Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.

-David Starr Jordan-

While waiting for a plane back home at San Diego airport, I watched a granddad entertain his grandson with a few simple magic tricks. I have always been fascinated by magic. I know it’s not magic and I always try to figure out how it is done. Sometimes I am pretty sure I know the answers, but it still fascinates me.

Watching the two having fun together, got me thinking; magic and marketing are in some ways very similar.

You think you know how something is done, but unless you know the secret and practice a little, you are not going to get the result you are looking for. Even the simplest marketing technique requires you to know exactly how to execute it and a certain amount of practice.

When making suggestions for marketing programs, I often hear “I tried that and it didn’t work!” This is especially true in discussions with owners of services business, particularly professional services.

I frequently hear that nothing works to grow their businesses except for referrals and networking. While I can’t deny their reality, the truth is that every business can benefit form some kind of direct outreach program like advertising and direct mail.

Could it be, that if it doesn’t work for you, you are not doing it right? Could it be that you don’t know the “secret”?

It is one thing to know about a technique, it is quite another to be able to execute it well.

The problem with many of the people who have tried a particular strategy and produced no results, is that they have assumed they know what to do and have followed the basic rules, and understood all the elements that have to be effectively executed to ensure success. Mostly this is not true.

For example, Ed has a successful business that sells supports and pillows for people with back and neck pain and among other things has been advertising in one of those free booklets, full of advertisements, which get left in your mailbox. The results have been very poor. With each issue, he had had only 3-5 responses and no sales.

The lack of results is frustrating, it costs him money every time he runs the ad, but if he is to grow he knows he can’t give up.

Was the ad wrong, was the publication wrong, was the offer wrong? He just didn’t know.

So what was wrong? A great product, great service, money being spent regularly on advertising, but sales were few and far between.

After reviewing the ad, it became clear that even if it had been seen by his target audience, it would not have yielded the results he needed.

There was no attention getting headline; just his company name and logo. Many of us make the same mistake. Unless you are a household name, no one knows who you are and what’s more no one cares. Your company name and logo are possibly the least important element of your advertisement.

What is needed is a strong headline that creates interest and encourages the reader to read on. It has been proven over and over again, the headline is the most important element of an advertisement. Simply changing it and nothing else in an ad can improve response by 200 or 300%.

However, there were other things wrong with the ad. There were too many items for sale in a limited space. There is an axiom in marketing; “If you try to sell everything, you sell nothing. If you try to sell everyone you sell nobody.” His ad was trying to do just that.

There is another rule worth keeping mind. Never try to sell something in a medium where you can’t afford to tell the whole story. Prospects need information to make buying decisions, and unless you give it to them they won’t buy.

Clearly he had to change the strategy. He didn’t want to spend more money on advertising until he knew it worked. He also couldn’t buy a list of back pain sufferers, so direct mail was a challenge. Doctors and Chiropractors don’t share that kind of information.

So he changed the strategy to finding back pain sufferers he could then market to. He decided to offer them one thing he could easily sell in the available space; a report on how to control and prevent back and neck pain. The report would help them understand their back pain and what they could do about it. It would educate them on how his products could help, and position him as the only logical choice.

The ad was recreated with a strong headline “How to Avoid Control or Eliminate Back and Neck Pain Forever.” The ad offered a free report which they could get simply by phoning a 1 800 number.

So the space cost was the same, but there was a compelling headline to draw people in. There was an offer of something that his target clients would want; the message was clear and simple. More importantly there were clear instructions on what to do.

The results surprised even me.

Previous ads had generated no more than 5 inquiries. The results aren’t complete as yet, but as I write, this new ad has produced more than 190 inquires. That is an improvement of more than 3000%.

This is leverage in action; getting a much larger result with the same effort and money. He got leverage, by changing his strategy and learning how to execute each tactic effectively.

Now that he knows it works, it becomes an easy task of finding other suitable places to advertise, and placing the ad. If placed in the publications his target audience read, the sales should come flooding in. Had you spoken to this business owner just a month ago, you would have found him doubtful of the value of advertising in his business. If you feel that a marketing technique you tried in your business produced disappointing results, could it be that you fell into the same kind of traps Ed did?

The key is in knowing what to do, learning how to do it and actually doing it.

Unfortunately most business owners assume they understand what to do and so when they try to execute, fall flat on their faces and waste time and money.

So before you execute your next marketing activity, invest the time to learn how to do it right, or hire someone who does. That way you will generate a much better result.

Marketing that pays for itself is no longer a cost, it is an investment, but executing a marketing program without knowledge of the rules and skills to execute them effectively, is gambling. Marketing isn’t magic but it takes insight and practice.