Advertising WORKS – But How?
Print advertising in respected trade publications is probably the greatest marketing expense for any industrial company. The only expense that could be higher are trade shows, if the company has an aggressive trade show schedule with large displays and a high number of staffers at each show. You can count the number of qualified leads received at a trade show and follow them through the buying cycle in order to gauge the effectiveness of the show. Many company execs would like to see a similar ROI on advertising, which is hard to deliver.
I’ve read many books by marketing experts over the years related to the psychology of advertising. I’ve also tried many different tactics to gauge advertising effectiveness in a concrete way – both as an employee of large corporations and as a marketing consultant to many companies since. I was recently reminded of some basic truths about advertising that many companies do not understand and that dictate what is reasonable in terms of gauging advertising effectiveness.
First and foremost, advertising is only one element of the marketing dynamic. You simply cannot either solely credit or discredit an advertising campaign based on sales results alone. The main objectives of any advertising are to impart information, develop positive attitudes toward the brand, and aid in inducing action beneficial to the advertiser. While a sale is the ultimate purpose of advertising, purchasing behavior per se is a strictly physical activity. The effects of advertising, on the other hand, are psychological phenomena with possible long-term results.
Many variables intercede between an advertising induced positive attitude toward an industrial product or service and the actual sale, and even more contribute to repeat sales. Those variables include but are not limited to:
1. Changes in the economic climate – regional and international
2. Political events
3. Competitive forces (the advertising promotions offered by competition)
4. The ability of the sales team to actually sell the product or service5.
5. The availability of the product or service
6. The pricing of the product or service
7. The customer service received after the sale
When I work with a Client intent on gauging short-term advertising results in tangible ways, here is the approach I recommend:
Outline written goal(s) for the advertising campaign that are measurements of the communication aspect of the advertising. The goals will express the work that the advertising is uniquely qualified to perform and will not encompass results that require a combination of several different marketing forces.
An example of one goal might be:
For Advertising Campaign #1: Achieve 100 (or 200, or 500 – the number will be related to the size and reach of the ad, as well as any incentives to request additional information) responses as a result of the ad within two months of the publication distribution.
This goal can be easily measurable if the ad contains a dedicated toll-free number, or a URL to a landing page created specifically for that ad – which then takes the reader to your company website. You can obviously monitor the calls that come into the toll-free number, as well as the number of “lands” on your page and “click-throughs” from the landing page to your website.
Another goal might be:
For Advertising Campaign #1: Increase brand recognition by 50% after the campaign has run its course.
This approach requires a survey to be taken prior to and just following the campaign run. Many trade publications will perform these types of surveys for you with a sampling of their readership if you commit to a substantial advertising campaign over the course of a year. You don’t know until you ask!
Neither of these approaches tells you if a response ultimately leads to a sale, unless you have an internal system in place that documents every contact with a respondent after the first connection. Making an internal system like that work in a company that relies on external sales organizations for the majority of sales is almost impossible. I found this out, trying to implement such a system working for a large manufacturer that utilized a network of manufacturers’ reps.
Numerous studies have been conducted to make the case for short and long term gains generated by advertising. No matter which one you choose when buyers who were NOT exposed to advertising are put up against buyers who ARE: there is always evidence that the buyers exposed to the advertising purchased the advertised products more often than those who did not. Additional studies show that market share increased over the long-term among print-exposed buyers.
That is why I always caution clients to view print advertising as a long-term investment. I never guarantee it will increase their sales – and any marketing communications agency that makes that promise is merely hoping. Here is what I’ve seen happen as a result of a consistent advertising and industrial P/R campaign (consistent is defined as at least 8 ads in a year, in a publication issued monthly and editorial in the publication every few months):
1. After the ad runs several times, your sales people will find it easier to make appointments, or even to get someone to take their calls.
2. Editors at the publications in which you’re advertising will more readily accept and print your editorial.
3. More people will stop by your trade show displays and comment that they saw you in “X” Magazine.
4. After the ad runs 6-8 times, if it does its job and makes a compelling case for your product or service, you WILL start receiving more inquiries. (Advertising studies show it takes a reader an average of seven times seeing an ad to act on it.)
5. You will start to realize that when you introduce yourself professionally as someone from “your” Company, there is recognition on the receiving end.
6. You will receive offers from competing publications for more attractive (reduced cost) advertising packages in their publication (with plenty of freebies thrown in.)
7. You may start receiving calls from editors at the top trade publications in your industry, asking if you’d be willing to contribute editorial to a specific issue. When this happens, you know you’ve accomplished one of your advertising and P/R objectives: establishing your company as an expert in a certain subject or field.
What all of these results mean is that your advertising is building brand recognition and credibility, and inducing positive attitudes toward your brand. If all the other marketing components are right (product, price, availability, and follow through on sales,) your business is bound to grow. It will not be the advertising alone that does it; it will be a combined effect that produces results more quickly than if you do no advertising at all. Only you can gauge what that translates to in terms of ROI.