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Million Dollar Mistakes: 10 Advertising Blunders to Avoid by Peter Koeppel

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For any company, $1 million is a lot to lose. Depending on the size of your company, so is $1,000. Companies with $100 million in revenue may spend as much as $10 million on advertising, so they need to spend it wisely. This is especially important for marketing-driven companies, since advertising can be the biggest expenditure after salaries and benefits, as much as 5% -10% of their overall budget.
Even if yours isn't a $100 million company, you don't want to waste your hard-earned advertising dollars because you don't know how to reach your target prospects most efficiently. Nor do you want to put out the wrong message because you've failed to craft an ad that most appeals to potential customers.
When you watch out for these ten common advertising gaffes, you'll get the most marketing bang for your buck.

Mistake #1: Not understanding your target audience. When determining an advertising plan, consider everyone who might purchase the product, beyond the obvious consumers. Some products and services have broader target audiences than others. A product for kids, for example, might focus on parents and grandparents, as well as children; they all have an influence on the purchase decision.

When you've decided who you're targeting, consider how: what will best motivate a consumer to respond to your ads? Research services like Nielsen for television and Arbitron for radio ads can often help you unearth this type of information. Arbitron's information will be more valuable to you than what individual stations will offer, since station information is designed to sell you on advertising with them. Competitive Media Reports can also allow you to see where your competitors are advertising to enable you to make better decisions.

Mistake #2: Delivering the wrong message. You can usually best appeal to your target market by clearly stating the benefits of the product and making sure those benefits are relevant to that target audience's needs or "hot buttons"-both pleasurable and painful. Certain types of ads, such as for weight loss, hair restoration, and skin care products, demand "Before" and "After" shots to give the product credibility, show results, and deliver a positive message about the company's belief in its product and what it can do for the consumer.

Mistake #3: Not running ads often enough. You'll generally need three exposures to build awareness and motivate someone to respond to an ad. By spreading your advertising over too many different types of media, your intended audience might not get those three exposures, and they won't take the action you want them to.

Based on your budget, focus on the highest-performing media for your type of product; this will allow your target audience to see the ad enough times to build awareness. Research services like MRI research can help you with this. They survey 26,000 consumers every year. You give them information, and they give you a goldmine of research tailored to your needs, such as the television networks and shows your target audience watches with the highest frequency.

Mistake #4: Utilizing the wrong media to reach your target prospects. Seniors, for example, still don't use the Internet as much as younger people do. So if you have a senior product, focusing your marketing efforts on the Internet might not be a good idea. Similarly, if you're trying to reach a smaller, niche audience, TV or radio might not be the best fit, since they reach a broader, mass audience. Consider a specialty print publication like a trade journal or a local interest publication to more effectively reach potential customers.

Mistake #5: Choosing award-winning over results-getting. Creative people in some ad agencies can be more concerned about an ad's concept or look than they are with whether it will actually sell a product or service. If an agency says they've won many awards, it doesn't necessarily mean their advertising is going to make you rich or successful. Be careful of designers, writers, or a whole creative team who try to sell you on advertising that doesn't feel right to you. Follow your instincts. An ad can be cool or "artsy," look beautiful or be hilarious, but if it doesn't generate results, it's of no benefit to you.

Mistake #6: Not focusing on the consumer's needs. It should go without saying that an ad must convince consumers that the product or service will meet their needs, but some companies still try to dictate what they feel their ads need to communicate. Often, because they are too close to the product or service, companies make the ad "all about us" and not, as it should be, "all about our audience."

If you feel too involved in the production of the ad, you can take the ad to a focus group to learn whether the ad touches on consumers' needs. Even when you know who might buy your product, you may not know how to get them to buy it. Outsiders' opinions can be invaluable, especially those of experts who understand how to communicate more effectively with that consumer.

Mistake #7: Not developing a complete advertising campaign. One ad probably won't thoroughly inform your prospects of all the benefits your product or service offers. A single ad may work for awhile but then stops being effective as the consumer stops paying attention. To counter this burn-out, you may need to develop a campaign to communicate all key selling points and a complete message about your product's benefits. Also, another ad or a series can help you capture certain people whose attention you weren't able to get with a single ad. Usually a campaign consists of several ads over the course of the year to appeal to people through different creative strategies.

Mistake #8: Not understanding the seasonality of various products and services. When you're developing an advertising campaign, you need to consider the peak times of year for your product or services. Products or services that change consumers' lives or images will benefit from advertising in the first quarter of the year, as people make (and try to keep) New Year's resolutions.

TV viewing itself is seasonal. In the first quarter, when the weather is bad, people watch more TV and response to advertisements tends to be better, whereas in the second quarter, when the weather is better, people watch less TV. In April, we all have to pay taxes, so in spite of advertising campaigns, people generally spend less money on consumer goods. Even products that sell well all year long may do better at some times than others, so you should cut back a little when it's slower and beef up advertising during peak times.

Mistake #9: Not incorporating your website into your advertising program. An increasingly large percentage of consumers are going to company websites to make their purchasing decisions, so you must have a strong website and include its address in all your advertising materials. Don't assume anymore that you need a salesperson to close the deal. One advertiser who had a website for a high-end product hesitated to promote the site for a year, thinking their telemarketing program, with an operator who could actively sell and close, was superior. But when they finally agreed to advertise the site, sales increased 15% virtually overnight!

Mistake #10: Copying a competitor's advertising approach. Strive to be original, and it will pay off. By copying a competitor's ad, you may just be building further awareness for your competitor, rather than establishing awareness for your brand. You need to be innovative in your advertising approach to differentiate your business from theirs if you want to gain the advantage for your brand in the marketplace. The AFLAC duck and the GEICO gecko are examples of ways companies in the usually unexciting insurance industry were able to gain top of mind awareness with the effective use of humor. If another insurance company were to use a goose or lizard in their ads, consumers would still likely think of the original duck and gecko.

Make A Million Bucks, Not a Million Mistakes
Lots of careful research, planning, and hard work go into developing successful advertising in any medium. Your ads must be smart, creative, and well-placed to reach your desired market and make them want what you sell. By avoiding these ten common advertising errors, though, you can use your ad dollars more effectively, get more response to your ads, and rake in greater revenue.

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