Why Most Marketing Seriously Under-Performs, and How to Fix Yours

What’s the problem with marketing? Several trends in the late 20th century dampened the impact of advertising:

  • The explosive growth of small businesses
  • The advent of personal computers
  • The introduction of new media formats, and
  • The launch of the Internet

Together, these trends contributed to a burgeoning volume of advertising. According to Ad Age Magazine, the average person is now bombarded by over 3,500 promotional messages daily—up from 560 per day in 1971.

Getting Through: It All Starts with the Brain

The secret lies in understanding how the brain filters information. It’s simple. The brain scans everything in our environment for things that are relevant and important to us.

If it perceives something highly familiar, unusual, or problematic, then the brain allows our conscious mind to “see” it. Everything else gets filtered out; it doesn’t register even though it’s perceived.

A colorful artistic representation of a person's head, combining the elements of magic and marketing.

As advertisers, we must create material the brain can “see.” So stop thinking like an advertiser for just a moment and try to stand in the shoes of your prospects.

What’s the difference? For the first time, you might understand how people hear your messages—instead of how you want to say them.

Most businesses don’t do this, which is why they write the same old stuff that people instantly tune out. Their promotional material doesn’t get attention, and yours likely suffers from the same problem. If so, try this proven approach, the four-step “marketing equation.”

Use a Structured Four-Step Process to Organize Your Writing for the Brain: Interrupt, Engage, Educate, Offer

If you truly embrace this, you’ll begin shifting away from the platitudes and generalities of institutional advertising to specific, benefit-focused, far more compelling material. Here’s how it works.

First, “Interrupt” Your Prospect.

Remember, people scan lead-generating material through their “WIFM” lens, meaning the brain is listening for “What’s In it For Me?” Forget about the humorous, clever, trendy ads that most agencies churn out by the zillions. You get more attention by baiting the brain with something it considers important (and problematic).

Use the headline to get attention based on your prospect’s specific concerns and hot buttons. This triggers a shift in the brain’s state from its automatic alpha pattern to a receptive beta pattern.

“Engage” Your Prospects; Get Them to Read Further.

Once you’ve stopped your prospect for a nanosecond, the next challenge is to entice her to stay with your message. “Engage” her by implying that worthwhile, usable information will follow that will help her solve her problem—if she reads or listens to the rest of your message.

Remember, your objective here is to imply that there is value in your marketing message. Use language telling the reader she will “learn” or “discover” what she wants. The “engage” may be accomplished in a subhead or the main headline.

“Educate” Your Prospect.

Most advertisers skip what’s important to their prospects and get right down to selling. But remember, if your prospect doesn’t perceive that he can learn anything, he’ll dismiss your ad as “just like all the rest” and turn his mind to other things. Learn to provide specific, helpful information that offers value to your prospect. Educate him on how to solve his problem, then proceed to explain why you’re the right solution. Don’t just say your product or service is great. Explain exactly why and how it’s great for him.

Make an “Offer.”

In direct response advertising, the offer provides a reason to act now—even if your prospect isn’t ready to buy now. “Low-risk offers,” or those that don’t require the prospect to buy, including free information, free trials, and free samples. To act on a low-risk offer, your prospect only needs to provide contact information. This allows you to send additional marketing messages her way.

High-risk offers incentivize her to sign and pay, but they only work if she’s ready to buy now. Either way, you’ve given your prospect reason to contact you—more than most ads in the marketplace, including your competitors.

A person is using a calculator to solve the Magic Marketing Equation on a desk.How Do You Know in Advance What Will Work?

Using the marketing equation significantly improves your odds, but it’s not an ultimate guarantee of satisfactory results. There’s only one way to tell: to test, test, and test some more before you commit significant dollars to a marketing campaign.

In his book, “Tested Advertising Methods,” John Caples (a direct response copywriting guru) documents a classic example where an ad’s headline was changed, and the same ad then pulled 19 times better than before the change! So, if you’re not testing your ads, brochures, headlines, email subject headers, etc., before you use them, I guarantee you’re wasting money.

The solution? Form an ad-hoc focus group of friends or other business people to give you feedback on your materials before deploying them. Or, join a business group where you can benefit from peer feedback and association.

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