The Secret of Powerful Advertising

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British statesman Edmund Burke once said, "Facts are to the mind what food is to the body." And if ever there was a secret for how to create effective direct mail and ads, that is it, because great advertising always has something substantial and relevant to say. And to say something substantial and relevant, you must have command of the facts.

So before you get caught up in the creative whirlwind of writing and designing, collect all the information you can. Read, ask questions, dig, let your curiosity roam free. It's like panning for gold - eventually, you turn up the shiny nuggets that can turn your advertising into profit.

Here are some of the questions you should find the answers to on every promotion:

• What is the product, service or cause?

• What are the features? Which are most important?

• What are the benefits of these features? What problems are solved? What needs are met?

• What is the positioning in the marketplace?

• What is the unique selling proposition? How is this better, bigger, cheaper, longer lasting, more popular, etc.?

• What is the story behind this product, service or cause? How did it all begin?

• Who is the competition? What are the differences? How is this better?

• What is known about the company? Interesting history? Well-know owner? Years in business? Awards? Other divisions? Size?

• What is the price point?

• Is there a sample to try? A sample of the competition?

• Who is the prospect? Demographics? Psychographics? Needs? Beliefs? Work titles?

• What are the common objections from buyers, customers, donors?

• What testimonials or endorsements are available? Newspaper clips? Reviews? Celebrities?

• What is the basic assignment here? Direct mail package? Print ad? Radio spot? TV spot? Web site? Complete campaign?

• What is the objective? Inquiries? Direct sales? Donations? Beat the control? Higher initial response? More orders per thousand? Loose leads? Tight leads? Generate traffic? Compile a house list?

• What is the offer? Free trial? Introductory deal? Premium with order or review? Time limit? Free information? What is the strongest offer possible?

• What is the promise? More money? Better health? Greater comfort? Solution to a problem?

• What creative techniques have worked? Failed?

• What is the budget? (You're joking!)

• What is the deadline for creative? (You want it when?)

• What lists/media have been used? Based on tests, what has worked? Failed?

• Are there ad samples? Response data for each? Samples from competitors?

• What will be tested? Offer? Format? Copy? Positioning? Other?

• Any legalese or required copy?

• How is payment accepted? Credit card? Cash? Bill me? Purchase Order?

• How are orders/responses accepted? Mail? Phone? Fax? Computer? Collect calls? Toll-free number? Which is most efficient?

• How are products delivered? UPS? FedEx? Priority Mail? Other?

• What is the guarantee? How can it be made stronger?

• What background information is available? Articles? Collateral? Creative briefs? Memos? Demographic studies? Focus group reports?

• Who else has information? Product manager or developer? Customers? Donors? Sales reps? Fulfillment? Phone operators?

Don't rush through this information-gathering phase. I often spend half my time on it - and believe me, it's time well spent. As I collect information, ideas start popping into my head. Offers spring to life. Headlines write themselves. And what needs to be done to maximize response suddenly becomes obvious and effortless.

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