How To Get Better Mileage from Your Advertising

vince dicecco

Vince is a dynamic and sought-after seminar speaker and author with a unique perspective on business development and management subjects, primarily in the decorated- and promotional-apparel industries. With 20+ years of experience in sales, marketing and training, he is an independent consultant to various decoration businesses looking to profit and sharpen their competitive edge. Visit his website or send an email to

Albeit word-of-mouth advertising continues to be the most widely used sales method for apparel decorators, a business cannot grow on referrals and testimonials alone. Recent studies of our industry reveal that more than half of decorated-apparel businesses have annual sales of less than $1 million. These companies often have modest advertising budgets and, thus, rely on their work, reputation and customers to speak for them.

For all other forms of advertising and promotion—such as catalog sales, Internet presence and e-commerce, direct mail campaigns, trade-show expositions, Yellow Pages and print ads, to name a few—it’s a matter of getting the right message in front of the right people at the right time. There is a way to improve your mileage when utilizing these marketing vehicles. It’s called direct-response marketing and it consists of some vital components to allow it to work for you. Interested? Let’s proceed directly.

Direct-response versus universal advertising

Think of the millions of dollars that are spent on television advertising. Fortune 500 companies launch national campaigns specifically designed to enhance product name recognition and build brand equity. During last year’s Super Bowl, a 30-second commercial cost advertisers $2.6 million, not counting the cost to produce it.

Now think of this. That obscene amount of cash is being invested to hopefully raise brand awareness, yet many times consumers cannot remember the company or product that the ad was supposed to promote, are turned off by the selection of the celebrity or athlete spokesperson, or don’t even see the commercial because they’ve TiVo’d the show and will fast forward through the ad.

Now, I am not saying television and radio advertising are ineffective means of marketing. Just that they, for the most part, incorporate universal marketing techniques rather than direct-response methods. Universal advertising is:

  • expensive—think of what it costs Goodyear or MetLife to maintain its fleet of blimps;
  • difficult to measure—could Budweiser easily calculate how much more beer it sold because of its television ads or corporate sponsorships?—and;
  • risky—what are the chances an accomplished, once-revered celebrity endorser gets caught, arrested or sued for inappropriate behavior? Pretty good, unfortunately.

Finally, universal marketing techniques tend to encourage a “me-too” mentality among advertising developers. Direct-response advertising does not have to be costly, is always quantitative, and invites a personal dialogue with potential and past buyers. When all of its components are properly utilized, direct response-advertising should yield immediate results over a relatively short period of time because it commands, albeit briefly, the undivided attention of the customer . . . which is especially effective with the MTV generation (anyone born after 1970).

Ready, aim, fire

Allow me to assume that, as a decorated-apparel business owner, you are aware of your company’s unique value proposition—that is, the “thing” for which your customers best know you. Perhaps it’s your superior quality compared to other vendors in your neighborhood or your superlative “as-promised” delivery record. Maybe it is the friendly, helpful way you treat your prospective clientele before they decide to buy from you or the professional way you follow-up or support a purchase once made and delivered.

Regardless of what it is, each business must have a unique value proposition that distinguishes it from the competition. If you don’t know definitively what that “thing” is, find out and find out fast before sinking one nickel into your advertising efforts.

While you are confirming your suspicions about what makes your company so special, accurately determine what your ideal customer looks, sounds, feels and smells like. Make a list of your top 10 or 20 customers and describe them geo/demographically. Where do they live relative to your location? How do they make buying decisions—on impulse, after careful analysis, because others buy it? How and where do they spend their leisure time—reading certain publications, surfing the Net, watching popular TV programs, engaged in sports, hobbies or intellectual endeavors, or attending industry or local association meetings? How old are they? What type of income do they earn and lifestyle do they lead? Most important, what unmet needs do they have and how can buying from you make their lives easier and make their worries disappear?

Before dipping a toe into any form of marketing and advertising, you need to complete the “ready” and “aim” portions of methodology. “Firing” aimlessly and before you’ve completed sufficient customer background work will certainly lead to failure of any advertising campaign—universal or direct response. Another important difference is that, if you go the universal marketing route without adequate prep, you will lose money faster than you can imagine. Trust me.

Seven pillars of direct-response advertising

Let’s say you are enamored with one or more of the common advertising vehicles. For the sake of this discussion let us include Yellow Pages ads, ValPaks, Money Mailers or other coupon promotion, newspaper advertisement, trade or local magazine print ad, cable TV or radio spot, billboard or vehicle sign, direct fax, snail- or email campaign, church or school bulletin, Internet website, exhibiting at a trade show or open house exposition, or leads-club networking. (Did I forget any?)

Regardless of the means to convey your message, review each piece carefully—before giving it your final approval—to determine if each of the seven pillars of direct-response advertising is present. The seven vital components are:

  • Does it have a clear and attention grabbing headline? Will your intended audience know exactly what you are offering and link your ad to you and no one else?
  • Does your marketing piece clearly offer value or directly satisfy a strong, unmet customer need?
  • Does what you offer make life simpler or solve a problem for your target audience?
  • Does the offer include a discount or premium as an incentive to buy from you? The special incentive should be of low cost to you but of high value to your customer.
  • Is there a logical reason you are making this offer at this time? What is going on in your ideal customer’s life that makes this offer timely and attractive?
  • Did you create a sense of urgency for your customer to act now? Does the customer know that this offer is only good for a limited time and when exactly the offer comes off the table?
  • Did you include understandable directions for what the customer must do to take advantage of the offer? Where should they go? What number should they call? and . . .
  • Does every advertising piece emphasize your unique value proposition? Remember your UVP is what separates your business from the numerous competitors from which your customers will choose. Take every opportunity to remind your clientele what makes you different and special.

One final thought: Make sure all of your advertising vehicles have a consistent look, feel and style. Keep the colors you incorporate consistent with your logo, signage and other collateral material found in your business. For that reason, choose the color scheme of your business or marketing campaign wisely the first time. You will confuse your target audience if the overall “look” of each advertising piece is different. Good luck!