Is Advertising a Waste of Money?

“Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but nobody else does.”

Steuart Henderson BrittMarketing Management and Administrative Action

UPDATED June 18, 2015

I am amazed at how often I hear economic development professionals claim that advertising simply doesn’t work. When I ask them what measure they are using to determine failure, the typical response is that nobody ever picked their location based on an advertisement. They love to say “Ed, it’s not like selling soap”. The last comment is a reference to my 33-year Procter & Gamble career where (for the record) I actually worked on prescription pharmaceutical brands and never really sold soap and I never expected advertising to convince a doctor to prescribe a drug based on advertisements, free classified sites in USA, or social media campaigns, everything goes by hand.

But, in my opinion the capital investment decision made by CEOs is actually a lot like the prescription pharmaceutical decision made by doctors. The risk for both is high if they make the wrong choice, and the evaluation process is complicated.

An Ad Typically Cannot Do All The Work

I never expected advertising to convince a doctor to prescribe a drug based on an advertisement. The goal was to capture the doctor’s attention and interest and then create an understanding of the drugs benefits. This contributed to helping move the physician along the path of evaluating the drug for possible inclusion in their armamentarium. That path included review of clinical studies, listening to colleague’s experience, reviewing the package insert, and ultimately a trial with a few carefully selected patients before adopting the drug on the short list to be considered for consistent prescribing.

In economic development, the goal is also to capture the attention and interest of a CEO (and/or the location evaluation team) to learn more about your community so ultimately it can be considered for inclusion on the short list of location options taken into the due diligence phase.

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The most appropriate measure of success is a positive impact on the perception of your community and an increased willingness to learn more. You need to determine if that outcome is worth the investment given the resources you have available to attract capital investment.

If you decide it is a strategic choice your community should pursue as a component of your holistic communication effort, then here are 8 tips on how to maximize your probability of success.

8 Tips For Better Advertising

  • Communicate an authentic promise. Trust is built when you keep your promise. If you simply say whatever the capital investor wants to hear, and it is subsequently found to be false in the due diligence process, your community will automatically be eliminated from further consideration. Surprisingly, by being up-front and truthful in characterizing the assets of your community you can create an opportunity to potentially find alternative solutions to meet the capital investors needs.
  • Make sure your message is action oriented. You want leads. Your message should move the purchase decision forward. It is important to use action verbs in your copy and your 1:1 discussions. Action verbs energize. They create more drama and emotion than a noun, adjective or adverb of similar meaning. Action verbs rivet a reader’s attention, while passive verbs weaken your message.
  • Create imagery that brings your promise to life. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That is true if it enhances your ability to communicate your message. A good image can convey thoughts, ideas, or events that words alone cannot do justice. Images can stimulate emotion and create a connection between the capital investor and your community. A good Agency will find an appropriate image that reinforces your community promise. This is often a real challenge, but when the right “iconic” image is created the impact will easily justify the effort.
  • Create messages that speak to capital investors, not yourself or your Management.  This is the biggest mistake I see in advertising. Remember, features tell and benefits sell. Rather than share a litany of community assets with a capital investor, translate the features into meaningful benefits. That means you need to assess your community through the capital investor’s eyes and not yours. You need to speak the capital investor’s language. Often that means losing the economic development jargon and speaking in terms of return on investment, risk minimization, and time to market.  Your copy should have the word “you” in it.
  • Don’t bore people, inspire them want to learn more. Great communication grabs attention and forces people to challenge their existing paradigms. It makes them interested in exploring your community further. Trite phrases in advertising like “Open for Business” are an immediate turn-off and a virtual guarantee the rest of your ad copy will be ignored and the page will be turned. In oral presentations, learn to tell real-life stories from your community to illustrate your point and provide compelling proof what you claim is true.
  • Leverage communication channels capital investors actually use. If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a noise? If you are paying for that tree to fall, it had certainly better be heard. If it is not heard, then you just wasted your money. Here is a simple rule – Don’t Communicate in Channels Capital Investors don’t Use. Having a well-developed media plan can be critical to success.
  • Move the capital investor forward in the decision process. Create interest and direct the capital investor to the next step in evaluating your community as a location choice.  Be absolutely certain you have a practical call-to-action included in the ad.
  • Serve. Care about helping the capital investor find a good location that meets their Company’s needs. If it is your location, then fantastic. But, if your location falls short of the mark, try and get to a “No-Go” decision as quickly as possible. Convincing a capital investor to select a location that does not meet the base requirements is a recipe for certain failure. The Company will be put at risk of being non-competitive and jobs created will turn into layoffs when the Company either goes out of business or opts to relocate in order to be in a better position to succeed.

How You Can Help

Leave a comment on your experience with communication tactics. What works and doesn’t work? What are the action steps you find most helpful in moving the capital investor along the decision process?

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