The Finer Points of Advertising

I have been in the advertising and marketing business for about 25 years. Fifteen years ago I found myself immersed in the carpet care industry when I began creating advertising for a local carpet cleaning company, a company that grew to earn the distinction of being the largest independent operator in the country.

Following a few advertising rules of thumb will help you improve your sales, or at the very least keep you from wasting your precious time and marketing funds repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Don’t Over Promise
Find an offer that balances the need to get the phone ringing at a price point you can live with without having to up-sell a first-time customer.

Let’s face it: though it has improved in recent years, in many ways the carpet cleaning industry does not enjoy the best of reputations among service companies. There may still be a bit of a hangover from the somewhat wooly early days of the industry when “bait and switch” was often the norm when it came to marketing techniques. Consumers usually go into the process of getting carpeting cleaned with at least a little bit of skepticism.

With the cost of production and media skyrocketing every year there is a better-than-average chance that you will not break even on your marketing investment unless at least 50 percent of your customers become repeat users. If you rely too heavily on promotions that are below cost with the expectation that you will boost your margins with a bunch of “add-ons” after you get to the job, you will probably get the sale, but you will lose the customer’s repeat business.

If your standard strategy creates tension at the point of sale with a first time customer, your repeat business will suffer greatly.

Focus on One Thing and One Thing Only
Advertising is truly great when it works for you even when you are not on the air or running in the newspaper. Most operators do not have the budget or the inclination to work with a professional advertising agency. Those who do it on their own need to make sure that every piece of communication created for their business does a good job of selling one key point.

We develop a creative brief for every assignment, and step one of the project is to answer the question, “What is the single thing that reader/viewer must remember after seeing or hearing this ad?” We do not move forward on the project until that question is answered.

When a client wants to answer it using a “laundry list,” that sends up a bunch of red flags. The most effective advertising is focused and to the point. It is impossible to create any kind of recall from an ad that is littered with copy wrapped around 12 different offers and bullet points.

Know Your Target Audience and What Media Reaches Her
It is difficult to be successful unless you understand and appreciate who your buyer is. Over the years I have found that whenever we strayed from media that does not deliver upscale women, age 25 to 54 and living in the suburbs, we did not get the required return on investment. Depending on the particulars of the market, daytime television is going to be the most efficient overall for this target audience. However, the high cost of this media and the cost of producing a quality spot are prohibitive for many operators. If that is the case, prioritize the investment in other media based on its ability to deliver your key target audience.

As a general rule of thumb, operators should use as much broadcast as possible. Television is best, but radio can work as well. I say this for two reasons: First, broadcast delivers the target audience well and gives provides a chance to create a lot more name awareness, which will make print, coupons, and direct mail work harder. Second, broadcast gives the advertiser a great deal more credibility with prospects, which is very important in the carpet cleaning industry for reasons I mentioned in rule one.

Put Your Number to Music
Many of the most successful service company campaigns end with a “sing-out” of the company’s phone number. When done properly, music increases recall exponentially. I have never understood why some clients insist on referring potential customers to the Yellow Pages to find a phone number. That just gives the competition one more chance to intercept a sale that should be yours.

Track Your Advertising Investment
This sounds like a no-brainer, but I cannot tell you how many of our clients, large and small, don’t do a good enough job of tracking their marketing investments. In this category, the historical average of advertising expenditure as a percent of total sales is 10 percent to 20 percent, depending on the market. For operators just starting out, the investment ratio tends to be higher, reflecting a seeding of the business.

Remember, when planning yearly expenditures, expect to invest between $50 and $125 on advertising for every new customer, and about one quarter of that same amount to get a repeat call from an existing customer. The media investment should be driven by sales objectives. If you are not tracking your response rates, you will never have a good idea of whether or not you are getting acceptable results.

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