It never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from the mistakes of my small business clients. I’ve made some amazing ones myself and I’ve learned from them too. Making mistakes is part of the creative process of running a small business and we’re all entitled to make some!
For instance, when it comes to spending money on any kind of small business advertising, like newspaper, magazine, flyers, brochures, Yellow Pages, etc., many business owners fall into the same trap. They look at competitors’ advertising and create something similar in the same publication. Maybe their research has shown them that the publication is one that reaches their customer, so it makes sense. The problem is in the wording of the message and in the mistaken assumption that simply placing an ad means new customers.
Once I was hired to consult with a restaurant owned by two guys (let’s call them Joey and Nick) who had been in the business for years. They had a nice reputation in a competitive market, but business was flat. Yet they were advertising weekly, just as they always had, in the New York Times. Imagine what that cost! Each week they’d mention their great food, service, hours and occasionally a special event or holiday menu. The ad was in the middle of a bunch of other similar ads. You know I like to work with business owners on overcoming limiting patterns and developing a high level of self awareness so you know when change needs to happen. Well these guys were definitively on default setting.
When I recommended drastically changing their advertising copy, they resisted at first. But I told them to consider that they had nothing to loose, since they weren’t getting decent results anyway. We developed a small packet of cards with recipes for several of their best known dishes and offered the recipe cards to anyone responding to the ad. The ad was titled “XXX Restaurant Gives Away FREE Secret Recipes”. They couldn’t believe the response! Then we got the contact information from each person who requested the recipes and asked if we could put them on our mailing list so they’d know about all of the upcoming special offers and events. Just about everyone agreed and within 6 weeks their mailing list had grown by a whopping 500%.
Next, we put together a monthly newsletter chock full of gossip, recipes, customer stories and irresistible specials dishes. The weekend after the first newsletter came out they were completely full for the first time in months. Some customers said they had forgotten how much they liked the place and that the newsletter had reminded them. I asked them to track the percentage increase in reservations compared to the previous month and the same time the previous year, since their business was affected by the season and weather. Even though that sounded like hard work to them, they followed my suggestion. That gave us a baseline that helped us calculate expected response from future advertising adventures. We also gave each customer a 2 minute survey to fill out when they paid their bill, which automatically entered them in a contest. This gave us more useful information.
It’s important to note that once you choose where to place your message, how you word it will make all the difference. Research has shown that changing just a single sentence in a direct mail piece or ad can dramatically improve the response rate. If you’re on default, telling people repeatedly that you have the best customer service, the lowest price, the best product or service, or the coolest selection, what’s compelling about that? Everyone else is saying the same thing. So use your creativity and your advertising to motivate potential customers to take some simple action that will put them on your radar screen. Then start sharing what you know and showing them, in an intriguing way, how much they want or need what you have to offer. Finally, use every opportunity to learn more about them and to measure the results of your small business advertising.
Beware though, your competitors may not like it when you start nibbling away at their market share! That’s what happens when you wake up and think outside the advertising box.© Copyright 2007 Janis Pettit