Fear of Flying

A few months ago I watched as my son set off on his very first airplane flight, heading to college in Arizona. As I stood watching the plane accelerating up the runway, I recalled vividly the thrill I had felt the very first time I flew; the exhilaration of the speed and that powerful boost into the air. As his plane left the ground, tears leapt to my eyes. No doubt mostly because my “little boy” was “launching” into the big world of adult independence, but also because I knew and intensely imagined the thrill he must have been experiencing at that moment.

Of course, eventually flying became routine for me, but I have never lost the sense of excitement at lift off. Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch to compare flying to advertising – I suppose only weird advertising “geeks” like myself might feel actually excited when a new ad campaign launches – but I think the analogy may be useful for the purposes of this article. Here’s why: some folks have never been up in a plane. They’re scared of the whole idea of flying; usually, I’d guess, because they don’t really understand the dynamics of flight. They can’t quite believe that lift and velocity truly will keep the plane in the air. Likewise there are business owners out there who have never done any real advertising. They don’t understand how advertising generates “lift” and “velocity” in the form of increased customer recall, more work orders, and sustained higher profits. Their “fear of flying” prevents their business from ever really getting “off the ground.”

It makes perfect sense to be wary of putting a lot of money into something that seems a bit mysterious and intangible, surrounded by terms like “awareness” and “response rates” and other jargon you may not clearly understand. You may fear it will be a waste of your money. You could be worried that you’ll make some disastrous mistake. But advertising is something every business really needs. It’s an investment you can’t afford not to make. So let’s see if I can demystify some of this advertising business for you. I’ll cover a lot of the “flight dynamics” of this advertising for you. I’ll cover a lot of advertising basics over the next few months – things like what to say, where to say it, and how much to spend saying it  – all important stuff (you can make a good start on these basics by reading our (link) “Marketing Guide”) – but my goal in this article is, let’s get you into the air. So let’s start with:

The biggest mistake you can make in advertising and that is, simply, not to advertise at all.

This is probably the most common reason (after insufficient capital and bad management) that so many new businesses fail in the first year. Part of this I attribute to the myth that “word of mouth is all the advertising I need.”  Networking may be the perfect advertising if all you need is a handful of really big clients. If, however, you’re in a field like, oh, say, plumbing … fact is, if you really want a day’s work every day, you need thousands of solid potential customers out there. The average client only needs your services to the tune of a few hundred dollars every few years. If you need an average of five calls a day, 365 days a year … my minimal math skills (i.e. my calculator) says you need 5475 people out there who know your name, and are willing to call you. If you can service twice as many customers, or three times – well, you do the math. Anyway, “word of mouth” isn’t going to do the job. Only your best friends and family are going to go out of their way to mention your name, and, frankly, you’re soon going to run out of uncles.

The second biggest mistake in advertising: Advertising too little.

There is a kind of advertiser I call the “Two Ad Wonder.” They come and go so quietly, you may never have noticed them, but having worked in the advertising business all my adult life, I’ve seen it dozens of times. Two small ads in the local shopping paper: “Grand Opening” – then a few months later – “Going Out of Business Sale.” What killed them? I’d put my money on the dead silence in between.

These very folks have told me, “I tried advertising. It didn’t work.” So I ask them what kind of advertising they tried. I find out their advertising “campaign” consisted of an ad in the yellow pages and a couple of shopper ads when they started up. This, to me, is like a pilot saying, “I tried flying, but the plane didn’t get off the ground” – then finding out he never tried going faster than 30 mph.

Fact is, it takes a certain number of exposures – a minimum velocity so to speak – to generate “lift” from advertising. And the frequency of those exposures – the number of times a person sees or hears your name – is a whole lot more than anyone outside the advertising/marketing business would probably guess. Marketing studies have shown that it generally takes at least 5 exposures before a person even recalls having heard of a company or brand.

Just remembering your name, however, is not enough. You’re only up to 60 mph. You may not come to a dead stop, but you’re a long way from the kind of “brand awareness” you need to keep your business aloft. Just recalling your name rarely results in a “response,” i.e., a purchase or a phone call. Why? Because people don’t yet associate the name with what you offer. So far, it’s just another name. To get your name linked to your product or service, your customer needs 3-5 more exposures. (One of the reasons 1-800-PLUMBING is such a powerful marketing tool is that the name is immediately linked to your service – and how to reach you! an advertising “triple whammy” that can get your advertising up to speed a whole lot faster!)

Are we there yet?

Feeling the power of the thrust as you lift off? No. You’ve made it to maybe 120 mph, but it’s still not the velocity and power you need to get off the ground and reach a “cruising speed” that assures a solid and consistent volume of sales. Why? Because it has not yet occurred to your potential customer that what you offer is something he wants, or needs. To get him to want to call you, the last step is to make sure your name is linked to a positive customer benefit, like “fair prices,” or “fast service.” (This is what we ad people call “positioning” – more about that another time.) Those marketing studies that last step takes at least 5 more exposures to reach the point of “motivation.” This is your goal, the point where potential customers 1) know your name, 2) know what you offer, and 3) want what you offer. What it takes to get there? 15 to 17 exposures in total to produce a customer ready to buy what you’re selling.

When you’ve reached that level of awareness, the only thing it takes for “lift off” is a burst pipe … and your potential customer becomes a work order. The plumber they think of first will almost always be the one they call. That plumber will be the one who’s name they saw just recently, the one they’ve often been reminded of who is solidly established in his mind as “the one to call in an emergency.” If you’ve kept your name out there, visibly and frequently, there is a high probability that the one they call will be you. You’ve reached “launch speed” – in marketing jargon, “top-of-mind awareness.”

I hear the voices rising in protest: “Well then, I’ll have to advertise all the time! I can’t afford that!”

Fact is, you can afford it. You must afford it. Otherwise it’s like getting your plane into the air and then cutting off the fuel. You do have to keep fueling the engines. But once up to speed, you can throttle back to a comfortable cruising speed where advertising ceases to actually “cost” you anything. At this point every dollar you put into advertising returns several dollars into your gross sales. It’s like an airline making sure each plane is solidly booked. If there are enough passengers, costs are covered, the fuel is covered, and from there on, it’s profit. What for beginning advertisers may feel like gambling, is, in fact, one of the very best investments you can ever make. Consistent, frequent advertising beats the stock market. Beats money market funds. Even beats a “hot” real estate market.

 But what about “bad advertising?”

If you’re not an advertising expert, will you say the wrong thing? Spend your dollars in the wrong place? Well, I have to confess something a lot of advertising “gurus” might not want you to know … even “bad” advertising will probably do your business good. Certainly, better is better. And, of course, great is better still. A brilliant message is sure to generate higher “recall” than a ho-hum one. Even so, in over 30 years in the Ad Biz, I’ve only seen a very small handful of ads that I believe might have actually harmed the advertiser. (They were really bad…) And, yes, when you launch an advertising plan, the money has to leave your pocket for a while before it starts flowing back again. That can be unnerving. But remember as you clutch your seat cushion that any advertising at all, at any level, is better than no advertising. Just keep your name out there, consistently, and every dollar, sooner or later, will come back to you – twofold, threefold and more – just as sure as that plane carrying my son into his future life was going to stay in the air all the way to Arizona.

Still anxious? Read through your (link) Marketing Guide, and take a look at the (link) Graphics Notebook in the Advertising Toolbox.” How about that? We’ve supplied you with a selection of ready-to-use, professionally designed ads that you can put your name into and start running with right away. They’ll work for you. No mistakes to worry about. (link) The Marketing Guide will get you onto the runway, er,  put you on the track of getting the most from your advertising dollar. So get your plane onto that runway, open the throttle, and enjoy the thrill of “lift off.” You’re on your way.

– Nancy Thomas, owner, Barefoot Design

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