Truth in Advertising, or Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus!

Truth in advertising can be as oxymoronic a phrase as jumbo shrimp. After all, we are constantly bombarded with outlandish claims on late night infomercials or other campaigns the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue can dream up. It is certainly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff of over the top testimonials and statements that may have no basis in reality.

On the other hand, investigating what are truisms (vs. truths) in creating compelling advertising copy, we came up with three that generally characterize effective ads. The copy must Attract, Engage and Change.

Let’s take a look at these individually.

In creating copy, the message must be compelling to attract your audience. And speaking of audience, do you know who your target market is? If you don’t, or if ‘everyone’ is the answer, you may want to spend some time analyzing your base and creating messages that are specific to your demographic positioning. Consider everything about the demographics of your target market, including gender, age, race, socioeconomic status, geography, etc. in order to define the message to attract that targeted customer.

Your message not only needs to attract and be noticed but to be compelling enough to drive your audience to take action. We often hear the phrase “Call to Action” with regard to advertising copy and that is what you want your audience to do, whether it is buy, vote or select/support. By taking action on your message and being engaged, your audience demonstrates that they get the features and benefits of your product or service. They are also voting with their wallet that you have differentiated your offering from the competition in such a way as to drive the action.

Change is the result of attraction and engagement. It is achieving the desired outcome of your message. Another aspect of change is the impact on your competitors. Do they shift their message to be more closely aligned in copy or style to yours?

Another, secondary truism of advertising is frequency and consistency. These aspects are critical across the board when mounting a successful advertising campaign, but they become even more so when you leverage the social media outlets as opposed to the more traditional forms of a media campaign.

Now that you have some guidelines on the techniques of crafting an effective message, how do you get the message out without bankrupting your marketing and advertising budget? Here are some low or no cost methods for getting your message out.

Become the expert in your field
Research your local paper, community magazines, trade journals or professional organizations to see if you can submit articles related to your business or industry. Choose a topic that reflects your expertise on the subject and make sure your business is mentioned. Become a guest blogger or contribute to newsletter articles. Create a portfolio of your articles to share with clients and prospects to demonstrate your expertise.
Prominently display links to the articles on your website or repurpose the content on your blog.

Offer to speak on relevant topics
Meeting planners are always looking for presenters and workshop leaders for conferences. Research contact names in the Directory of Meeting Planners or start with your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club. If, like most people, you dread the thought of public speaking, join your local Toastmasters club or similar organization; this is also a great way to meet potential customers. When you do get the opportunity to make a presentation, be sure to collect business cards for a drawing to win a book or other prize related to your business.

Teach an adult education course related to your business
An excellent way to develop credentials and to have potential customers see you as an expert is to teach a course. Start by contacting your local community college or other organization that may offer adult education courses. This works especially well for service-oriented businesses such as financial planning, healthcare or tax preparation. Don’t have enough material to justify a course but enough for a workshop or seminar? Offer free or inexpensive workshops and seminars at libraries, restaurant event rooms or even a friend’s office.

Engage your current base as an extension of your sales force
One of the best ways to get new customers is to enlist the help of your current ones. Offer a tangible reward of some kind for any lead that turns into new business. If you publish a catalogue, include a card where customers can provide the name and address of someone else who might want to receive one. When you get a new customer from a referral, be sure to send the source a personalized thank you note along with their reward.

Make the most of low cost media
Use social media outlets, electronic newsletters, and email as low cost distribution channels to attract and engage your clients and prospects. Make sure that your content is professionally rendered and includes a good mix of text and images. When posting to social media, post 10 -12 tips or items of interest for every one sales message. This may seem counterintuitive; after all, you are advertising to sell, right? Yes and no. Your ultimate goal is to convert a customer, but you will have better success with demonstrating to them that you are willing to share your expertise than by being in their face.

Leverage (free) public relations outlets
There are a plethora of free sites for posting press releases, so take advantage of those when you have something of consequence to announce about your business, perhaps a milestone or major event. When you are out networking, get to know the local media who cover your industry and let them know that you would be available if they need to interview someone on a topic on which you are well-versed.

Give to get
Consider sponsoring an event, donating free service or materials for a cause, or volunteering. Become known as someone who is willing to help out and you will be surprised at the rewards that return to you. Leverage the media contacts that you have and publicize the event through your contacts.

The Buddy system
Look at your circle of referral partners or general acquaintances and see if they offer complimentary products or services. Ask them to share a table at a trade show, sponsor a Chamber event or jointly host a giveaway at a neighborhood expo. See if you can team up to offer an outstanding value (coupon/rebate) and share the printing costs. I saw this very effectively used recently between a plumber and a heating/cooling contractor; they offered a joint incentive to be used for either or both of their services, leveraged their combined contact lists to broaden the distribution and increased the volume of the print output to lower their per unit cost.

While truth in advertising may be oxymoronic, use these truisms to effectively craft your message and deliver it through these low or no cost channels. And when someone poses a question such as the one young Virginian Hanlon wrote in that storied editorial to THE SUN in 1897, ‘Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?’ You can answer the question the way Francis Church did. “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.” After all, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’