"ON YOUR OWN"- COLUMN 3-
What Do You Say To Prospects?
Without a doubt, one of the most important lessons I have learned in building my business has been discovering how to write ad copy for sales letters, display ads, etc. Learning what to say to prospects can be the difference between prosperity and failure. And yet, many people who write ads- including many in the advertising industry- don't seem to understand the basics in writing ad copy. In this column, we're going to look at what you say to your prospects to get them to buy.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD AD?
Every year, advertising industry groups give awards for the "best" ads. Some of these ads stick in our memories for years after they've disappeared from their media. And yet, I would submit to you that many of the ads being touted as examples of excellent advertising are not doing their real job. The real job of any advertisement is to persuade a consumer to take some action- generally to buy the product being advertised. (Some ads are trying to elicit some other action, such as making a phone call for a free video, send for more information, etc.)
Regardless, the success of an ad can and should be measured solely by how well it persuades people to take this action. Period. I don't care how funny, entertaining, or heartwarming your ad is, if it doesn't persuade someone to do something, it is not good advertising. It may be good as a short film, but good advertising causes consumers to take action. To hold any other view of advertising is to do your bottom line a grave injustice. Any yet, we keep seeing businesses running ads with talking babies, wise-cracking frogs, and dead celebrities, all with no apparent reason.
Many of these ads are termed "image" ads- they are ads that don't specifically promote the product, but rather try to build the image of the brand in the consumer's mind. And while spending big bucks on fuzzy "image-building" campaigns may be okay for beer companies and automakers, for those of us who choose to be self-employed, we'd better be smarter about how we spend our advertising budget. So, what makes a good ad?
SELL THE SIZZLE, NOT THE STEAK??
When I was in graduate school, one of the expressions I heard in my marketing and advertising classes was "Sell the sizzle, not the steak!" The idea was that you have to get the prospect to get excited about your product to encourage him/her to buy. To do that, you have to play up the exciting aspects of your product. Don't tell them that your car has 4 wheel drive- get them to envision themselves driving those curvy mountain roads in your 4 wheel drive car. Don't sell them beer- sell them the fun, excitement and beautiful girls that will come when they drink your brand (sarcastic intonation implied here!).
In any event, the old maxim was that you had to arouse the prospects senses before he or she would be moved to act. And while this is partially true, being a literalist to this idea will also cause you great trouble. For example, what happens if you are selling a product that has no "sizzle"? For example, life insurance, while a financial necessity, is probably a product that is hard to make "sizzle". Many industrial products are also unlikely to be used with this approach. The thing that this expression was missing was the idea of why sizzle sells, when steak doesn't. This reason is the difference between features and benefits.
FEATURES VS. BENEFITS
If you can grasp the difference between features and benefits, and find a compelling, articulate way to get these benefits across to your prospects, you will find your advertising being more effective than you ever dreamed. It's such a key concept, and yet one which seems to elude many advertisers. Simply put, a benefit is what a consumer gets by using your product. A feature is the thing that gives them this benefit. For example, anti-lock brakes is a feature. Not flipping your car over when braking suddenly is a benefit. Consumers buy benefits, not features. It's that simple. If you want someone to buy your product, show them the benefits they will derive by doing so.
When I sit down to write ad copy, one of the first things I do is to list all of the features of the product I am selling. Make it as exhaustive a list as possible. If you're selling life insurance, list all of the features your particular product- easier qualifications for older people, lower rates for non-smokers, quarterly vs monthly billing, etc. After each one, list the benefits that the customer derives from that feature. For example, if your company bills monthly instead of quarterly, a benefit might be that the customer can have the low payment taken directly out of their direct deposit account instead of having to write a higher quarterly premium. (Not being in the insurance business, I apologize for any inaccuracies in this example.) The idea is to find out what it is about your product that consumers really gain by buying it.
Getting back to life insurance- in the big picture, what is the benefit that someone gets by buying life insurance? Peace of mind, knowing the family will be taken care of if something happens to them, building a nest egg via a whole life policy- these are all the real reasons people by life insurance. If you try selling someone a life insurance policy by trotting out actuarial tables and charts, you're going to have problems, at least at the onset. To get them thinking about buying life insurance, you'd better get them thinking about their loved ones long before you start talking numbers.
When I first struck out on my own, a large part of my magic business came from working kids' birthday parties. One of the things that I learned very quickly was that parents aren't really buying a magic show- they're motivated by other factors. One of the main things a parent is buying when they hire someone to entertain at their child's birthday party is peace of mind. I discovered that many parents were terrified at the prospect of having 15 or 20 kids invade their home. Once I realized this, I was better able to focus my advertising. For example, I wrote up list of tips and ideas for making birthday parties run smoother. In my ads, I included the line- "Call For FREE Party Planner!". When somone called me, they weren't simply getting a magician. They were getting the benefit of having an expert help them through challenges they were facing. Find ways to add benefits to your business- come up with things that customers can only get by doing business with you. the more benefits they get, the more likely they are to buy.
In closing, I would strongly recommend anyone serious about their advertising to sit down and make up a list of all the features of their product or service, and then figure out what the benefits are for each. Of course, it helps to get feedback from your past customers. There may be benefits that you never realized that could be the real reason people are buying from you. If you don't know what those benefits are, you could inadvertently change something, and eliminate the main benefit to your business without ever realizing it. Next time, we'll look at one of the best sources of customers for any business. Thanks for reading!
Any questions, comments, etc can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.