Now is the time to convert expensive, weak retail advertising into highly productive, cost effective efforts using the internet.
Advertising Techniques by Larry Mullins
Creative destruction has been unleashed on the furniture industry. As our economy is being reset, new winners and losers are rapidly being created. Furniture entrepreneurs who have the appropriate marketing strategy, and cash to survive, will achieve a bigger market share. They will reap huge benefits when the normal flow of business returns—especially those progressive entrepreneurs who grasp the idea of Evidence-Based Advertising.
Never before in history have furniture entrepreneurs had access to more information, on a more timely basis. Yet, recession seems to have hit furniture harder than virtually any other industry. “Never seen it so bad,” we hear constantly. We wonder: “How could so many big hitters, so many smart furniture people, be in such difficulty?” Many issues affecting our industry are beyond our control. But not advertising. And, during a time when home furnishings have never been a greater value, furniture and mattress advertising has never been so ineffective and wasteful.
Creators of home furnishings ads can fill white space with colorful, beautiful ads in a fraction of the time it took not so many years ago. But, the ads are impoverished of informational content. Home furnishings ad pros have awesome technical abilities. Yet most know nothing of the reliable evidence-based standards that makes advertising work. Without such evidence-based advertising formulas they CANNOT consistently produce effective ads. This lack of training and knowledge is a failure of top management.
And herein lies the opportunity for the independent furniture entrepreneur to recapture market share by adopting Evidence-Based Advertising.
Evidence-Based Advertising is a total media marketing approach based upon long-standing principles that have been tested and retested and consistently proven to be effective. Do they still work today? Definitely. Times change, and the techniques of using media must be constantly modified, but the core principles are as valid today as they ever were.
Perhaps more so, since good advertising stands out in the wasteland of glitzy, but hastily produced, content-starved home furnishing ads of today.
Where did the “evidence” come from? The tested advertising principles were originally developed by direct-response advertisers. Mail order, TV telemarketing, and now Internet marketing pros have one thing in common: they must get positive results or they will quickly go broke.
Mail order and Internet pros can test headlines and layouts with micrometer-like precision. Either the appeal brings in returns or it does not. There is no room for alibis. Soon evidence accumulates as direct-response pros change a single word in a headline and the results multiply! This testing once took lots of time and expense but the Internet has revolutionized testing, and the results of multiple ad appeals can be evaluated at an unheard of pace.
The independent furniture entrepreneur at last has the advantage over the Big Boxes because it takes so long for a titanic corporate machine to change course. The failure of home furnishings advertising to be cost-effective for the Big Boxes is the result of too many crucial decisions that were based upon pre-recession market conditions. The original theory was: Just run more advertising than anyone else, and overwhelm the market with a geyser of print and TV. Expensive, but it did work for a while, when the use of slick color flyers was a relatively new idea. But, newspapers are now cluttered with flyers and the playing field has leveled. Moreover, the recession customer is tougher, internet savvy, and suspicious. So the big box tsunami of TV and print continues to drain more and more cash while producing less and less result.
The time is ripe for the independent home furnishings entrepreneur to review the proven, evidence-based principles about advertising and put them to work. (more on this later). Resolve to start creating messages that are content-rich, and develop a media plan to deliver them. As to media, there is a new kid on the block, the Internet. Make friends with it. When integrated with your other media, the Internet is definitely a game-changer. The Internet is in dynamic flux and new marketing possibilities for retail are constantly emerging.
The Internet On A Higher Level
I have written about using the Internet, especially how progressive merchants are enhancing their websites. (See Forget Old Media, Use People Media™ -- Part 5, posted to the marketing management article archive on the furninfo.com website.) But, things are happening so fast I recently attended an internet seminar in Phoenix. For a seasoned 30-year pro who learned the basics of advertising from the great Clyde Bedell, this training seminar was a revelatory experience. I was surrounded by fellow students who spoke a different language (Internetese) and who knew much more about the medium than I did. Everyone at these seminars seemed to understand what was going on better than me, a humbling, but eventually an immensely rewarding experience. The first thing I learned—and you must also understand—is this:
1. Advertising can work effectively on the Internet because it has a great potential to be engaging and persuasive rather than being intrusive and impersonal. Traditional intrusive advertising, especially poorly crafted advertising, is becoming less and less believed, and thus less and less effective. A couple of years ago we could view the Internet as a medium for the younger prospect. No longer. Older people are checking company websites before they go shopping.
The next thing I learned about the internet was something I already knew to be true about ordinary advertising. It’s something Clyde Bedell and all the advertising pioneers of old taught. Today it’s still being proclaimed by brilliant gurus such as Jay Abraham (see Forget Old Media Use People Media™ - Part 4 on FURNITURE WORLD Magazine’s furninfo.com website) and Jay Conrad Levinson (of Guerrilla Marketing notoriety). These experts teach the same principle I teach, but too many furniture entrepreneurs are still not getting the message and applying it to all their advertising communications:
2. Prospects just don’t believe empty claims that are not supported by an effective, plausible, evidence-based story written by someone they accept as a credible expert who is also a trusted friend.
Did I say trusted friend? Yes, I did.
How is it possible to position oneself as a credible expert who is also a trusted friend? I’m going to tell you exactly how to do this in this article. But first I want to establish a third principle about the Internet that you must know to revive your overall advertising effectiveness.
3. To gain a substantial competitive advantage, those furniture entrepreneurs who are still standing must learn to apply evidence-based, proven advertising principles to all their print, mail and air media and marry them to an effective presence on the Internet.
As we rebuild from the rubble of the current economic catastrophe, now is the time for furniture entrepreneurs to adopt an approach to marketing that will enable them to convert expensive, weak efforts into productive, cost effective advertising. The technology and motivations are in place to implement “Evidence-Based Advertising ” as never before. This will result in a substantial competitive advantage to those who rigorously adopt it.
Internet Experts & Evidence-Based Advertising
One of the first pleasant surprises I got during my continuing Internet training period was that the most successful Internet practitioners are learning and applying traditional principles. These principles are based upon Bedell’s famous premise:
There is only one language of advertising. It is the universal language of the prospect which is, “What’s in it for me? What will I get out of it?”
Here, with a few embellishments and modifications, are Bedell’s Six Cardinal Principles of Good Advertising:
1. All good selling is serving. That is, meeting your prospects’ needs and exceeding their expectations.
2. People buy only to acquire benefits that are more valuable to them than the cost of the product or service being offered.
3. These benefits must be logically supported by specific product features.
4. When a sufficient amount of adequately supported benefits accumulate, they credibly promise to fulfill the aspirations of a prospect. These benefits are not for product like a sofa, or a mattress, but for a more beautiful, comfortable home or for the renewed health and energy resulting from more restful sleep.
5. Prospects are hungry for information and will read, and often reread, any amount of copy if it is interesting, vital, and addresses the specific need they are seeking to fill or problem they are seeking to solve.
6. Top management, beginning with the CEO, must understand, believe in, and enforce these cardinal principles that make advertising productive and maximally cost-effective, or they will be crushed and lost under the weight of ignorance and prejudice.
On the Internet you only have a few seconds to persuade prospects that they are on the right page. Just as in your print advertising, you need a killer headline that quickly persuades them it will be worth their while to read the next bit of information. NOTE: When interviewing an ad department, I often test ad people with the question: “What is the purpose of a headline?” The answer may surprise you: “To get the prospect to read the next line.” And, what is the purpose of that next line? Ditto, to get them to read the next line, and on and on. Keep in mind that although the impatient Internet prospect likely came to you (for free) out of the blue, they are nonetheless precious.
Many of the Internet gurus are multi-millionaires. They have low overhead and virtual offices with very few employees. Although they are generally unaware of the brick and mortar world of retail, in the cyber world they are masters. They have acquired the simple three-step formula that today’s furniture entrepreneurs understand and honor on the sales floor, but have forgotten in advertising.
The Internet experts have learned to use their medium to morph from a stranger, to an expert, to a trusted friend, and thus sell effortlessly to the tough consumer of today. I promised to explain how they do this, so read on.
Use Your Advertising to Establish Your Expertise
The first task of your media communications is to establish yourself as the preeminent expert on home furnishings in your community. This is not so difficult, since competitors have left an information void for you to step up and fill. Ask yourself: What are customers looking for when they come to my website? Or when they pause to look at one of my print efforts? Or when they are induced to open my direct mail appeals? Or when they walk in the door of my showroom? Information. More than that, they are looking for expert information that is trustworthy. You, or your representative, are a stranger. Every good salesperson knows this. It would be unthinkable for a salesperson to greet prospects by screaming something like: “Incredible Fourth of July Sale!” Yet this is exactly how most home furnishings websites greet customers.
Each medium is different, but the principles hold. In a print ad or flyer there is more display area and more time to engage the customer’s fleeting eye. In a one-on-one encounter, a low key confidence conversation sets the sales sequence into motion. But on the Internet, the prospect is usually much more impatient and has come to you for fast information to solve a specific problem. The first thing you need to do is to establish that they have come to the right website—and next—that you are the preeminent expert in home furnishings in your city. You do this by providing them with free information they can use. There is an art to doing this on the Internet, no less than on the sales floor or in a direct mail piece.
Content is King, Period
There is a saying among the Internet devotees: Content is king. The websites and advertisements of most furniture stores, even the Big Boxes, are pathetic when it comes to supplying information. The prospect wants to know: WHO are you? Why should I believe you? How long have you been in business? Are your sales consultants trained? WHAT do you offer that is better than your competitors? Selection? Service? Expertise? Guarantee? WHY should I buy from you? … and on and on. Ask your top sales consultants to come up with ten questions they are most frequently asked. Offer free stuff … downloads rich with information, free decorator clinics, free house calls (Margarett DeGange’s excellent FURNITURE WORLD series can provide you with scripts for the clinics. If you want links to articles you can use to set up a House Call program, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org). Make sure your ads mention your website and that your website ties in appropriately with your other advertising.
Unfortunately, once a website is up and running, it is usually abandoned by top management. The CEO, especially, rarely visits his or her own website. Too often the only new information on a website is the current advertisement. Prospects are not greeted by content-rich presentations developed by the preeminent expert on home furnishings in their city (you), but rather by some bombastic, faceless stranger.
Advertising is nothing more or less than professional selling multiplied by a medium. A top-level professional ad person is one who has mastered the body of knowledge about advertising and communicating content-rich messages. This person knows how to use traditional mainstream media and the Internet in a synergetic manner to maximize advertising effectiveness to a new level.
A complete discussion of effective website development is beyond the scope of this article. But I strongly suggest you review the May, 2008 article (posted to www.furninfo.com) about how Wendell’s Furniture is using short web videos to engage prospects . For a hundred dollars or so you can buy a web camera and create your own videos. You can greet your website prospects with an easy-to-access video instead of a boring “About Us” tab that no one reads. Over 60% of web surfers are viewing videos.
Yes, there is much more to learn and do. But if you spend an hour a day working on your Internet marketing expertise, in a year you will have accumulated over nine forty-hour weeks of study. If you work at it, when prospects hit your city name and “furniture” or “home furnishings” you will be near the very top of the Google list. Don’t leave such critical issues to a computer technician whom you never even talk with. Learn to talk his language, let him know you are engaged and challenge his work. Teach him the tested and proven principles of effective advertising and orchestrate a synergy with your mainstream advertising efforts. While your competitors are still frozen like a deer in the headlights, get ahead of the curve with Evidence-Based Furniture Advertising. These actions will put you well ahead of all your competitors.
Larry Mullins is a contributing editor for FURNITURE WORLD Magazine and has 30+ years experience on the front lines of furniture marketing. His mainstream executive experience, creative work with promotion specialists, and mastery of advertising principles have established him as one of the foremost experts in furniture marketing. His turnkey High-Impact programs produce legendary results for everything from cash raising events to profitable exit strategies. Larry’s newest books, “The Metavalues Breakthrough” and “Immature People With Power... How To Handle Them”, have recently been released by Morgan James Publishing. Joe Girard, “The World’s Greatest Salesman” said of his latest book: “If I had read Larry Mullins’ book when I started out, I would have reached the top much sooner than I did.” Larry is founder and CEO of UltraSales, Inc. and can be reached directly at 904.794.9212. See more articles by Larry at www.furninfo.com.