What you can learn from advertising

In a recent conversation with a potential client, the woman I was meeting with looked at my resume and asked me what I learned from advertising.  I hesitated, because this could have been a long, long answer. 

Advertising was the foundation of my career.   I worked for my father’s agency, then went on to work in advertising and marketing in the Consumer Package Goods world, then the Natural and Organic Products channel.

What did I learn before moving to the client side? Here are the essentials:

1.      Always start with strategy

Marketing strategy is the roadmap to reach the target market while attaining the business and marketing goals of the organization.  Slice-of-life commercials worked on soap operas for decades because they targeted women with relevant benefits—without eclipsing the drama of the shows.  Why not use a one-shot, high-tech, artsy spot on the Super Bowl?  Doesn’t your head throb from the dissonance caused by such a mis-matched strategy and product platform?

2.      Implement the strategy–then stay on strategy

There has never been a shortage of good ideas for your business.  If you indulge in all of them, you confuse the market.  One of my advertising clients wanted to air a variety of taglines and let consumers self-select the one that had the most meaning to them.  This is a great idea for testing, but don’t confuse the consumer (or yourself), by going in all directions to all market segments concurrently.  Stand for something.  This is the basis of branding.

 3.     The target audience defines the bull’s-eye 

The target audience dictates media decisions for advertising.  In two different companies, it took me literally years to convince the CEOs to research who was using our products. Meanwhile, we were using advertising and media targeted toward each CEO and his group of friends. The loyal customer in each case turned out to be 180 degrees opposite each of the CEOs. Yet both men founded their organizations and each presumed that he knew the consumer–because it was him.

 4.     Be Concise

Old-format advertising was the precursor to new media in terms of brevity.  The commercial had to signal the target audience that this message was for her/him, deliver the value proposition, benefits, features and positioning in a 30-second TV commercial or a fractional-page magazine ad—oh, and be on strategy at the same time.  If “brevity is the soul of wit,” then advertising is the soul of disciplined communication.

 5.    Metrics

Winning a creative award is not necessarily a predictor of an advertisement’s success in the marketplace.  Today there are lots of metrics to pinpoint consumer opinion and behavior—the real success factors of any marketing tactic.  Once you know where you’re going, you can monitor your dashboard metrics and know when you get there.

Advertising, and marketing in general, are combinations of discipline and art.  One without the other doesn’t make marketing sense.  Start with strategy and the appropriate target audience, mix in a heavy dose of creativity, and your metrics will tell you when you’ve achieved success!

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