Questions? Comments? Please call: 610-642-1000

A Promotional Marketing How-To Lesson

Promotional Marketing
By Jeffrey Dobkin

Every marketing plan starts the same way: define your audience. Only after you have defined your audience can you figure out the best way to reach them.

Different audiences require different media and campaigns to reach them most effectively and efficiently. Anyone can create an advertising plan – it’s easy to spend money. Only a few can create a media plan that is low in cost and produces a good number of higher quality leads that convert into sales. We’ll take a look at some different types of promotional media, and discuss the pros and cons of effectively reaching a target audience through each.

We’ll also define several types of audience characteristics, but first we’ll define marketing. I’ll keep it short, just five words if you count the “a”. Marketing is “selling to a defined audience.” When you offer your goods and services to anyone, that’s sales. When you narrow down your offer and present it to your most likely prospects, that’s marketing. The benefit of precision in marketing is lower costs by delivering your message (advertising/PR) only to higher quality prospects who are most likely to buy. You spend less initially and, additionally, have less wasted advertising expense.

The cost of reaching people with your advertising message can be defined in terms of CPM, or cost per thousand. You can figure out the cost to reach 1,000 readers of a magazine by dividing the magazine circulation by the cost of the ad. If a full-page, black and white ad costs $2,000, and the magazine reaches 50,000 people, the CPM is $25 – it costs $25 to reach 1,000 people in that magazine. The CPM for each magazine can also be found in a reference book like Oxbridge Communications’ Directory of Magazines.

CPM can also be applied to other media, like radio or television; these figures are the language of salespeople in those industries. CPM can also be applied to direct mail – where you’ll find it’s quite high, from $400 to $500 to reach 1,000 people. But, by using direct mail, you can deliver a longer, more powerful message to a more precisely selected audience.

Perhaps more important are the terms CPI (Cost Per Inquiry) and CPO (Cost Per Order). CPO is the one that really matters. The CPO is the make-or-break number for your business. If your cost per order exceeds your marketing and fulfillment costs, well… better see my other article entitled Plan B, Before Bankruptcy.

How tightly can you pinpoint your target audience? How large is this group (market universe)? How easily can they be reached by the media? The answers will dictate the type of campaign.

Final consideration in promotional media selection is how much each prospect is worth to you if you close the sale. For example, if you are selling printing presses for half a million dollars each, be ready to get a lot of “No thank you’s,” because you only may sell one press every 18 months to two years. You may only close one prospect in every 20,000 leads, and your CPO may be $8,000. But if you’re selling newsletter subscriptions at $39 a pop, you may need to close three of every 100 direct mail pieces you send out (3%).

These are all good marketing examples – to get you thinking about the parameters of your own audiences and marketing expenses. And yes, you have more than one audience. Almost every company and every product has primary, secondary, and tertiary markets. So how do we reach them?

Business-to-business marketing is easy. In most cases this means either trade magazines or direct mail to reach likely prospects, although some industries rely heavily on trade shows, too.

Magazines have good reach in an industry, but almost no depth. You can reach a lot of people, at a lower CPM than in direct mail, but you have a much shorter time to deliver your advertising message, and a much harder time to actually sell a product right from a magazine page. In fact, one of the hardest places in the world to sell a product is from a page in a magazine. You must attract the attention of the reader, then motivate him enough to call. If that’s not enough, he must then take out his wallet – no easy feat for a magazine ad. Man, that can be tough.

When creating an ad, write your objective first. If the ad works perfectly, exactly what do you want to happen? Only one percent of the ads I create for clients are hard-hitting, long-copy, direct-selling, call-to-order ads. The objective of 99 percent of the ads I create is not to sell the product. That’s right. It’s to generate a phone call. You don’t sell a $20,000 canning machine from a third-of-a-page ad in a magazine – you create interest and generate a phone call.

The best ways to generate phone calls with ads are 1) to offer something for free; 2) to offer an informational booklet about the product; and 3) to promise the reader a benefit. Very, very high on the list of great headline formulas is “Free Booklet Offers Valuable Information to help you ____.” For example, a moving company offers a “Free Booklet on how to pack china for moving.” This headline produces a ton of high-quality leads from a qualified market. Another example (more industrial) for a bearing company: “Free Booklet shows how to tell when bearings are starting to wear.” OK, so bearings are boring, but this headline will be effective to a precise market: the person who has 5,000 bearings in the machinery at his plant will want this information. The quality of the leads will be very high, and the bearing company won’t waste a lot of time stuffing and sending literature to folks who just collect it.

Enough blah, blah, blah. Let’s look at some different advertising media – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

MAGAZINES. Overall: good reach, poor depth. Magazines reach both consumer and business-to-business markets. Broad appeal. This is traditionally the way most industrial products are marketed. There are over 10,000 magazines to select from; almost every industry is served by several of its own trade journals.

PROS: May be tightly focused into a particular market or niche. May have the most efficient and cost-effective CPM, CPI, or CPO. The only way to reach some targeted markets efficiently besides direct mail. Circulation figures are general guidelines only. Readership is higher in colder months like January, February, and March, and falls off in summer.

CONS: Magazines aren’t read each month by everyone. Most magazines are just scanned by readers. Show issues are poor bets, despite added show distribution. Smaller ads run in the back, some readers never get that far. Competition for readers’ attention and response on every page makes your ad easy to miss. The most common response vehicles are the bingo numbers (“Circle number 24 on the reader service card for more information”) on reader response cards – and these are the worst quality of leads. While circulation figures remain steady year-round, be aware that readership falls off in the summer as more people spend time outdoors. Almost every inquiry needs to be followed up with a phone call or a direct mail piece – or several. Three-month lead time for ads and press releases in most magazines. Don’t believe pass-along readership figures, they’re absurd.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Most publishers will give you free space if you create a clever press release. I personally believe a press release is the MOST VALUABLE SINGLE SHEET OF PAPER IN ALL OF MARKETING. A press release can be used to test the effectiveness of a publication to see if it will pull before you place an ad. Never place an ad without negotiating for a press release to be published also.

Additionally, ad position is ALWAYS a negotiated factor. Many magazines discount heavily from their published price list – always ask and negotiate (start by asking for the 12 times rate.) NEVER place three ads in three consecutive issues without running a test ad first – if the first ad fails, you won’t have time to cancel the other two. To create an exceptional headline for your ad, write 100 lines, then go back and pick your best one.

Over 10,000 magazines are published every month – they all want your business. Don’t be in a hurry to place an ad – miss one issue and, like streetcars, another comes around shortly. To find any magazine, or to find all the magazines in any particular market, look up the market classification (i.e., photography, banking) in the SRDS Business Magazine Directory, Oxbridge Communications’ Directory of Periodicals, Burrelle’s Directory of Magazines, or Bacon’s Magazine Directory. Consider advertising where competitors consistently run ads.

Direct Mail. You can reach any market, or a selected part of a market, and sell most anything with a good direct mail campaign.

PROS: Creative, interesting mail is well-received. Long copy that is written well can hold a reader’s attention and sell products, build loyalty, create brand awareness, sell products, overcome objections, sell products, reach higher-level purchasers, and did I mention sell products?

Easy to test small quantities. Low entrance barriers because of small, intelligent testing quantities. If initial tests are successful, rolling out (mailing to the remainder of the entire list) may be extremely profitable and easy to do: don’t change anything, just buy more names and mail the same package. You can get rich by mailing the right offer to the right list.

CONS: Cost to reach a thousand prospects may be quite high at $500 CPM — and higher. CPM may be too high for some low-cost products. Testing may be expensive. Incorrect selection of a list may completely wipe out any success with a great product, a great package, and a great offer. Testing may be expensive.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Long copy that is boring or dull is thrown out. Unless you are a really incredible writer, keep it short. One overbearingly long letter might make two or three terrific short letters. Include an electrifying letter in every direct mail package, and cram it with benefits. Products have features, benefits are what the customer gets from the feature. For example, a teacup has a handle – that is a feature, the benefit that the customer derives from the feature is that he can hold a hot cup of tea without getting burned.

Lead with your best stuff, your biggest benefit, then expound on that. A short bulleted list of benefits gets high readership. Don’t forget to ask the reader to call, I usually do this several times in the letter. Enclose your brochure for credibility and to show features. The secret of direct mail: show the benefits in the letter, sell the call hard, and show features in your brochure.

YELLOW PAGES. Ugh. A necessary evil if you are a retailer. The sales pitch you get from the yellow-page salesman is plagued by double talk and jargon you won’t hear anywhere else. But this medium can be one of the most effective advertising sources for selected businesses. Some businesses – like emergency drain cleaning – are completely driven by yellow-page advertising.

PROS: Reaches consumers at an excellent time: when they are ready to shop, or when they need information about products they are about to purchase.

CONS: Expensive. You are quoted monthly rates by sales personnel, but your contract is for a year. Over the years, the marketing gurus at the Old Ma Bell Company (remember those days?) figured out exactly how to cut the book up to extract the maximum amount of money from each client. You gotta admit, they were pretty good at it.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Everyone likes to shop in their own back yard, so orient your listing to have your town or area in the biggest letters possible. I prefer to be listed “in-line” with a “Logo Ad.” To see exactly what this is, look up the airlines. This is my recommendation: instead of your logo, place your town name in the logo slot. It’s OK to tell the rep that’s your logo. Really. (Just don’t tell them I said so.) Use short, crisp wording, throwing a wide net to get people to call (“We stock all kinds of____, call for information”; “Large stock of widgets – huge inventory, call for fast, friendly help”). Don’t forget, the primary objective is to sell the call. The objective of the call is to have customer come in or buy your service.

RADIO. An effective medium if the listener doesn’t have to write anything down. Works well with large events and broad-audience demographics. Most effective when ads are repeated over and over. Stations are priced by their Arbitron ratings, and rates are always negotiable. Stations cater to specific audiences, usually grouped by age. You may be paying for people out of your demographic target group – or your geographic area – especially if you are a retailer.

PROS: If you need a general audience, and have more than one or two locations around town, this medium may be ideal. Radio stations will write your ad and produce it for free. Since it has quick response, it’s easy to test. Works well with immediate sales.

CONS: Tough to benchmark, or to predict response. Can be expensive. Small numbers of ads don’t test well. Audience must be willing to drive to your location for your product. You pay for reaching everyone in the entire area that can receive the station – if these aren’t all potential customers, better rethink this medium. Commercials may need to be obnoxious to be noticed.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Great for selected businesses or products having a broad-base audience that can remember the 10 digits in a phone number or address. Works well with vanity numbers that spell a word (800-FLOWERS). Can work for insurance, disc jockey services, sports events, shows, big (sounding) sales events.

Spots are assigned to run at approximate times like “morning drive” or “midday,” each at varying rates. Negotiate for the best times – there’s a big difference between 8:30 a.m., when everyone is in their car, and 9:05 a.m. when most are at work. Never buy ROS (run of station), where the station places your spots anywhere they want. “Don’t worry, we’ll place it where it will work best” isn’t a good assurance – it’s YOUR money, and YOUR money gone if the ad fails to draw. Radio is IMMEDIATE – virtually ALL your response will come within two or three days of the ad, unless you own a restaurant – where there may be some delay for patrons to schedule. Remember, there is a commercial on right before yours, and another right after yours.

WEB ADVERTISING. No, the Internet isn’t going to go away. Yes, it’s getting stronger every day. Yes, more and more people are using it. No, most people aren’t making money on it. OK, Dell Computers is making a quadrillion dollars a day on it. But don’t get your hopes up too much, not just yet anyway.

Although still emerging from its infancy, the web is a good place to SUPPLEMENT your advertising with a longer sales pitch -cleverly disguised as worthwhile information – at your website. While it’s possible to drive casual surfers to your site, it’s unlikely. Being listed in search engines won’t help unless a search brings you up in the top ten. Being 300th is the same as being 300,000 as far as most consumers are concerned.

Two possible attractants to your site: links from a billion other sites – or a few strategic ones, such as links from your association or industry magazines; or, going into every conceivable chat room you can find and, at opportune times, butting in with “Yes, I agree, but at my site you can see for yourself 45 other ways to…”

One day soon this will be bigger than all of us, and therefore it will be taxed heavily by many methods in every corner and crevice agency of national, state, and local governments. Better get in now.

PROS: Cutting-edge technology. It pays to stay in the loop; there are new opportunities opening up every day. If you can get people to your site, and if you can keep their attention, you can probably sway them into your arms but not into your hands. Don’t count your money just yet. Sales are brisk for on-line auctions, computer paraphernalia, music, books, travel, selected industries, and IPOs, but most – even some really big players – are losing really big money. It’s a great way for us as consumers to shop price and to research almost anything. To hit a home run here you’re going to need to stay at bat for a long time. But it can be done, and there are some very profitable sites.

CONS: Tough to get people to your site. It’s like having a phone number no one knows, or a library with books in no particular order. All your print advertising must have your URL.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Get a good advisor and a quality site based on clear objectives and expectations. Make sure you have a reasonable objective of what you want your site to do. Banner ads can be effective, look-up site profiles on the SRDS Interactive Advertising Source – it shows site-company profiles, visitor hits and pages per week, cost of links and banner ads, and so forth. Bulk e-mail, ugh, can work if crafted correctly, but watch out – don’t let the flames burn your butt, er, back end.

TRADE SHOWS. Each year there are over 10,000 trade shows. They’re all listed in the Trade Show Week Data Book; the top 2,000 are shown on their website I’ve never been sorry I attended a trade show. There is a wealth of knowledge – focused around a particular cause or industry – assembled in one place. You can learn a lot in a short period of time.
Another great reference directory is the 2000 Trade Shows and Exhibits Schedule from Bill Communications (800-266-4721, 856-691-5800.) The cost for this two-set directory is $220, but mid-year it comes down to $116. The show schedule is indexed by industry, by location, by date, and in alphabetical order. Nice.
Trade shows are excellent ways to get industry information, find resources, receive product feedback, generally explore new ways of marketing face-to-face with both exhibitors and attendees, poke around and find out information, and have fun, too.
If you’re on-line, check out Trade Show Central’s website. – over 5,000 trade shows listed. Both these trade show sites are essential viewing.

PROS: Face-to-face presentation: selling at its best. If you can’t close them here, you’re at the wrong show or in the wrong business. An opportunity to meet competitors, trade friends, and customers. Can establish and cement yearly friendships.

CONS: While booth space may be cheap, don’t forget to factor in the cost of getting a crew there, putting them up, putting up with them all day for three days or so in a 10-foot space, treating them all to nice lunches, and then nicer dinners, and getting them home safely. Don’t forget all the work you left sitting on your desk. Don’t forget all the work they left sitting on their desks. Get the best booth location you can. Don’t spend too much time speaking with each passerby – get a business card and rate them for later follow up, then let them go on their way.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Shows can be expensive, so visit any show first as an attendee before even considering booth space. When you get your own booth, have your two-minute spiel down pat before you go live. Have an objective and a goal for exhibiting. Follow-up is a necessary evil, but the ONLY way to make the show pay off. Can’t make it? Consider buying the mailing list of either exhibitors or attendees.

TV. While the national channels like ABC, CBS, and other big-time boys are for the big-time advertisers like Coke and Reebok, one of the best media buys for the past 10 years has been local cable. If you’re shooting for local demographics, cable can be focused to neighborhoods around your storefront (subscriber lists are as small as 10,000 households).

Years ago – when I was a kid – OK, so maybe I wasn’t quite a kid, anyhow, we only got three channels clearly. Sure, we received a few fuzzy UHF channels, and if you held the antenna just right, you could get roller derby(!) with the San Francisco Bay Bombers… you see these girls used to come out in roller skates… but that’s another story. Today’s TV selection (with the cable being wired like a big umbilical cord into our houses giving us another life) offers 50 or 80 channels – great for the viewer but much tougher for the advertiser. Great care must be taken to place ads where the audience demographics for the show makes them work. The good news: once you stumble onto the formula, you can run an ad ad nauseam and it will continue to pull well for years.

PROS: Cheap to test. Spots as low as $15 to $20. Commercials can be shot by a local commercial video studio for $350 to $500 for a 30-second spot. You can become famous – albeit just in your own neighborhood. You can be effective in a 30-second ad, since it’s auditory and visual, and the demographics can be tailored for your store or shop.

CONS: Multitude of channels makes selection of where to place an ad very difficult at best, a nightmare at worst. Reps who sell ad time may not know where your ad will work best – only where they have time available, or which shows or time slots they have been asked to push by the station management.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Negotiate hard for ad time and extra spots (free). NEVER take ROS – run of station – where the station puts your ad in where they like (longer running ad schedules and larger clients get the best spots). Track response closely.

CARD DECKS. Sure, you get them in the mail and skim through them – sometimes. Why would someone in their right mind look through a bunch of ads? I don’t know either. Card decks range up to 64 cards in a pack and are mailed to specific lists. Many card decks are sent by magazines to their subscriber list. Mailings are usually 100,000; advertisers can often mail to half the deck to test or split the run with two different offers.

PROS: Card decks are so effective for some companies that they market solely through this medium. Like magazines, they are mailed on a regular basis but usually less frequently than a magazine – on average four times a year.

CONS: Expensive to test. Your card can get lost in the pack. Since there are so many decks marketed, if the one you purchase lands with two or three others on the same day, there’s a good likelihood it will get tossed out.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Study the deck you are interested in – don’t be in a hurry to purchase. Look for other similar offers – those that have been run time after time (ask the rep how long and how frequently they’ve been running). All decks are initially priced at $2,400 to $3,500 per card, full run. This price is for tourists – most are actually sold at $1,400 to $1,700 per card, or less. A few fetch $2,400 consistently. Some decks can be bought for $700 – $800 per card. Negotiate price!

Your card’s position in the deck DOES matter, always negotiate EXACT position. Don’t settle for “We’ll give you good position” – their idea of good position (first half of deck) and your idea of good position (in the first five cards) won’t show up except in hindsight. Too late then, isn’t it? Then you’ll get experience – which is what you get when you don’t make any money.

Use the second side of your card for sales copy – it’s a waste of valuable ad space to use it as a name and address side. The headline accounts for 90% of your readership – write a great one. Use the Jeff Dobkin 100 to 1 Rule: write 100, go back and pick the very best one.

NEWSPAPERS. One of the more immediate advertising venues. Lead time for an ad is just a day or two so testing is easy and fast. Different sections make it easy to select more targeted readers, but dilute general offers because no one can read all the papers every day.

PROS: Selectivity in areas served – hometown or across the country. Different sections draw different readership so you can target your ad to your market. Newspapers work for a large variety of offers: sales, products, shops, retailers, service organizations. Wide selection – just in my own neighborhood there are 30 newspapers to choose from.

CONS: Too many papers dilute the market. Bigger ads can blow out your small ad. Your ad can get lost in the clutter in larger papers (metro). Big run papers can be expensive for small advertisers (large advertisers get huge discounts for running volume lineage). Your ad may be grouped with competitors.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Testing is the way to go. Some of my clients have had good success with the TV Listings section, some with the Business section. Negotiate good placement in the paper and good placement on the page. Sundays may not be as good as weekdays for some – too much paper! Wednesday is coupon day and high female readership. Don’t forget local weeklies and classifieds. Local papers are much cheaper than larger metropolitan papers and provide better demographics for single retail stores. Don’t forget to send press releases to test the publication before you contract for an ad.

Don’t forget other advertising mediums such as advertising specialties, small imprinted items with your name on them; FSI’s, free standing inserts usually consisting of four-color coupons found in the Sunday papers (a half-page has a CPM as little as $2.40); coupon mailers that arrive at your home such as Val-Pak or Ad Art; bus and bench advertising; outdoor billboards; movie and theater advertising; school newspapers and yearbooks; outdoor advertising by aerial (skywriting and airplane billboard [$325/hr.], hot air balloons, and blimp advertising); inflatables (for example, a 35’ King Kong is $500/day); bus bench/ bus shelter; truck/mobile advertising; taxi; telephone kiosk; and transit advertising.

Hey, while you’re at it don’t forget airport advertising, and high school/college campus advertising, plus advertising in hotels, in-flight, in-store, shopping mall, and sports/fitness/leisure facility, stadium/arena/sports team advertising, truck and truckstop advertising, and event marketing.

Other sources of unconventional advertising are Entertainment coupon books, supermarket entrance advertising (community bulletin boards), package – insert programs from almost every type of merchandiser and direct mailer, Internet ads and websites, orchestra program books (great for upscale audiences), professional and local theater program books, local team sponsorships, college sports programs, motor-racing events programs, town festival programs, messages on hold, ATM messages, supermarket register tape programs, and synagogue and church bulletins and yearbooks – to name a few. Wow. It’s enough to make you dizzy.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to track response. When working with any print media, send press releases. Always negotiate price and position. Call anytime (610-642-1000) if you have questions or get stuck.

Don’t like this article? Tell me. Like this article? Tell others. Thanks.

Jeffrey Dobkin Asleep

Jeffrey Dobkin

Jeffrey Dobkin has written seven books and more than 300 other articles. Some are fun and funny, some so technical and academic he doesn’t even like them (like this one!). Lots of times he leaves the typographical errors in so the picky bastards will have something to complain about. We’re sure you’re not one of “those” people, are you? Dobkin can be reached at 610-642-1000.

Back to Article Master Page