Open up the Yellow Pages, your local newspaper, a magazine, or any other printed directory, and one of the first things you’ll likely see are banner ads for small businesses. Unfortunately, in most cases the ads that businesses publish in printed directories are not very well-written and probably aren’t actually generating many new customers for the business. Luckily for the folks who publish those directories, businesses do such a terrible job tracking the return on investment from their advertising that they will probably never realize their money is going to waste.
Let’s take a look at some of the essential ingredients of the typical poorly-written small business ad, using a real-life yellow pages ad as an example. Then we’ll re-write the ad to make it more effective, and give you an idea of how you can do the same thing for your own ads.
The first essential ingredient in the terrible small business ad is the irrelevant headline that doesn’t identify the target audience or tell us anything about the company in the ad. In the example to the right, taken from a local yellow pages (with logo and contact info removed to protect the innocent), the headline says “Don’t Compromise”, but doesn’t tell us who shouldn’t compromise, or what not to compromise about.
The Impossible and Overused Promise
Another essential ingredient of the terrible small business ad is the impossible and overused promise of “best product, best service, and best prices”. This is what everybody claims to have, and ironically it is also impossible. Think about it–if you are willing to accept poor quality or bad customer service (or both), you can always get a cheaper price, or possibly even not have to pay at all. What this company probably meant to say was that they had the best combination of service, quality, and price. Although it’s possible that this could be true, it is still something that everybody claims, and does nothing to distinguish this company from its competitors (who, keep in mind, will be listed right next to them in the yellow pages).
Bullet Point List of Products and Services
After making an impossible and overused promise, the terrible small business ad usually includes the same list of products and services sold by competing businesses. However, in our example this company actually doesn’t even do that–they simply include a list of nouns like “homes” and “rental properties”. We don’t actually know what this company does to homes or rental properties based on this ad. Does it build them? Clean them? Remodel them? I actually had to visit the company’s website to even determine what it was they did.
Confirmation of a Basic Expectation
For some reason, many small businesses feel the need to use up space in their ad with credit card logos, indicating that they do, in fact, expect to get paid for the service they provide or the products they sell. I’m sure the credit card companies appreciate the free advertising, but in an age when anyone with a cell phone can except credit cards, it’s pretty much expected that you will also. Unless you really are the only one among your competitors who accepts credit cards, or are in an industry where this practice is uncommon, don’t waste valuable space in your ad with credit card logos.
Meaningless Trust Symbol
Finally, as the last essential ingredient of our terrible small business ad we have the meaningless trust symbol. In a recent live workshop with twenty people in attendance where I used this ad as an example, only one person knew what the shield icon with a check-mark actually meant (I didn’t know either until I looked it up–it’s some type of quality guarantee program offered by the yellow pages to their advertisers). Using badges from third parties are a great way to gain people’s trust, but to be meaningful it must be something that people actually recognize.
Let’s Fix the Ad
Now that we’ve reviewed all the mistakes made by this advertiser, let’s re-write the ad to make it an effective “two-step” or direct response ad. A two-step ad is one that grabs the attention of a specific target audience with a valuable offer (step one), and then directs people to a place where they can get what is being offered in exchange for some type of contact information like name, email address, and phone number (step two).
Here’s the example ad re-written as a two-step ad, using the same space available as the original ad:
In the new ad, the headline clearly identifies the target audience (homeowners), identifies the type of company doing the advertising (a handyman service and remodeling contractor), and calls attention to the content of the ad (questions you should ask before hiring a handyman–which is exactly what someone reading a yellow pages ad would be thinking about doing).
In the body of the ad, the three questions not only call attention to the three main types of services offered by this company (something the original ad didn’t do), they also highlight how this company is possibly different than their competitors.
In the call-to-action section (which was completely missing from the original ad), we tell people how to find out the answers to the questions posed in the ad, and offer a valuable incentive for them to do so (a coupon for one month of free service).
Finally, we top it all off with an award from a well-known and widely trusted third party–in this case, Angie’s List, which is a service that allows people to review and rate contractors and other service-based businesses.
By re-writing the ad in this way, not only would this company probably get a better response, but they’d also easily be able to track their return on investment from the ad. All they’d have to do is set up a unique landing page on their website with a lead capture form that people could fill out to get the coupon for one month of free service, and they’d know exactly how many people responded to the ad.
Use the example above to write several two-step ads for your business, so you can start getting better results from your advertising.