Make a Connection by Doing the Obvious

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In the Journal of Advertising Research, I once read an article titled "To Whom Do Advertising Creatives Write?" The premise: Carry out an experiment to see whether creative personnel have difficulty connecting with their audience. The result: They do.


The authors concluded that many creative people cannot interact personally with ads, only professionally. Though their job is to "translate strategy into a meaningful message," they do not, in fact, communicate with consumers, but with other advertising people.


Real people, on the other hand, have no problem interacting with ads on a personal level. And it has nothing to do with the professional quality of the ads. Instead, they respond positively to advertising that is "self-enhancing" and are "puzzled, confused, even angered" by some of the overly crafted messages they see.


Imagine that! Creative people in the ad business disconnected from the good people they are paid to communicate with. It's a scandal! It's unimaginable! Say it ain't so!


No one had to conduct a study to show me that creative people often don't connect with consumers. It's obvious.


What might not be obvious is what creatives should do about it if they're concerned with results. Or perhaps it should be obvious, because what I suggest is just that - the obvious. Such as don't get wrapped up in new techniques. Don't put form before function. If you have something to say, say it. If you want prospects to do something, ask them to. The best creative people in our business are those who actually want to sell things and don't feel compelled to justify their salaries by wowing people with their brilliance.


A few other obvious suggestions for connecting with people:


· Avoid mistakes before seeking brilliance. Direct marketing profits seldom result from a wild new creative idea. Generally, it's the solid, tried and true - even boring - techniques that work again and again, year after year. If you have a groundbreaking new format or creative tactic, test it, but don't get caught up in a search for the Holy Grail.


· Try to help people instead of just sell them. Going just for a quick sale often leads to dry, overused techniques. If you make a genuine effort to be helpful in offering your product, you'll hit the hot buttons.


For example, if you're a bank wanting to increase deposits, don't just send a letter saying, "Open your high-interest account today!" Offer a free booklet that educates customers about the benefits of your services, and use a title such as "How to double the money in your savings account in seven years."


· Remove the barriers to buying. People want to buy things. But if there's a good reason not to part with money, they won't, no matter how persuasive you are. The fastest way to success is to remove the physical, emotional and financial reasons not to buy before you tinker with creative elements. The introduction of the toll-free number, for example, did more for selling than any eight-page letter.


· Make your copy and design clear. Don't be cute. Don't try to impress. Don't preach, rant or ramble. A copywriter should get to the point quickly. A designer should make the copywriter's words easy to read. Try this: Pick up your phone, call a friend and explain in 30 seconds what you're selling. Then hang up and write down what you said. See how clear and straightforward you are? Why be any other way in your message to a prospect?


· Be truthful and believable. If you're truthful, you believe what you're saying. If you're believable, your prospect believes what you're saying. To encourage belief in your truthfulness, back up your claims every way you can. Use testimonials, case studies, charts and graphs, photos and anything that proves you're on the level.


· Always state a clear, specific call to action. People aren't stupid, but they are lazy. I am. Never make people guess or assume anything. If you want a phone call, say so. If you want a filled-out order form, give instructions to do it. Don't assume anything.


· Guarantee your product or service. If you have a good product, stand behind it. A guarantee isn't a burden, it's a boon. A solid guarantee is tangible proof that you're reputable. And it helps lower the risk your prospects feel when considering your offer.


· Don't make your envelopes too pretty, too often. An envelope that gets ripped open is like a kamikaze pilot. Its sole purpose is to carry its powerful cargo to a specific tactical location and then sacrifice itself as it delivers that cargo. But if your envelope is a design masterpiece, prospects might avoid tearing it open like they avoid tearing pretty Christmas paper. Make your envelope a kamikaze pilot, not Christmas wrap.


· Make a personal connection in your letter. A letter should be personal, honest, easygoing, warm and friendly. It should sound like one friend writing to another, not like the guy selling slicer-dicers in the mall.


· Talk about your prospects' wants and needs. Your prospects don't care about your company, so don't spend time in your letter beating your chest about your capabilities. Talk to prospects about what they want and how those wants can be provided by replying immediately.


What's the lesson? When you want to connect with consumers, do the obvious, obviously.


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