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Thursday, February 14, 2008




This month Marketing magazine published it’s annual survey of the ‘most-irritating’ ads on UK TV. A quick look at the top 20 reveals a wide range of products including, perhaps unsurprisingly, a host of household names like Halifax, PC World, Olay and Daz.

The winner, Injurylawyers4u, is not only unrepentant but in fact proud of its accomplishment. A director of the firm was quoted as saying, ‘another word for irritating is memorable’ and cited a drop in response rates earlier in the year when the ad was temporarily replaced.

So is he right, and, if so, what can small business advertisers learn from the ‘most-irritating’ adverts around?

Certainly consumers have no shortage of choice for most products and services and being bombarded by advertising has made most consumers pretty good at mentally screening out what doesn’t interest them. The effect is to turn most advertising into a depressingly ubiquitous background noise to daily life.

First and foremost then, an effective advert has to be able to cut through that noise and make an impression – even a negative one. Much more damaging and wasteful to a business is advertising that makes no impact – which is something that no one would accuse ‘Barry Scott’ and Cillit Bang of doing (sliding a disappointing one place to third in this year’s poll).

Perhaps one point to notice is that many of the companies listed are in industries with high levels of competition and little perceived differentiation between products. No less than 6 of the top 20 are financial service or insurance related – ranging from Shiela’s Wheels signing Aussies to Churchill’s nodding bulldog. Oh yes.

Of course, making an advertisement that stands out is only one step – it also needs to be effective. Indeed, a decent chunk of the top twenty ads named are designed to encourage direct response. Whether it be to sue the council for that broken paving stone, phone for a loan or compare car insurance deals online, they all want you to take action now. In other words, when you need someone to take action, you better make sure they hear you first.

Annoying ‘presenters’, silly taglines and soul destroying jingles aside – the one thing that tends to irritate more than anything else are ads that promote products that aren’t designed with you in mind. TV has long been the perceived preserve of mass market consumer brands and supermarket favourites. However, targeting niche audiences can also be highly lucrative.

For small businesses, niche means careful selection of the right media and ads that speak directly to your target market – without fear of irritating others. As the Phones4U (cue silly hand gesture and a well-deserved fifth place) marketing director said, ‘We are not in the business or trying to be all things to all men.’

More than anything though, it is repetition that leads to irritation. The highest (or should that be lowest) scoring ads on the irritation scale have all been around for ages. The same three ads made the top three last year and the signing bank staff from Halifax (13th) have been getting on our nerves for years.

A little ‘chicken and egg’ thinking later and to be irritating you need to be remembered and so to be remembered you need to repeat, repeat, repeat. After all, one annoying ad might be quickly forgotten, but if Nadine Baggot chimes on about pentapeptides one more time ….

[i]Mark Nagurski is a director of FreeForm Media, a Derry-based marketing company that works with small businesses nationwide. You can find out more online at or by phoning on 02871 368 189.[/i]

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Finding the right message

How many times have you seen a flashy ad on the TV that looks great, but you can’t for the life of you remember what is was for? Or even worse, a stylish ad that leaves you completely confused as to what it was all about?

Creativity, great design and stylish imagery can all be used to enhance a message but ultimately you need to communicate with your chosen audience. Content does matter – especially for small businesses on a restricted budget.

Of course that begs the question, “What should I say?”.

The first two steps in developing a practical marketing plan are defining what makes your business unique and identifying who your most likely customers are going to be. If you know what makes your business different from the rest – and how that will benefit your chosen target customers - your marketing message is simply a way of putting the two together.

For example, if you own a retail shop that sells gifts you may have decided that the unique lines you stock are what makes you unique as a business. You’ve also decided that difference will appeal most to people who are interested in great design or in giving the prefect present to someone who’s ‘difficult to buy for’. Combining those two points will create your basic marketing message, and, the more you know about your target customers the more specific you can be in addressing it to them.

In general your draft marketing message should follow a structure like: ‘Our Shop sells gifts … we are unique because … our most likely customers are … and you should use us because of the following unique benefits …’.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue so the next stage is to create simple taglines and descriptions that can be used across a variety of media – ads, flyers, websites etc… You’ll want a one-line phase, a 2-3 line phrase and a short paragraph.

One useful tool is often to draw comparisons, directly or indirectly, with the competition or the status quo – sometimes it’s easier to explain what you are not than what you are. Carlsberg’s series of ads that suggest they ‘Don’t do’ flatmates or holidays or nightclubs, helps reinforce the message of what they do do – beer. You can also use other businesses as a useful jumping off point – Starbucks could be pitched as the “McDonald’s of coffee’ for example.

Once you’ve written a few draft marketing messages, the next step is to test them out. Ask yourself and a few choice advisors some of the following questions:

• Who is this message aimed at? Describe them.
• Does it say why should they buy from me?
• Are those reasons unique to my business or could they easily apply to anyone?
• Does it address the reader or is it all about me? (using the words you and your are usually good signs)
• Is it clear and does it make sense?

If you can tick off those points you’ll likely have a simple and useful message that you can start applying to your marketing materials and business as a whole. Just remember, your marketing message is not just the words you use to describe yourself – everything from the design of your logo to the way you answer the phone should serve to reinforce the message.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Finding the right customer

Who are my most likely customers and what do they really want?

The fact is, you can’t market to everyone – it’s too expensive for one thing. But even if you had the budget of a Coca-Cola or Nike, trying to market to every woman and her dog wouldn’t be very smart either. A busload of middle-aged Japanese men could decide to make a detour to Derry to check out your fantastic new hair salon - but it’s not very likely.

The only way to make sure you get the best possible return from the marketing and advertising that you do is to decide who you should target and, in turn, what they really want from you. By being more specific with the people you market to (and therefore what you say to them) you save wasted expense and have a much stronger, better targeted, and more effective message.

The best place to start is with the question; why would someone buy from you? In answering that question, you have to focus on the things that make your business different from the rest – the things that make you unique. That list could include features like your location, the products you sell, the services you provide or even how you go about providing them.

The next step is to take that list and decide who is most likely to benefit from each of these unique points. For example, if the location of your corner shop makes you unique then the people most likely to benefit are those who live or work near by.

Once you start identifying how your uniqueness can benefit certain groups you can also start putting those groups into order – from most likely to least likely. As a beauty salon you might stock an exclusive range of hair care products that make you unique. Of course, you can sell these products to both men and women but you’ll be able to guess which of the two is more likely. Because you have limited resources in terms of money, time and (most importantly) customer attention, you need to prioritise.

Now you know who your most likely customers are, the next stage is to do some homework. To create a business that appeals to them directly and specifically, you’ll need to know what they really want when they buy products or services like yours.

Continuing the salon example, customers might be looking for a nice hairstyle or a new colour? But it could be they simply want to feel better coming out than they did going in. If that’s the case, you’re no longer selling a new hairstyle or even beauty – you’re selling a luxury experience.

Of course, there’re also a few practical points about your potential customers that you’ll want to know too. What newspaper do they read (helping you place your advertising)? What shops do they shop in (creating ideas for joint promotions)? Does price matter and if so, how much (helping you maximise your returns)? Do they use the Internet? Do they like getting text messages? Do the like special offers and promotions?

Anything you can find out about your potential customers can help make a difference, but you need to keep your focus on your most likely customers. An ad in the paper designed to appeal to young affluent women is not likely to appeal to middle-aged men in the same way.

Yes, that does mean that you’re not likely to attract as many middle-aged men but that’s a lot better than a more general, untargeted ad that attracts no one at all.

This article was originally published in the Derry News, August 30th, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why would someone buy from you?

People do things for a reason. That reason might not always seem the most logical or vital but there’s always a reason. Figuring out the reasons a potential customer would buy from you is the first important step in creating a marketing plan for your business – and probably the most important question you can answer.

The easiest way to start is with the basics. Why would a customer buy at all?

A customer buys something because they want to fill a specific need or want. People buy food because they don’t want to be hungry, they buy accountancy services because they want their taxes filed and they hire a painter because they want their walls to look good.

Of course, most customers want more than just the basics. They need food to avoid going hungry but they’re also likely to want it to taste good. They may also want it to be healthy, or cheap, on convenient or to make an impression at a dinner party.

These are all specific reasons why someone would buy from a particular business. The problem is that everyone will say the same thing. Everybody offers ‘a great service at an affordable price’, every car insurance firm says they are the cheapest, every restaurant has great food and every taxi firm has a ‘fast and reliable service’.

When everybody says the same thing, customers simply ignore everyone. Then it’s down to who’s got the biggest budget.

So if you haven’t got fortunes to spend, need to say something different. In other words, you need to identify the benefits that you can offer that are unique to you. Here are a few examples:

• People will buy from a corner shop because it’s the closest shop to them, if they don’t live nearby they won’t. Their location and convenience make them unique.

• Fashion conscious shoppers will buy from a retail outlet because they are the only place that stocks a particular brand, people who aren’t into brands won’t care.

• A bar could attract a specific clientele because they’re the only place to have live bands on a Friday night, people who don’t like live music will go elsewhere.

Take away the unique points from any of these businesses and customers wouldn’t seek them out – there would be no reason to. Likewise, if what’s unique about you doesn’t interest your potential customers you’re no better off. A shop full of high fashion brands that nobody likes (or has even heard of) won’t succeed.

Bring that all together and you get a simple process:

1. Make a list of things customers want – i.e. reasons why they buy
2. Make a list of benefits you can offer
3. Rule out anything that the customer can get somewhere else just as easily – i.e. things that aren’t unique to you
4. Whatever’s left are the reasons customers will buy from you and the most effective marketing message you can use

Now that you’ve identified what makes you unique, the next step is to start figuring out the groups of potential customers that your ‘uniqueness’ is most likely to appeal to - and how you can build it all into a powerful and effective message.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A nice article ...

Just came across this nice little article by Jay Abraham on using marketing partnerships to grow your business - or as he calls them Host / Beneficiary arrangements.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Where to buy a chicken dinner

Let’s say you really fancy a fried chicken dinner this evening.

You don’t feel like cooking, so you start to think about takeaways that might be able to satisfy your poultry loving hunger. Of course, there are dozens of places you could go that sell fried chicken, but chances are, there’s one fast food brand name that will certainly enter into your thoughts. After all, it’s right there in the three-letter acronym. Problem solved.

Fried chicken aside, focussing your business on providing a particular type of product or service is one of the most effective and practical ways to market your business. It comes down to the reasons why people buy – and why they don’t buy.

When people buy a product or service, they’re looking for a solution to a specific problem or to fill a specific desire or want. When I’m hungry I don’t just want to be full. I want the food to taste good and perhaps be healthy, or inexpensive or convenient – or all three. My wants are actually quite specific and I’m going to search for a solution that most closely fulfils my needs. If I’m looking for that healthy option, the takeaway up the road will not be my first port of call – no matter how delicious it may be. A shop that’s called Healthy Options would probably be more likely.

This is great news for small businesses. Since customers are looking to fill very particular needs it means there’s no need for you to try and be all things to all people – you can become a specialist. Simply put, customers have more choice and are more discerning, so for an increasing number of firms, attracting a large percentage of a small pie is more profitable - and more likely - than going head to head with the bigger players with bigger budgets.

To get a feel for the effectiveness of specialisation you can draw a comparison with magazine titles. If you were searching for information on interior design you might find it in a general lifestyle magazine but you’d be much more likely to pick up a copy of Interior Design Monthly.

You’d expect the editors of Interior Design Monthly to know something about interior design even before you open the cover or read a single line. By focusing your own business and marketing message, you can achieve the same immediate level of trust. In other words, you can become the most natural and obvious solution to potential customers’ needs - simply by saying that you are.

Obviously if Interior Design Monthly didn’t live up to your expectations you wouldn’t buy it again and likewise, delivering on this initial level of trust is vital to building a successful business. But, by setting your stall out as serving a particular set of needs (ex. those of would be interior designers) you immediately communicate that you understand their needs and imply that you’ve helped fill the needs of other people just like them.

That aside, the really good news for small businesses with small budgets is that focusing your message has a number of ‘knock on’ benefits as well:

• Targeting a smaller market can help keep your advertising and marketing costs low
• Your message becomes more effective
• You’re more likely to benefit from word-of-mouth
• A compact market is easier to tap into and may have more obviously routes in
• You can build a reputation as an expert within your chosen speciality – opening new doors and opportunities
• Focusing allows you to deliver a better, more tailored, service
• Your message is more credible – no one believes you can be a specialist or expert in everything. i.e. a student bar doesn’t easily double up as chic yuppie hang out.
• You stand out amongst the more general businesses and general marketing messages.

Of course, there are obvious exceptions that may come to mind. Your local supermarket for example. They might well sell insurance, credit cards and loans. However they first became the place to buy your groceries and then used that trust, brand loyalty and footfall to move into new areas. Having said that, these forays into new arenas are not always successful and many brands end up shelving new additions to ‘get back to their knitting’.

Regardless of how you go about it, marketing your business is about positioning yourself as a solution to specific customer needs. The more directly you address those needs the more effective your message will become. Decide what makes you unique and then find the customers who are most likely to respond. Focus.

After all, you wouldn’t want go to a seafood restaurant to buy that box of fried chicken.