaky paint. When I returned in the Spring of 1989 it seemed that every square inch of the place was refurbished. Even the street which once led to a slaughterhouse had become an elegant mews with boutique shops and a restaurant. During the next five years long established businesses, and many more newer enterprises, were to collapse and the town would return to its former slumber. In the newly created shopping areas it resembled a ghost town.

There were many reasons for this. One was a recession; another the arrival of a major supermarket located with ample free parking located on the town’s bi-pass. A Uniform Business Rate, which penalised shops located in the Town Centre, reversed the fortunes of several established family businesses that I had known in my childhood. Some went under.

Working part time on a local newspaper, for a nominal salary plus free advertising, I set out to build a private counselling practice. On the magazine I wrote a number of columns, edited some of the storys and importantly I sold advertising space. Here are some of the discoveries I made then that can help your business ride out a recession today.

Marmite advert

1. Successful businesses advertise in more than one publication but use a uniform design that distinguishes their brand.

2. Their copy has a promise that appeals to a specific audience.

3. They have an explicit call to action.

The most successful businesses marketed aggressively and used advertising as a means to solve business challenges. One such business was a Ford dealership and workshop that was owned by a school friend. He retained me to advise on his marketing communications. In those days independent dealerships, such as the one run by my friend, operated at lower margins than the main dealers in larger towns. This meant that independent dealerships had to be more aggressive in their marketing, and do more with less.

Here are some of the ways we not only kept his business afloat but helped it to thrive.

1. We computerised his invoice system and used the addresses of customers to invite them whenever new models were launched. We wrote stories about the launch and provided both copy and pictures to all the publications in which we placed advertisements. They ran these because our copy was newsworthy and the pictures were what were required. This produced two contradictory results. Some papers started to send their own people to launches, whilst others stopped coming because they knew our copy could be relied upon. Either way the profile of the business got out there.

2. We offered a free gift with practically everything. A 5000 mile service might deliver a first aid kit. A Ford Mobile phone a free oil change. In this way people started to look out for what deal we were offering week by week.

3. We started to use customer testimonials in both advertisements, and also in stories submitted to papers.

4. We sponsored events only when we knew this would provide us with a return on our sponsorship because we could promote a specific deal, or service.

A year after I had been retained the Ford garage in the next town stopped trading. The greatest proportion of people living in Wimborne worked in the Bournemouth and Poole conurbations where there was a Ford main dealer who we figured would get most of the servicing business, and potentially new car sales. Nevertheless we decided to take a crack at this market.

I devised a one column ten centimetre advertisement that listed the benefits of having a Ford serviced in Blandford Forum. A special rate was negotiated with the local free magazine for Wimborne Minster, which included the insertion of a story about Crews.

We plagiarised an old John Caples headline that had proven successful for many products, the original was written for a correspondence course teaching people how to play the piano. Our version read:

They Laughed When I Had My Car Serviced In Blandford, But Were Amazed To Discover that Crews:

  • Collected my car from home and provided a free courtesy vehicle.
  • Provided me with a detailed report on my car’s strengths and weaknesses, including a valuation when traded against a new Ford.
  • Valeted the vehicle completely Free of Charge

Crews specialise in Ford Service, and also offer competitive deals on new and used vehicles. Call them today and discover how you too can benefit from switching to Crews for your service. Tel: 0258 452 516.

Collecting customers and providing a courtesy car addressed the major objection for most who lived in Wimborne. Our garage was located in the opposite direction to where they worked.

In addition to this campaign we also obtained the customer list from the dealership that was closing and mailed them with a postcard. This reinforced the benefits listed above and offered a further ten percent discount on production of the card.

If you have read this far you may wonder how my friend stayed in business, let alone grew, during that recession, after all the marketing I describe costs money?

My answer is to ask you that age old question beloved by those who sell investments. “If I could show you a way so that for every pound you spend you will receive one pound fifty, would you be interested?”

Crews continues to provide quality Ford Services in the area around Blandford Forum. The owner is the third generation of a family who showed me great kindness, and hospitality, when I was just a timid lad in primary school. It was a pleasure to be able to repay them for this during the recession of the early 1990s. If you want a new, or quality used, Ford look up Crews-Ford today ;-)

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Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .
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