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Marketing Tips: 7 Lessons in Successful Advertising

by Jeffrey Dobkin

Years ago, a real estate broker hired me to help him sell more houses. We met for about 10 hours, reading over the real estate section of the paper and discussing his ads. I then told him I was ready to help him sell more houses.

“Sir!” he said in startled disbelief. “Do you mean to tell me we can meet for 10 hours and you can tell me how to sell more houses? I’ve been selling houses for 40 years. I’ve forgotten more about selling houses than you will ever learn in your life.”

It was true. Too bad the reply, “Sir, I have forgotten more about advertising than you have learned in forty years of selling houses,” didn’t occur to me till a few weeks later – my hindsight letting me know how clever I could have been now that it’s too late. But my client was right. He had forgotten quite a lot about selling houses. The structure of his entire advertising campaign was wrong. Is yours?

What my client was trying to do was sell a house in an ad. You do not sell a house in a four-line listing. No one sees the listing and sends a down payment. The correct objective of the ad was not to sell a house but to generate a phone call. If the ad worked as planned, his phone rang. It was then up to him to sell the house.

So we changed all the listings. “Call now!” the new ad copy said. “Call to see this beautiful four bedroom…” “For additional information by mail, call…” “For a free brochure with pictures of this house call us at…” and we gave the phone number. If you read all of the listings you saw that phone number dozens of times. My client’s phone calls tripled, starting in week number one. The first week!

Here’s the First Lesson:

Before drafting any copy for your ad, first write a clear objective to your ad.
Ask yourself, “If this ad works perfectly, what is the action-step the reader will do?” Then draft your ad to fulfill this specific objective.

Increasing Ad Response

What’s the best way to get people to pick up the phone and call you? Here’s a hint: offer Something for FREE. Everybody likes FREE. FREE FREE FREE = Call Call Call.

Suppose you’re selling the new book you’ve just written. How can you generate the most response from a small ad for a book? Let’s see, would “Buy my new book” get readers’ attention? No, not really. Unless you’re Steven King, people seeing this ad aren’t going to rush into a bookstore – or dive into their pocket and send you a check. So, this headline won’t work. Let’s go to the other extreme: Would “Get FREE MONEY!” get people excited? Yes, that’s it. Now you have everyone’s attention.

So the best way to generate maximum response is to give something away – for FREE. But money isn’t a good giveaway because it doesn’t restrict calls from just your prospects: and you don’t want calls from people who just want free money, because who doesn’t? These people are outside of your book’s niche audience, unless of course you are writing a book about giving away free money, in which case… we should talk.

Most people who respond to “get free money” are not “the most likely immediate purchasers,” which is my definition of a target market. So why waste money, literature and postage on them? Let’s still give something away, but first let’s make sure our FREE gift is of exceptional value… but only to our target market: people who are actively considering buying a book—such as yours.

I think the best way to attract potential customers is to give away FREE information. It’s valuable to the respondent, they can’t get it anywhere else, and it’s cheap to produce for you – generally just a few sheets of paper and ink. Nice combo.

The information you produce should be in booklet form. In fact, “Call now for a FREE BOOKLET” is my favorite advertising headline — it promises prospects something for free, and it gives people a “reason to call.” The free booklet helps overcome the law of reader inertia (a body at rest… on the couch… gets up, walks over and picks up the phone.)

Additionally, people who get flustered when they have to call somewhere new: I call this “call reluctance!” By offering something for free they won’t have to figure out what to say when you answer the phone, they can just ask for their FREE booklet. You may not think this is important, but it’s a big factor with folks who have problems calling anyone other than friends.

Don’t have a booklet? How about dressing up your new brochure as a helpful educational and information-rich resource guide? Just a few pieces of paper can become a powerful sales tool when talked about in this regard. Calling it a brochure is so passé!

Face it: a sheet of paper folded in thirds is a brochure. And you can get them anywhere: Chevy agency, bank, post office – there’s just no value in an advertising brochure. But that same piece of paper folded in half… well – that becomes a valuable informational booklet. Would you rather receive a company’s advertising brochure, or a free informational booklet? Yea, me too.

Lesson number 2:

Offer something for FREE to make people pick up the phone.
This was the objective of your advertisement. You do remember the objective, don’t you?

Here’s a big bonus for you: when people call to ask for something free, they are generally in a pleasant and giving mood – after all they’re getting something for FREE. When they call for their free booklet, you can take that opportunity to poke around for the information you need from them in your own marketing. That’s the time to qualify each caller as a serious prospect, a literature collector or someone with a phone and nothing better to do. So…

Lesson 3: Qualify the prospect on the incoming phone call.

Qualifying Prospects
When someone responds to an ad by calling and asking me to send information, my next words rarely—if ever—are “OK, what’s your address?” Instead, I ask probing questions designed to qualify prospects (i.e., figure out how likely they are to buy, and when). “I’d be happy to send you this FREE booklet; say, where did you see our ad…”

Frankly, the qualification process starts much sooner than when you speak with a prospect. You initially qualify response by deciding in which publications to run your ad. Whatever audience your chosen medium reaches is the start of your qualification process. Looking for camera buffs? Camera magazines. Airplane aficionados? Modern Flyer Magazine. Looking for beautiful women under 35 who drive nice cars and fly first class to wonderful destinations around the world? Yea, me too. But that’s beside the point.

The best way to generate a more highly qualified response is to title your free booklet with a direct benefit to your perfectly targeted customers. Use this formula for your headline: “Free Booklet offers [useful information].” For example: “FREE Booklet shows you how to pack valuables when moving!” The subhead would continue: Call now to get your FREE “Guide to Packing Valuables!” This would produce a ton of the highest-quality leads for a moving company, mostly from people who are planning an immediate move.

When prospects call to say they’d like to get the free guide, the moving company salesperson responds with, “I’d be happy to send it right out. How soon are you moving?” If it’s soon, the next question is a natural: “Have you hired a moving company yet?” Instant qualification in under 3 seconds.

Lesson 4: Show the title of your booklet in the headline of your ad or early in your copy in a direct mail piece to attract more highly targeted prospects.

Intentionally limiting response to your ad isn’t always a bad idea. If your literature and postage is expensive, try this: To increase the value of each response to your offer even further, you may choose to ask for a response by mail that includes a stamped, self addressed envelope. This will wash out the least serious respondents, thereby cutting out pretty much all of the “I saw your toll free number on this-here sheet of paper and decided to call while waiting for my bus!” prospects – saving you on your literature and postage costs.

In consumer offers, if you offer a hefty catalog or something otherwise of good value, you can separate the literature-seekers from more promising serious inquirers by requiring a dollar or two for postage and handling. This will cut your response way down to the really-serious. Viola: more limited response – and only from better prospects. Plus, it’s always nice to get some income up front. I know a person who offered a stereo speaker parts catalog and charged $4 for it. He sold more catalogs and had more revenue from selling catalogs than from sales of speaker parts.

Lesson 5: Limit your Ad Response

I know how unlikely this sounds but hear me out: If your literature is expensive, or your market filled with “Consultants” (they never buy, they just want to look at everything…) intentionally limit your response with a tight qualification net or by asking for literature shipping and handling fees.

It’s your choice: more respondents who may be less qualified, or fewer respondents who are better qualified and more likely to buy. Do you go with the bigger numbers or the better percentages? This depends on your product, dollar amount of sale, lifetime value of a customer (LTV), your offer and your mailing package. We’ll discuss this in another article (drop me a self-addressed envelope and I’ll send it right out to you. Please include $2. Two bucks – get it? Higher qualification level! See how this works! If I had said, “just leave me an email and I’ll send it to you – I’d get inundated with requests. Ugh. This way, I just get the serious folks who’ll invest 2 bucks in this information – and also took the time to find an envelope and stamp – no small feat around here…)

I guess the best way to determine what kind of loose or tight qualification net you throw depends on your market, your product, and cost of literature. With a $30 book, if your literature costs you $2 in the mail, and you make $20 on each book sold, you need to sell a book for every 10 mailing packages you send. This is a 10% order rate – not many people achieve that number in the mail, even with a strong direct mail package. But if you’re selling a $500,000 printing press – you have a little more room to move in your budget.

Lesson 6: When the phone rings, YOU close the sale.

When someone sees your ad and calls your number, your ad or direct mail package worked. Not only that – it worked perfectly. Now it’s your turn: it’s up to YOU to sell your product to your customer, not the ad or literature. Selling the product is usually not the primary objective of the ad, getting the phone call is. You see, your ad or direct mail fulfilled its objective if it got someone to call you. Now it’s your turn on the phone to close the sale.

It’s much easier closing a sale on the phone than trying to get someone to buy something from a sheet of paper. You can ask probing questions, see if they’re really interested, and find out if they’re ready to purchase. I used to close about 80% of the people who call me up and ask me about my books. All with a money back guarantee, and yes we get returns: we’ve gotten 3 books back since its first run, the original publication in 1996. Now people order right from the internet, so I hardly sell books from my office. I’d welcome back the old days anytime: it was great speaking with customers.

Lesson 7: Save the customers name and address, build a mailing list.

Unless your product is shoddy, the “lifetime value of a customer” or LTV (in case you’re in the government and only speak only in acronyms,) is greater than this one single sale. A person who is happy with your purchase is – at that particular point in time – your most likely prospect. And, they are the cheapest to market to: you already have their name and address, they already know that you supply quality goods at a fair price. You simply need to offer them something else. What else can you offer these most-likely to buy customers?

Who else knows this? Why the catalog companies, of course. Why do you think you get so many catalogs right after you purchase something from their catalog? You – who just bought something from them – are their “number one most likely to purchase” customer.

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Jeffrey Dobkin at work

Jeffrey Dobkin at work

Jeffrey Dobkin is an all around good guy who has written seven books and more thank 300 articles, mostly on direct marketing but a few on humor. Call him up if you need help with writing highly responsive direct mail, effective ads, booklets that trigger phone calls and marketing campaigns that make customers call. Or, if you’re just looking to talk marketing with someone and have some questions, this number rings on his desk: 610-642-1000.