Why Most Advertising DOESN'T Work

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Most advertising doesn’t work. Yes, you’ve detected a common theme here with direct mail and email marketing.

And just as it is with those two media, the reason advertising doesn’t work for small businesses has nothing to so with the strategy and everything to do with the implementation.

The biggest mistake business owners make with their advertising is choosing the wrong medium. 

They are seduced into putting an expensive ad in the Yellow Pages or the local rag, often with the lure of the number of people who are going to be seeing it.

But this is a nonsense, because if none of the people looking at your ad are well qualified to be buyers, you might as well be showing it to a herd of cows. In other words, the quality of your audience is much more important than the size of it (this is directly analogous to the quality of your list being the most important factor in the success or failure of your direct mail).

For Offline Advertising...

This means choosing your publication carefully.

A big mistake is to slavishly follow your instincts and advertise in the most “obvious” places. For example, if you were selling health supplements to pensioners (‘seniors” for my US readers), then the “obvious” magazines to advertise in are the health and fitness magazines. 

But everyone else in your industry is advertising there, too, so you’ve got your work cut out in trying to cut through the clutter. So a more sensible approach, perhaps, is to ask the question, “who am I looking for, and what else might they be reading?”

Let’s say you’re looking for people over 60 with disposable income who are living active lives. What might people like that be reading? 

Well... how about magazines about vintage cars?

Or golfing magazines?

Or perhaps sailing magazines?

I don’t know for sure, and no one can know until they test, but it seems reasonable enough a train of logic for me to call a few likely magazines and ask them some searching questions about their subscriber base and see what kind of rates I can get for a test (you might also consider a direct mail to their list if the subscriber base fits your profile well).

For Online Advertising...

The ‘audience” thing translates to your choice of keywords for things like Pay Per Click, and your choice of website for banner advertising. 

Facebook advertising in particular is especially good for targeting, even more than Adwords in some respects because you can really dig deep into people’s preferences; and the icing on the cake is Facebook also seem to be matching ads to people’s behaviour (so if I “like” a few pages about, say, Widgets, then Facebook will start showing me widget-orientated ads. Clever).

Lead Generation

The next thing to do with your ads is to stop selling off the page and instead collect contact details. That’ll allow you to market to them over time (by email, direct mail and so on). 

Note: This isn’t always appropriate because sometimes, for things like carpet cleaning for example, people are looking for service Right Now and are not just looking for information. I'll devote an entire post to advertising and go into this in much more detail.

This makes business owners very uncomfortable, but that’s fine, so long as YOU endure the discomfort and actually do it. Because you’ll find by changing the way you handle the responses to your ads, your sales will dramatically increase (as an example, one of my health blogs converts at about 1% to cold visitors, but 13.49% or more to people on the email list.

Hence my focus is on getting details, not sales).

ROI Counts. Nothing Else Does

The cost of your ads (or clicks) is less important than the money they make for you. Hence the need for testing and measuring of religious intensity. We'll explore this aspect of marketing is exquisite detail in a future post.

Action for you to take:

1. Have a serious think about your ideal customer or client and look for the publications people like that might be reading. 

2. Also look for websites along similar lines. If you’re doing PPC revisit your keywords. 

Talk soon,


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