Advertising doesn’t have a Holy Grail

If you bring a group of business owners or managers together and ask them the most effective way to promote their organizations, you’ll get a wide range of answers and little agreement.

One may insist on blogging, another on radio spots, a third on coupon envelopes, and a fourth may affirm billboards are the only logical choice.

People like single choices. From childhood, our minds are trained to pursue the single answer for any situation. Whether it’s a question on a math test, a color choice for our living room, or a religious belief, we assume there is one single best choice and exclude the others as inferior.

When their chosen choice falls short, you’ll see those owners and managers shift to another. When that doesn’t produce the results they want, they’ll switch to a third. When that doesn’t create a jump in sales, they’ll go for a fourth … it goes on and on, with increasing desperation.

For most companies, a much better approach is a mix of multiple channels, delivered in ways that allows each to build upon the others. The channel for a given objective depends on several factors, including the company, its audience, the message being conveyed, the environment, and more.

Just because radio worked well for a company’s last effort doesn’t mean direct mail isn’t the right move right now. There’s no simple answer, because there are so many variables. If your audience is broad, then maybe advertising is the right choice. If you’re targeting a carefully defined group, direct mail or email will perform better.

There are two inherent lessons. The first is not to try to find a single channel that will serve all of the company’s needs, because those generally don’t exist. You’re more likely to find the real Holy Grail. The second is that before you spend a dollar to promote your business, you need to do some serious learning.  You need a deeper understanding of your customers, your marketplace, your competitors, and the environments in which you do business. And you need a solid, objective understanding of what makes one channel right for one situation, but not another.

Don’t make the common mistake of relying solely on the sales representatives who call on you from each of those channels to help you make those decisions. They’re among the nicest people you will ever meet, and most want you to succeed. But you can’t afford to forget who employs them and how they are compensated. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice; just remember they have a stake in the decisions you make.

Business owners often complain that marketing should be much easier. I agree, but I’ll also ask you what part of managing a business is simple? Taxes? Personnel? Regulatory compliance? As with all those areas, the key is to learn all you can and use that knowledge to make the best choices. If you don’t have the time or desire to learn, find an expert who can help you, the same way you probably turn your income taxes over to a skilled CPA.

You can keep looking for that magical single marketing solution, but rest assured that you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.

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