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Advertising Principles - Part 3 - The Right Media

Furniture World Magazine


Three laws for making effective media decisions for promotional events.

Here Is one easy example of the application of synergy: Schedule your next Private Sales event on the day before your general sale. Your letter will advise customers that they can get first selection before the general sale, and to listen to the radio and watch the newspaper for more details. Run your ad (for example) on Thursday, saying the sale begins Friday. Start radio on Thursday, giving the same message, advising listeners to check their newspapers. Have a "greeter" at the door to pass out letters to all who "forgot" them. On Friday use a new radio spot stating the sale Is In motion, and refer to Thursday's ad. By using the media to complement each other, you will do record Private Sale business and prime the pump for a great start on the general sale.

Millions of dollars are wasted on advertising every day. Newspapers and mailboxes are filled with hastily done ads and brochures, some of them done by people who have never read a single book on advertising techniques and methods. Television and radio appeals are often lost in the clutter unless certain basic ideas are followed. The information you will read in this article about media selection and use is derived from hundreds of hours of study of statistical findings and personal experience with thousands of sales events.

Know that all a medium is capable of doing is carrying a message – your message. All media "work" if they do one thing: deliver your message. If that message is tired and stale it will not interest anyone – if it is passionate and compelling it will attract readership. So, first of all understand how each advertising medium functions, and don't execute the messenger when all it can do is deliver your message.

To be effective, the media choices must complement each other, and work together. They must tell the same story, and be positioned to support one another. Learn how to use your media synergistically – so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I will give some clear examples of how we do this.

This may seem impossible when a big chain is "always on the television" and "always running double trucks in color." But we have learned over the years that there are ways a smaller retailer can use virtually all the media and achieve an important degree of notice. The only exception to this may be television, which is vastly overrated and can be a money pit for a smaller retailer. Let's consider various media and how these three principles relate to them.

The primary medium an independent merchant needs for promotion is targeted mailings. Direct mail is the potential key to a modern independent retailer's success. In no other medium is he or she on virtual equal footing with the biggest retail giants in the world. Yet few merchants use direct mail to full effectiveness. A box of sales receipts that have not been converted into a mailing list is a sleeping giant.

An unused mailing list of customers is like having a big bank account, and never using the money. The "account" is filled with good will, loyalty and interest in your merchandise, people, and your store's "atmosphere." Big furniture chains use customer mailings on a regular, ongoing basis. Yet smaller merchants collect names and addresses and then fail to cultivate and nurture these customers. This attitude, often adopted by independents who need every equalizer they can find, makes little sense.

Regular, well-planned and professionally designed customer mailings can add a month's profitable business - or two - or even three to your annual volume! Some smaller specialty stores may argue that if a customer has bought a mattress set or a dinette from them they are no longer important prospects. It's true that a prospect can only buy so many dinettes and mattress sets in one lifetime. But many customers who have really been impressed by your service have children and/or relatives whom they would introduce to your store – if they are invited to do so. And if you apply the "200" principle of Joe Girard (named the World's Greatest Salesman in the Guinness Book of Records for many years in a row), you will be able to take advantage of the fact that every sold and satisfied customer knows about 200 other people. A real estate agent I know gets record numbers of listings by simply mailing a well-designed post card to folks who have already bought a house from her. The appeal is: "Referrals from satisfied customers are the key to my success – do you know anyone I could help?" This method can easily be adapted by an independent merchant and used at least once a year.

There are many advantages to attracting the customer back to your store who has already shopped there at least once. These customers know your store, and have liked your merchandise enough to buy something from you. They have proven credit. They are pre-sold on your kind of operation, and they are PURE GOLD.

If you already have a good mailing list, use it regularly. Every other month is not too often, provided the message you send is fresh, has a new idea or offer, and looks "different" than the month before. Hastily prepared, repetitive appeals annoy people. Exciting, carefully thought-out messages motivate them.

Keep your mailing list as clean as possible. Incidentally, first class mailings cost more, but research shows they pull far better than third class. Stamped envelopes pull better than metered. Hand addressed better than labeled. If your list is not especially large, these are factors that can work to your advantage against the huge chains stores. Finally, an appealing and sincere letter from the president of a store often greatly out-pulls a slick, "broadside" brochure.

You can also blanket mail to selected groups of "prospective" customers and achieve good return. ADVO, Inc. provides a number of effective options, and can pinpoint target mailings down to a carrier route.

Now, you may hear "experts" say that people no longer read newspapers. Or people in their city just watch television. But statistics prove otherwise.

The same experts who "never read" the newspaper pick up the want-ads and read six-point type hour after hour to look for a home or a used car. When people need a job or want a special service, they go to the small print of the want ads. If they are shopping for furniture, they begin to notice furniture ads - just as you begin to notice tire ads when you need tires - or ads for flowers in the spring and snow-blowers in the fall.

If your newspaper ad is poorly done it will not pull. An ad may be thrown together due to lack of time, and lack key elements such as credit information, hours, years in business, generic listings of merchandise, famous brands carried, and many other important check point items, as explained in The December/ January issue of FURNITURE WORLD. Good newspaper ads and flyers are difficult to create. They require a capable writer who knows advertising, and a good designer who understands layout. These pros need input from a smart merchant who understands how to merchandise, and is willing to invest in enough space to make an impressive newspaper ad. Even so, smaller ads that use color effectively, that are designed for visual impact, and have something important to say to prospects will attract customers.

Use page-dominating ads - even if you are only using a single column. Use color and reduce the size of an ad, if necessary. (Statistically, the wise use of color can double or triple readership.) If possible, use color preprints as inserts, especially on "food day" when they run along with store coupons. Mention an impending newspaper ad or color flyer in your Preferred Customer targeted mailing. Refer to the print ad or flyer in radio commercials. Tell customers Who? What? When? Where? and How? Newspaper ads and color circulars work when they leave no stone unturned to make them work. A "trifle" here and there means a fraction of a percentage point increase in effectiveness. Remember: "Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle."

In most cities the newspaper buy is really cut and dried. But don't overlook zoned ads and special distribution days. In some cases, classified ads can be used effectively. The most important question asked about kicking off a promotion with a display ad may be timing: "When do I run the ad?" After many, many years of testing every solution to newspaper buying, here is our recommendation:

  • Evening Paper: Run the day before the sale.
  • Morning Paper: Run the day before the sale.
  • Evening Morning Split: Run both the day before the sale.

I once informally interviewed five top advertising people at the Washington Post, and asked them: "If I could only run one ad in your morning paper, and I was having a sale that would break later in the day, should I run that day, or run the day before? The answer was unanimous: run the day before. The reason, they told me, is that many buyers never get to read the morning paper carefully until evening. It is in the evening that most buying decisions are made, especially among the more affluent and less impulsive buyers. Schedule the ad to run on the day before the event . . . you'll get the most for your money!

Make your copy read as though you really want to tell the prospect something, and you enjoy doing it. Good copy will outsell weak copy--five to ten times! You don't have to be a sophisticated "expert" to be able to sell in print. In fact, in my judgment the best copywriters are smart, aggressive merchants - merchants who know their goods, are seriously committed to selling them in print, and have the time to do so. Next best is a good, trained writer who is generously fed information by a determined merchant.

Some merchants will argue that it is pointless to tell customers that a particular recliner chair has a "lifetime mechanism" or the fabric on a sofa has a "luxurious texture" since their competitors will generally offer the same features in their own goods. In other words, they reason: Why talk up my merchandise as though it was something special when what I say could easily apply to a competitor's merchandise?

The answer to this question is important to you: A great copywriter once tripled the sales of a particular beer by boasting in a series of ads: "Our bottles are sterilized seven times." The fact was that everybody's bottles were sterilized seven times. But all the other beer companies failed to mention this fact.

In these days of brutal and growing competition, you need every possible advantage over competition. You need to get credit for every factor that enhances your goods, your store and your image. The art of selling is enhancing the value of a product, not cutting the price until someone will buy it. "The more you tell, the more you sell.

Simplifying the mystery of air media:
Radio: The strength of radio is that it is generally a mobile medium. The cost per thousand is relatively low. Radio for event support must be bought with saturation and dominance as a goal. However, remember the medium is generally listened to by people in cars. That's why drive time spots are so costly. But who wants to go to a sale on the way to, or home, from work? And who recalls radio commercials once they are home? Instead of buying all expensive drive-time spots, weight the buy to the much less costly evening weekday spots (up until almost closing), and the weekend spots (from 6 a.m. to a half hour prior to closing.) Then your commercials can be worded to reach couples out on a drive who may be shopping, or at least in the mood to look at furniture. Dominate one station or two. If you can't afford a radio-buying expert pick the best soft-rock and/or country-western stations you can afford. Also consider popular talk stations and oldie stations. Remember, every seven seconds a "baby boomer" is reaching the age of fifty. It's better to be the dominant factor on one or two stations in a promotional event, than weak on several.

In your commercials refer to your newspaper ad. People with a preferred customer letter may hear on the radio that the store is closed to the general public, and read in their letter that they can shop now and beat the crowd. This has proven to be a very powerful motivator.

Television: Fortunately for agencies - who get 15% commission for TV and no commission for newspaper ads - furniture merchants like to see their commercials on TV. Especially if they feature themselves. In a high impact event, TV may be useful to supplement and enhance newspaper, direct mail and radio - provided you have achieved dominance on the key three media first. But, if you take advertising dollars from your three key impact media (mail, newspaper and radio) to buy a few expensive television spots, your sale will suffer for it.

The weakness of TV for the retailer is its escalating costs, and the unbelievable clutter and increasing audience fragmentation due to cable networks. As in the case of radio, saturation is required to achieve market penetration and to support the event. This can be costly. Unlike radio, people watch TV programs not stations, and switch channels often. Listening statistics are less and less reliable because consumers channel surf during commercials or mute them out. It is next to impossible to dominate television effectively.

Merchants often brag about having a single commercial in an expensive, prime time network slot. "Hundreds of thousands of people saw us," they may say. Perhaps, but more likely most of them were in the bathroom, channel surfing, or had the mute button on. It takes five or six impressions to really impact a consumer and get a very simple message across on TV. This is extremely costly and difficult for a retailer. How many TV commercials do you recall having seen last night?

Having written these things, we hasten to say that TV has its place and value for some merchants in day-to-day advertising. TV is great for selling a concept, and also a good supplement for interludes during a long high impact event. But, generally speaking, TV should not be used at the cost of diluting the newspaper-radio-direct mail event-formula we have proven effective over and over again.

If you do buy TV, stay away from the high-priced prime-time spots. You can get excellent buys and reach the female audience by selecting Talk Shows and Soaps. Women are the key target for marketing home furnishings items.

If you have to make your ad smaller to afford to use color, do so. Color can double or triple the attention your ad achieves. It can dominate a page, even when the ad is rather small. Choose color wisely. Yellow is extremely effective as a background color and is the only background color that can make black words easier to read (if you use red or blue, or use a gray tone as a background, you can actually reduce readership by half or more!). Reverse type (white on black) can work for headlines in small doses, but never reverse large amounts of body copy. Nobody will read it. If possible, try to shape your ad so that it goes "over the fold," or past the half-way mark of a page.

The $10 and $100 bill are just pieces of paper with printing on them. They are similar In size, material content ink color and quality. Yet, the message on one of these pieces of paper makes it worth ten times more than the other! In advertising, It Is the message -not the messenger -that counts. It has been proven that well-crafted copy can be as much as five times more effective than stale, lazy copy. If you can make your advertising even twice as cost effective as the competition's, imagine the advantage this would give you! Insist that your copywriters and artists who spend ad dollars become familiar with the large body of research that isavailable about advertising effectiveness.

IN THE NEXT ISSUE: We will complete our discussion of media with "SIGNS, the Neglected Silent Salesmen" and "People Media: The Most Powerful Media of All." The "People-Media" information will be of special interest to the few visionary CEOs who look beyond this month's or this year's bottom line and who have a mission and a vision of their company three, five or ten years down the stretch. Even more than this, great People-Media has its roots reaching downward, deep into the values that drive a company that is being built to last. These roots also spread out horizontally to nourish the associates who will honor the Values, commit to the Mission, and share the Vision of your organization. Does this sound a bit fluffy and impractical? Read the facts about such a visionary furniture company, one of the fastest growing in America, with 18% compounded growth for the last 15 years. The cardinal "secret" of this growth is not management driven by bottom line profits, but rather management driven by "top-line" service. Top line service-driven management is the most difficult, demanding and exacting of arts, but it may be well worth pausing from the hustle and bustle, taking a deep breath, and considering such methods. What does this have to do with advertising? Everything! People-Media, when used correctly, unifies, validates, and multiplies everything you say and do in all other advertising. Top line management fosters great People-Media and gives deeper meaning to the worthy occupation of satisfying customers' needs for quality and value when acquiring furnishings for their homes.

Larry Mullins, President of UltraSales, Inc., has 30+ years experience in the front lines of retail furniture marketing. Larry's mainstream executive experience, his creative work for "promoter-specialists," and study of advertising principles has enabled him to continually develop new High-Impact strategies for independent furniture retailers that are sound, complete, and innovative. Inquiries can be sent to Larry care of FURNITURE WORLD at editor@furninfo.com.


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