What Job Is Your Ad Doing?

Think of an ad like a person assigned to a job. If the person is going to do their job well, they have to know their goals, they have to be motivated to achieve them, and they need to know the rules that they’re operating within in order to get it done.

No, an ad isn’t actually a person. It just helps to make your thinking about it less abstract by anthropomorphizing it a little.

When an ad is poorly constructed, it’s often because its goals are poorly defined. When you try to have an ad achieve too much in the space that it’s been given, the results will be disappointing.

If you start with a primary goal, you can check each component of the ad against whether or not it serves this goal. You can ask yourself questions like:

  • Have we provided enough resources for this ad to achieve its intended goal?
  • Is the goal clear to someone who may have never seen one of our ads before and is unfamiliar with our company?
  • Does the creative direction of the ad support the business goal?
  • Do we make it easy for the person seeing the ad to act on it in a way that supports its goals?
  • Is the ad appearing in a context that increases its chances of achieving its goals?

An ad is supposed to do a job that a salesperson would otherwise need to do. In many cases, an ad is just a sales pitch in writing, in video, in pictures, or in audio, delivered by a salesperson at scale. It helps to think about it in these terms, because often the sales goals can become lost in discussions about creative matters.

If your ad is the equivalent of a sales rep, what will you tell that rep to do?

This process will often result in more comprehensible advertising. Just attempting to build positive affinity for an arbitrary brand name without directing that affinity towards a better-defined business goal is usually not sufficient to gain a market advantage.

People who view the ad need to be able to sort your company into a trusted provider for a solution to a particular set of needs that they have. Whether that’s lawn care, dentistry, or providing contractors for some obscure technology, your ads need to sell something besides vague positive feelings about your logo.

Coca-Cola can get away with that sort of method because Coca-Cola has its products in almost every store that sells food in over a hundred countries worldwide. And even they have more sophisticated supporting campaigns that you’re probably not aware of. Unless your company has that sort of universal presence, you need to design your ads with selling efficiency at the top of your mind.

How New Entrpereneurs Need to Think About Marketing

Marketing and advertising are an ongoing expense for any business. This is most obvious in small businesses that serve local markets. In some cases, if competition is low enough, almost no sophisticated marketing is needed. Additionally, many companies that occupy an attractive location barely need to spend anything on marketing at all. Once the signs are posted, non-specialists can often handle any marketing tasks that come up. The bartender who can make the the funniest chalk drawings can scribble something on a board that sits out on the curb, and that’s more than enough to get people in the door.

For everyone else, whenever it’s a competitive market, and almost all markets are competitive, specialist marketing is necessary to keep business coming in and to maintain the customers that you already have. If you build it, they can’t know how to come if they have no clue that you built it, why they should want to buy the thing you built, and how they can get that thing even if they do want to buy it.

Marketing is an ongoing expense. The spending will usually need to go up when attempting to displace a competitor or grow, and it can be safely held steady when there are few immediate competitive risks to the business. Advertising is a method that reduces the risk that your message will never be seen. Non-paid marketing always runs a risk that it will go unseen, making it so that the message received by the target customers becomes garbled or never understood. That’s not to say that it’s not a good thing, also. It just comes with higher risks.

While it’s true that there are many high-risk, low-cost marketing stunts that you can take (and I’m all for them) that don’t cost much money, they’re both high-risk and usually non-repeatable. Even people who make ‘viral videos’ for a living usually can’t repeat them for the same brand in short order.

While some may buy ads to flatter their vanity, the real reason to do it is to reduce the risk that your business will fail. The typical mistake that new entrepreneurs make is to focus entirely on product development to the exclusion of marketing. The entire budget (if there is one) sinks into product development with minimal effort to determine whether or not there is a potential demand for the product, and even less for generating that demand and fulfilling it. Eric Ries nailed this problem in The Lean Startup, and explains how to integrate marketing with product development in a startup.

Don’t make that mistake. Develop a real plan to make sales before you begin to accumulate so many fixed costs that it becomes impossible for you to execute on anything significant.

Should You Abuse Teaser Headlines? (Maybe.)

Teaser headlines: they’ve become so mockable that a Twitter account parodying click-bait links has earned over 172,000 followers.

This sort of headline has a much older history in print. The idea is that the headline attracts the reader’s eye, piques their curiosity, and encourages them to read the entire ad or article. It’s been used for so long because it’s a technique that works.

There are a couple chief variants of this method: a question headline and a teaser headline that suggests what the content will be about without actually saying what it is.

Online publishers like to use these lines because getting people to visit their sites off of social media promotions and media recommendation ad units is the only way that they can get paid. Free sites have no subscription revenue to fall back on, so they have to sell each article that they write as a separate good.

While they want people to become repeat direct visitors, in practice, most people gravitate to the social networks and search engines as part of their daily web use. Each article has to fight with other articles to garner clicks, and the way that social networks work, the articles that get more clicks get more reach, which causes a positive feedback loop.

Now, if you’re not someone who earns money only from ad revenue, this is not a method that you want to use all the time. Whenever a huge crowd of people adopts a technique, that technique loses its competitive edge. Strategy is subject to the laws of supply and demand. When too many people use a certain strategy, it loses its value.

Teaser headlines tend to be optimized for one task.  As Peter Drucker once said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” It’s difficult to measure reader satisfaction with Google Analytics using a single easy-to-understand numerical metric. Click-through rate (CTR) is right there staring at you all the time. Just because it’s there and you can measure it easily doesn’t make it the only thing that matters, especially when you’re not paid by the pageview.

This is why it’s a better idea to…

Mix Up Your Damn Headlines

…because otherwise, people will skim your site, see a textual river of clickbait, and press the back button.

The problem with headlines and subheads that confer incomplete information is that they’re difficult for people to skim.

If you pick up a premium nonfiction book, you’ll see that the headlines tend to tell the reader exactly what’s beneath them. Because the person already paid for the information, there’s no reason to jerk the reader around with bait headlines. If the content has to be a reference, navigational aids like the table of contents and index need to be immediately legible.

If you’re not earning revenue by the pageview, what you want to do is to encourage the visitor to become a customer or to make another purchase. Coaxing them into becoming a better customer requires that you gain and maintain their trust. The way to gain trust is to provide value to the reader.

Whenever you write a headline, ask yourself if it’s providing more value to the reader. When you take someone’s attention and time away from them by tricking them into clicking, you could be depleting their trust in your brand. You have to provide value in return from what you’re taking from them. Treat their time as valuable, because it is. Advertisers know just how expensive it can be to buy just an opportunity to grab someone’s attention.

This is even more important for creative branded content that’s intended to promote a product while entertaining the visitor. While you might want to use a baited headline to get the user onto the site, once they’re on the page, you want them to read, listen, or watch the video, have a good experience, and send it along to their friends.

Anyway, my rant is over. Please, keep your writing flexible. Avoid focusing on a single numerical metric at the expense of others.

Treat your web visitors like human beings instead of dots on your graphs. They’ll buy more from you that way.

Building Your Adwords Account Around a Successful Core

Building your new Adwords account around small successes is a better strategy than attempting to achieve everything at once on a small budget.

The biggest mistake that most people make when creating a new Adwords account with a limited budget is to spread it so thin that actually improving the account using statistically valid methods becomes improbable.

According to Adwords expert Brad Geddes, you need at least 300 clicks on a single ad as a bare minimum to draw valid conclusions from a test. That means for a single A/B test on a single ad group, you need a total of 600 clicks.

At a relatively cheap $5 per click, that means that you’d need to spend $3,000 on a single ad group just to determine the effectiveness of the copy. You’d need to spend at least $1,500 to get a better idea of how the ad group as a whole performs against the page that the ad lands on.

Spending insufficiently on tests will confirm that you have wasted money by not budgeting enough for real tests.

To make matters worse for people trying to conduct pseudo-tests on a tiny budget, because user behavior differs depending on the time period, the longer that it takes for a test to complete, the less useful that the data becomes overall.

This is why what many new advertisers think is a ‘test’ account is really not a real test at all. This misconception is why you’ll periodically see articles about why ‘Adwords doesn’t work’ or ‘Facebook ads don’t work.’ The typical experience of a new business owner is to spend their $100 ad credit on a basic ad, and then to go and complain that the platform doesn’t work.

This is partly owing to misleading marketing language by Google, Facebook, and other advertisers that tends to lead new advertisers to believe that managing an ad account is easy. It can be easy… if you’re no longer a new advertiser and have taken the effort to educate yourself. For everyone else, it’s hard.

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In Avertising, Go Where Your Customers Are

If you’re trying to catch fish, it’s a good idea to steer your boat to where the fish are. You don’t go fishing in a chlorinated swimming pool.

In the same way, whenever you’re selling something, you want to start by selling it to where your customers and most likely prospects are already. In the real world, that means picking a location that has significant relevant foot traffic. Online, it means looking for the organized discussion groups and websites that are already enthusiastic either about your product or your product category.

Because much of advertising today is still targeted to broad audiences, there’s a tendency for people to kick off campaigns that are too broadly targeted to succeed.

Depending on what you’re selling, where your customers are will be different. If you’re selling a video game, you’re going to want to go to an appropriate subreddit or create one for your own company. If you’re selling real estate, you’ll want to look at local publications, discussion forums, and events to understand your area better. If you’re selling a fitness product for women, you want to find blogs and forums where women talk about working out.

Not only will this give you a direct window into what your target market is talking and thinking about, but it’ll also give you ideas for where to target display ads and other paid media. It will always be more effective to go after the people who are most ready to buy first before pursuing broader markets.

This also goes for social networks like Facebook. Instead of the broadest possible demographic targeting, you should start your test campaigns with more specific slices of people whose interests overlap with your services. This can save you a lot of money.

Once you have profitable campaigns running against your target market, you can start expanding with riskier tests into broader groups.

Guide Released: ‘Practical Content Strategy’

We’re excited to announce that our September 2014 guide, Practical Content Strategy, is out in our marketing resources section. Go read it now!

The idea behind creating this is that someone who has never encountered the phrase ‘content marketing’ should be able to read the guide and then immediately start doing excellent work.

Another issue that it’s intended to address is that a lot of the articles, books, and guides written about content marketing tend to be targeted towards large marketing departments. While big companies need all the help that they can get, the type of publishing strategy that they’re going to use will tend to be a whole lot more sophisticated than what the typical company will be capable of.

This guide is targeted to people who might only have between 1-5 people available to work on actually implementing it, and minimal technical staff.

I’ve seen too many small to mid-sized companies go rudderless on how they publish material, despite the fact that anyone can be effective at this if they can learn to start from a good foundation.

We believe that people prefer reading guides that are all collected in one place rather than littered in multiple blog posts. This type of publishing is also better matched to how search engines and social networks work nowadays.

If people get utility out of it, we’ll keep it updated and will possibly add some graphics and other material to make it more useful.

What You Need to Know Before Advertising

Advertising is an essential part of business. We went through a wooly, muddled period during the emergence of social media during which it was popular to declare advertising dead. It’s still not dead, and is in fact, more alive than ever.

An advertisement, properly created and placed, is an honest sales pitch. It gives a prospect information that they need to make a decision that is in their interests. A well-crafted ad saves the customer time and money, making it easier for them to act to improve their lives. Yet, most people start off advertising ineptly, and never reform, even when spending millions of dollars a year.

You can do better by starting off on a foundation of effective principles for advertising online.

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5 Reasons Why You Can’t Rely On the Game Press For Promotion

The game press is not your marketing department. Despite this, developers will often bet their entire promotion strategy on having their game noticed and promoted by games journalists.

Independent developers will often spend dozens of hours working on their pitches and e-mailing lists, or uploading to tools like Gamespress to reach customers. For some, this can result in success. Especially years ago, when smaller games were rarer, and journalists were eager to champion spunky games like Super Meat Boy, the effort to results ratio could be enormous.

Today, the situation has changed. Editors even at marginal outlets receive dozens of pitches each day from talented developers. Developers write most of the pitches themselves. Editors will tend to select the media kits that are most professionally composed, which means that many quality games become overlooked.

#1: It Requires ‘No Budget,’ So Everyone Does It

A professional press relations firm will often charge upwards of $7,500 for a single press release. That’s on the low end. Despite this, developers often think that they will get a good result by either

  • Spending dozens of hours that could be spent on production learning how to compose a media kit, creating a list of press to e-mail, and exhaustively personalizing each pitch


  • Slapping together 500-1,000 words and e-mailing it to as many people as possible, with screenshots as attachments

In the majority of cases, a successful campaign without hiring it out requires an expenditure of money or an expenditure of effort at great opportunity cost. Since this approach is so common among independent developers, it suffers from a lack of competitive advantage.

If you consider the hourly rate that a game developer can charge as a contractor, the time that goes towards e-mail pitching can rapidly start to be incredibly expensive, just in lost potential wages that could have been redirected to another promotional effort.

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