Have you missed your marketing message?

Companies invest huge sums of money to promote their products and services. But all too often, they overlook the most obvious meanings and messages that would connect with their audiences. They end up wasting their investment and losing the opportunity to make a sale.


Consider the remarkably instructive example in a national magazine’s back-cover ad for one of those products that summons help for senior citizens with health problems. (To protect the guilty, I’ll call the company’s product “4Help.”)


The headline referred to “The medical alert service that costs less and goes where I go,” which isn’t particularly compelling, but having a parent who uses a similar service, I chose to read on. After some so-so copy that failed to either motivate or instruct me, I encountered what could have been a compelling story about a purported friend named Helen’s stroke and her inability to get help when she needed it most.


Sadly, that story was buried in the middle of a long paragraph. The photo at the top of the ad had nothing to do with the service or the stroke victim, either. Instead, it featured a remarkably healthy-looking, prematurely gray 50-ish woman playing with a designer dog. You’ll note that the photo really has nothing to do with the headline, either, unless the “goes where I go” is a reference to walking the dog.


A few simple changes could turn this lackluster ad into a much more compelling (and effective) sales effort. First, swap out the photo for an image of Helen or a worried-looking senior — one who doesn’t look like she’s still modeling in her 50s, so she connects with ordinary people. Then replace the headline with one connected to the story, say “When Helen had her stroke, I realized I needed 4Help.” It might not win trophies at any advertising award shows, but it would connect with an audience who sees peers being brought down by terrifying medical conditions. Most important, it would lead readers to wonder what 4Help has to do with surviving a stroke.


It’s not an isolated example. Companies frequently look right past the most important messages when creating marketing materials. One common reason is that they are so focused on the finer points of their products and the aspects that differentiate them that they forget why customers buy. The primary reason anyone — anyone — buys a medical alarm is the fear of being sick or hurt when alone. Period.


Companies tend to focus on what’s important to them, instead of on what’s important to their customers. Internally, they obsess over some minor detail, and they assume that it’s just as important to the outside world. Or they’re over-sensitive about what the competition has to offer. “SuperCall has Bluetooth capability — how can we compete?” Well, maybe Bluetooth capability isn’t all that important to your target audience. Instead of fearing what you perceive as the competition’s strengths, develop the confidence to focus on your own.


Far too many companies fail to take the time to get to know their customers and what really matters to them. Instead, they make assumptions based on their own biases. Years ago, I worked with a pair of executives who laughed off the idea of promoting interest on their bank’s checking accounts. “Who cares about checking account interest?” they scoffed before heading to their tony homes in a top-tier suburb. But for the bank’s Depression-baby customers in the blue-collar community it served, every penny mattered. That didn’t stop the executives from trying to use marketing strategies that would appeal to their neighbors, who had nothing in common with their customers.


If you’re not getting the mileage you want out of your marketing efforts, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the messages you’re sending. And when you look, don’t do it from the company’s perspective. Look at it through the audience’s eyes. If you don’t know or don’t understand why customers buy what you sell, stop wasting money and start taking the time to learn what’s important to them.


I don’t know how many alarms 4Help will sell this year. All I know is that they could — and should — be selling a lot more of them.

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