Look in the mirror

“Advertising doesn’t work. We’ve tried it. Ran some ads, and nothing happened. Didn’t increase our sales. Same goes for direct mail. We spent a lot of money on a mailer, and didn’t even recover ten percent of our costs.”

So you figured that as soon as your ad hit the publication, or as soon as your mailer arrived in the mailbox, you’d see a spike in sales?

“Of course we did!” She glared at me as though I’d just said the most stupid thing she had heard all week. “Isn’t that the point? Why else would we throw money into advertising?”

“I just want to make sure I understand your expectations. ”

I’m not trying to be difficult. I just want to make sure I understand your expectations.

She looked annoyed, but said nothing, so I continued. So you thought someone would receive your mailer and rush right in to buy?

Her irritation deepened, and she replied slowly, to make sure I understood. “Yes, we did. That’s why we spent the money. Why are you making this so complicated?”

Actually, I’m trying to make it easier. Bear with me. How many pieces of advertising mail have you received this week?

“At work or at home?” Both. “I don’t know, maybe a hundred.”

How many commercials have you heard on the radio or seen on TV? How many billboards have you passed while driving to and from the office?

“How would I know? What, maybe a thousand?”

Okay, and how many of those made you drop what you were doing and run out to buy what was being advertised?

Now she was certain I was an idiot. “I don’t do things that way. I don’t see someone’s ad and say, ’Gee, I have to stop and buy this right now!’ I buy when I need something. Why would I do anything else?”

I don’t know, but you’re telling me that’s how you expect your prospects to behave.

“Isn’t that how people are supposed to react?”

A lot of businesspeople think that’s how advertising works, but if they look in the mirror and ask themselves how they react to advertising, they’ll change their expectations. Unless you have a tremendous offer and some kind of incentive for acting immediately, most people won’t. They’ll behave just like you do. They’ll keep the ad in mind, and if they need what you offer, they’ll take a closer look.

“Well then, why should we throw money into advertising?”

You shouldn’t. If you look at the money you spend as “throwing” it into advertising, I’d stop. It’s an investment, just like the other investments you’ve made in your business. It builds visibility among prospective customers, so that when they’re ready to buy, they’ll remember you. It takes time, but the same is true of any way to build up your customer base.

The problem is that you’re treating advertising like a magic weapon. You run an ad, and you expect to be overrun with customers. But you admit that you don’t react that way, so why would you expect other people to do the same?

“So should I stop wasting money on advertising?”

Absolutely. But you shouldn’t stop investing in it. There’s a big difference between the two, and approaching advertising with the right expectations, and as just one part of your overall efforts, is the first step in making it work for you.