by Thomas Harpointner – CEO of AIS Media, Inc,
“Half my advertising money is wasted. The problem is that I don’t
know which half”, said William Lever, founder of Lever Soap Company
back in 1886. Sadly, well over a century later, it’s estimated that 50
percent of advertising budgets are still wasted on programs that don’t
produce a meaningful response. Yet, marketing executives are being
held increasingly accountable to deliver greater, more predictable,
and measurable returns on investment from their advertising spend,
according to Forrester Research.
While some marketers grow increasingly frustrated with declines in
response rates to their traditional print advertising and shifting their
focus to digital channels, others have discovered how to “crack the
code” and are achieving new highs in response rates and returns
on investment through properly integrating offline and online
channels. This guide aims to provide the practical, yet frequently
overlooked tips and critical action steps to dramatically increase the
response rates and maximize the returns on investment from print
1. Use “eye candy” to grab readers’ attention.
With so many distractions today, capturing customers’ attention with
an ad has become as much science as art. While a great picture can
tell a thousand words, studies show that wandering eyes automatically
gravitate more toward pictures than words. Use a relevant, high
contrast image that supports your core message. So don’t make your
audience “work” – read more than is absolutely necessary. Use a
picture whenever possible to enhance your offer. Pictures of people
and smiling faces are very effective.
2. Gain your readers’ interest with a benefit-driven headline.
If your image succeeds in capturing your readers’ attention, the rest
of your ad copy must gain and keep their interest – that’s where your
headline plays a pivotal role. Think of your headline as “an ad for your
ad”. Its sole purpose is to captivate your audience and “sell” them
on reading the rest of your ad copy. Eyes automatically gravitate
toward large, bold text. Therefore, be sure your headline stands out
from the rest of your ad copy. Focus on your offer’s key benefits. Most
readers are “skimmers” and will make a split-second decision about
whether or not to keep reading. A “skimmer” should be able to get
the “gist” of what the ad is about by the picture and headline and
subtitles, if applicable. Books have been written on the topic of writing
effective headlines. Refer to a few and them by your side for creative
3. Use bullets and call-outs to build desire for your offer.
Readers are “skimmers”. Avoid long, small-type paragraphs. Instead,
bullet out your offer’s benefits whenever possible. Newspapers like the
New York Times and Wall Street Journal are written at an 8th grade
level to make the content easier to consume. So present your offer’s
benefits in an easy-to-digest manner. Use color and call-outs to deliver
the most relevant points.
4. Include a clear call-to-action (CTA) to drive response.
If your ad succeeds at capturing your audience’s attention and
interest, be sure to provide a clear, concise call-to-action; tell them
what to do next. Don’t leave it up to them to guess what they should
do next. If you want them to call a phone number or visit a website,
say so and be sure to include the benefit(s) of doing so. An extra
incentive can instantly increase response rates. For example by
applying an expiration date to your CTA, you can instill a sense of
urgency and further increase response. If you’re selling flowers, for
example, your CTA might be to visit your website and offer a coupon
code with an expiration date.
5. Offer readers multiple options to respond.
Providing readers multiple options to respond to your ad cannot only
dramatically increase your overall response rates but also increase the
value of your response. A Direct Marketing Association study found
that customers who buy from two channels (vs. just one) are between
20 and 60% more valuable, while triple-channel buyers are 60-125%
more valuable. Ads that provide readers the option to respond by
calling a phone number or by visiting a web page tend to get higher
responses than identical ads that offer only a single option.
6. Use unique phone numbers and call tracking.
Displaying your main company phone number in your ad is sure-fire
way to keep yourself guessing about the performance of your ad.
Instead, use unique phone numbers with call tracking. By assigning
a unique number to each of your ads, you can accurately test and
measure which ads generate the best response. You can view reports
to analyze the data and adjust your advertising to increase the overall
ROI. This is extremely important for new ad campaigns.
7. Use a landing page and pURL.
Most advertisers today already get it. Displaying a website address
in a print ad increases response rates. Where many ads fall short,
the advertiser displays the link to their website home page. For better results,
you can measure and repeat, drive customers to a unique web page,
specifically designed to complement your ad, also known as a “landing
page” or “micro site” using a personalized URL, or “pURL”. This
method is proven to provide a better user experience and increase
conversion rates. Sending customers to your home page and making
them hunt through your website for the offer in which they’re interested is a
sure-fire way to aggravate them and ultimately lose sales.
8. Build your “hot prospect” list and nurture it.
Studies have shown that the majority of prospects don’t convert
into customers the first time they’re exposed to a brand, product or
service. Conversions increase over time as prospects are repeatedly
exposed to an offer. Since the majority of visitors to your landing page
won’t immediately convert, provide incentives that will prompt them to provide their contact information.
Assuming 5 percent of visitors to your landing page immediately
convert and another 10% take advantage of incentives to share
their contact information, you end up building a highly valuable database of
prospects and customers. Nurturing those prospects with routine email
offers further increases conversion over time – effectively increasing
ROI from your print ad.
9. Test, measure and optimize.
The saying, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”, doesn’t
ring more true when it comes to direct response advertising. Create
variations of your offer using live A/B tests to determine the best
response. You might determine mid-campaign that one version of
your landing page is clearly outperforming the other and redirect all
traffic to the winner to maximize conversion. To make all this possible,
you must of course, properly install and configure a web analytics
program and understand how to interpret the data. Using pURLs, you
can clearly see how visitors behave; how long they stay, where they
click, how many convert, etc. – providing you the hard data you need
to eliminate guesswork.
10. Confidently modify your print ad for maximum performance.
Properly analyzing the data contained in web analytics and
performance reports will clearly indicate how visitors respond to
a given offer and interact with the content. This valuable insight
can be applied with confidence in designing future print ads that will
incrementally improve response rates and maximize advertising ROI.
While any one of the above tactics can produce immediate and measurable
results, you can expect the greatest positive impact from a
comprehensive approach. I hope you’ll gain value from this guide and
that you’ll advertise with greater confidence.
By Thomas Harpointner is founder and CEO of AIS Media, Inc,
(www.aismedia.com) an Atlanta-based, award-winning digital
engagement agency. AIS Media connects leading businesses and
brands with customers through performance-driven digital and social
media marketing. AIS Media’s capabilities include digital strategy,
creative design, application development, search, email and social