A: To sell your merchandise or service, of course. Long-range, that is the final answer.
Surprisingly though, selling should not be your initial concern. Attracting readers must come first. You must create ads that will grab a reader, then get her involved long enough to become interested. Sounds easy. It's not quite that simple, as you know well. You have only a second or two at the most to catch the eyes of a few readers.
Are there sure stoppers you can use in your ads? Tricks of the advertising trade to assure at least a quick glance?
Sorry, no positives in advertising. That's the thrill of the "ad game." (It's just one more reason for despair and gray hair among advertising retailers, male and female). A technique or idea that works one time for one ad may be a dud when repeated or used elsewhere.
You can always rely on word-of-mouth or referrals. Probably most custom and design studios do rely primarily on these basic advertising procedures. But even such fairly reliable practices are costly and time consuming in the long term. Sometimes, they can be very discouraging, too, like any other ad results.
So, what to do with your regular and directory ads? You have some choices.
1. You can shout!
You can scream with big headlines, bold subheads in reverse type (white lettering on a black background) and use attention devices such as arrows and starbursts. You can make special offers and urgent appeals to "Buy Now," then repeat the same messages over and over. Such ads get attention and do bring in an occasional prospect.
2. You can fight!
You can enter the discounting battle. Window coverings prospects are attracted by low prices, too. It's only natural to be interested in saving money. Obviously, price savings do attract ad readers. If not, the big-box marts and depots wouldn't always use low-price appeals. And then they might not continue their market domination year after year. Then smaller retailers might have a chance? Dream on.
The big-box merchandisers are here to stay. For good or bad, who really knows long-range? Still many successful specialty dealers have learned how to compete in minor price wars. They feature their other shopper benefits. And they do good business with special savings on selective items and services in limited sales events. These methods work, if properly planned and promoted.
Some small retailers do very well in smaller-scale price competition. Individual success stories are featured monthly in this magazine. Pay attention, maybe you can do their "thing" in your operation.
3. You can hype service!
All window coverings specialty retailers stress their "quality service," or their "friendly, quality service," or other tired cliché phrases such as "We know how to help you. Our quality service is really better." Same phrases over and over; same look-alike ads; same turned-off reaction by prospects even if they might notice the ad.
Occasionally, a retail ad really stands out. The appeal is somewhat unique; the copy stresses service in fresh ways without all the old, standard low prices and super-service clichés and headlines. The ads feature believable reasons and benefits for someone to shop there. (I've discussed these different appeals in preceding articles. For example, see D&WC September 1999, and October 1999.)
4. You can look custom!
You've always known what your prospects really want. You and your retailing peers agree on this: "They want top-quality, brand-name products with guaranteed great, long-range service and discount prices, too. They don't want me to make a dime." Maybe, that's not completely true. They probably would prefer you stay in business. After all, they like to stop in and look for ideas or ask for help. But often the reality, as so many small retailers have learned, is that you do help them and they still head out to a discounter to save the dime. It's a sad but often true story today.
However, the outlook for independent retailers is not entirely gloomy. According to some economists an increasing percentage of American consumers, not just the high-income groups, are shopping for and buying better quality products. They are willing to pay higher prices for the quality, designs and know-how service of specialty department stores, independent custom shops and studios. Maybe more have tired of the rigors of price shopping. Maybe retailers are finding better ways to market the actual (or perceived) value of their custom products and services.
Also, as you must realize, more prospects with more money are searching for window beauty styles to accent a new look for the interiors of their expensive homes. As you know, too, the competition among retailers to get a bigger share of this market is escalating. Even the big-box outlets are building new specialty discount operations. So, as always the problem is, where can you fit into this competition? Here are more possibilities to consider.
5. You can build image!
Among prospects today, your perceived store image might be as important as your products or prices. Status or uniqueness of some kind, even unwelcome notoriety, bring added attention and recognition. Some retailers and designers use typography and illustrations to cultivate the professional quality look desired for their stores or studios. Proper type selection can make your ad stand out from the crowd and stop a reader; room-settings photos can involve that reader long enough to make her a prospect. It's not quite that elemental, but two ad elements, typography and illustrations, could help spark the new store image you want.
6. More than ink on paper.
Type can make your ad look bold and brassy, delicate and luxurious, casual and informal. Type styles can convey an old-fashioned look or a romantic, traditional feeling. Other "faces" are straight-edged and modern, heavy and brassy (popular with discounters and car dealers), or delicate, decorative and elegant. Like choosing a fabric or product colors, look until you find that special effect you want.
Finding the ideal typeface for an image ad or fine printed piece may call for the skills of a type expert or designer. However, most newspapers, print shops and various software programs can offer at least the common type "families." Numerous names and variations, some slight, exist in each family.
Basically, different looks depend on type weight (boldness or blackness) and width (condensed, wide or narrow). You usually can find an acceptable style from the various gradations available in one type family. If you find a style that works, use it for all your ads. In time, readers identify with your look and store. That association may stimulate attention to your offer. That's one big reason for image ads.
Regardless of look, always choose a legible, easy-to-read typeface. Prospects won't waste their time trying to study bizarre or extra-small type. Use some discretion when selecting type sizes for headlines and subheads, too. You want prospects to note your entire ad, not just the big type heads.
Enough on this subject. Typography is a science and art with many technical and emotional factors. Any retail advertiser in newspapers, other print media and on Web sites needs to know that a proper typeface is valuable in determining immediate and long-term reader response.
7. You can involve prospects.
The ideal steps for a successful advertisement are AIDA: "A" for attention (as noted in comments above), "I" for interest (to stop a reader long enough to note your offer), "D" for desire (your offer in some way motivates further interest in your service or product) and the final "A" for action (a prospect becomes a buyer). Simple as ABC in concept, yet an abstract maze to do it right.
"I" also stands for involvement. Something in your ad causes a reader to relate to it briefly. Advertisers use many different lures to transform prospects into buyers. Some are effective. One of the best, especially important in home fashions, is a pretty picture.
People identify with a room-setting photograph, be it a color photo, a black-and-white print or a drawing. In window coverings, they imagine how the beautiful window treatment would look in their homes and at their windows. It's only natural they want to see how a product looks in use. You rely on in-store vignettes and color enlargements for the same reason. Volumes of ad results studies verify this logical fact. Even a low-price ad, with big type and attention gimmicks, has greater reader impact when a visual element is used for emphasis and association.
The ideal photo to use would be one of your own installations, one in which your products and know-how are featured. Before-and-after photos of your work are a surefire way to add interest and reality to your advertising. Anything you can do to inject a local and personal appeal into your ads is always a good idea.
There's no room in this account to point out more of the reasons and rules for using pictures in your ads. There will be more on this very useful ad tool in future articles. Or check one of the many books or computer software programs available.
The point here is to suggest you use illustrations to increase reader involvement in your ads. Our purpose in this article has been to highlight how you can receive better value from the money and personal time you invest in your advertising and sales.
John J. Lichty is a
consultant and senior editor for Draperies & Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience in the planning and administration of
various consumer, trade and retail advertising programs.