Once upon a time someone tried digital advertising…
You’ve chosen the best restaurant in town. You’re groomed to within an inch of your life. You spent more on your outfit than you did on your car. The ring cost months worth of income. Everything is perfect. You ask, “Will you marry me?” And get a flat no. How do you feel?
What if I mentioned the person you asked was showing up for your first date? You’d be thinking I was crazy for even suggesting that you’d ask such an important question to someone you’d never met. Yet this is the exact conversation I have with business owners ever day when they ask how digital marketing works to make more sales.
You see the ring might be beyond perfect (just like your product), and the restaurant might be the best ever (just like your promotional campaign), and you might look the best you ever have (just like the offer), but unless you’ve done the groundwork before the ask, you’ll get a flat no every time.
Marketing is dating for money.
How do I use digital advertising to get more sales?
The short answer is less to do with digital advertising than you might expect and everything to do with psychology and consumer behaviour.
This answer is the ultimate guide I can give to digital advertising strategy within the constraints of one blog. It covers the process of digital advertising from your first iteration of a product or service right through to the aftercare. We will go through the digital advertising process here. And for those with a tendency towards tecnofobia, fear not. Because above anything digital advertising comes down to psychology and following the pattern of natural human behaviour.
For your ease of reference this blog is split into sections, you can skip to the one you’re most interested in now if that suits. Although personally I recommend working through each step so you can refresh and revise your current position, at worst you’ll confirm you’re on the right path.
So to the nitty gritty of it all then…
How can you use digital advertising to make more sales?
The temptation is to jump into the doing first. You’ve got a budget, hire a web designer, pay a copywriter and get some really stunning graphics done. You hit your big launch day, GO LIVE and…. tumbleweed…I’ve seen it a hundred times. To avoid that here’s your 9 step plan for digital advertising that increases sales…
Step One: Product Design – What Am I Selling?
For most people the answer to this is a list of features. For people who want to sell effortlessly with digital advertising it’s a much more in depth conversation.
Take this car wash example; you might offer a wash down, shammy and polish. I’m sure you’ll have a similar feature list for your product or service too. Now how much do you pay for a car wash? £10 maybe? What about £7,200? Dubbed as the ‘World’s Most Expensive Car Wash’ by the Telegraph this story first broke in 2010 and it’s one I still talk about in almost every workshop or live session I run. Car wash then can mean anything from a child in the street washing cars for 50p on a saturday afternoon to a £7,200 price tag.
Products and services solve a problem for both the consumer and the business. Business problems are normally related to how do we make more money, consumer problems are normally about their experience of a situation they find themselves in. A solution that meets both these needs will become a viable product or service.
In this case consider the business problem of a car wash.
Defining the problem as ‘not enough customers’ might lead us to say we need to look at cheap and quick way to do car washes and enter into a process looking at efficiency, speed and cost.
Defining the problem as ‘we need more money’ might lead us to look at the best possible return on our hours labour, al la the world’s most expensive car wash.
Both have viability. Customers then, what’s the consumer problem here? Well if I have a £1m supercar, I really don’t want spotty Joe to rock up with an old bucket out the garage full of dirt, a squirt of fairy liquid and a sponge he just dropped in the gravel. What I do really want is someone fully trained and dedicated to my car. Who will painstakingly and methodically detail each and every mm of my car.
Finally when you understand each of these you’ll be able to design a solution that matches both the business need and the customer need. That solution and the process that lead to it is real product design.
Get really specific about what’s in and what’s out of the solution based on your research and process. This will be a list of features and they will include the parameters that match the needs of both parties.
ACTION: Take the three step approach to define the business need, customer need and solution. You might want to play with extremes of each problem like we did above with the car wash to tease out the points of differentiation in your market.
Step Two: Customer Profiling – Who am I selling to?
Everybody. No. No. And more No. You are not selling to the mother of a third world country who walks 10 miles a day for water. You’re not selling your BOGOF offer on windows to the oligarchy. You’re not selling your organic hand reared beef to a vegan. We are taught that stereotyping is dangerous but in marketing generalization is a critical way to make your budget last more than 3.79 seconds.
In the real world we are creatures of habit. We have belief systems, values, geography, life events and income levels. Everything that makes us human goes into our decisions to buy something. Your job is to know those factors for your customers.
As a child you probably knew who you could ask for certain things. Wanted to go egg a house on halloween? Your best mate was probably a better bet than your Dad. Wanted £15 to buy a CD, your Dad was probably a better bet than your best mate. I’m generalizing and there will be some people who say it was the other way round for them. But ask 100 people and more often than not, mates for egging and dad for buying.
What customer profile gives us is a focus for our most likely buyers. It doesn’t exclude people or stop anyone outside that profile from buying from us. It does make our marketing efforts less wasteful and get us more results more quickly and more easily compared to the alternative.
ACTION: List 10 things your best customers have in common. You could consider things like age, location, job, marital status, parent status, values, beliefs, lifestyle choices, hobbies, weight, car ownership, travel preferences, religion, sexuality or anything else that’s relevant to your product or service. Extend this to consider what they don’t do.
N.B A very good friend of mine is a muslim and he’s less of a fan of bacon butties than I am as a veggie. Both very strong values or beliefs that would make us immune to any pork based offers, however good the copy or the offer price was. We covered the perils of getting it wrong / right in our Ethical Advertising blog
Step Three: Buyer Psychology – Why do people buy?
I’d bet my unicorn (and I really like unicorns) that your customers are not buying on price alone and they are not really buying the ‘thing’ either. What are people really buying in these situations?
> Family pizza night on a Saturday?
> Card on Valentines Day?
> The latest phone?
Drew Whitman sums this up in Cashvertising when he talks about the Life Force 8, some of which include enjoyment, sexual companionship and social approval. We are not driven by the thing. We’re driven by the feeling we get attached to the thing, by the change in our daily life, by reducing our pain and increasing our pleasure.
People buy because of how we feel about the thing.
There’s no price basis for travelling first class (believe me I’ve tried to find one for my accountant partner) but you do it for the superior experience (or easy home life!). I justify first class travel to myself by saying things like the food is included so I save on that, I can stay at my seat and work so it’s productive, I can work in the first class lounge pre-travel or it’s a nicer environment so I get less fatigued on long journeys. Truth is all that adds up to comfort and social approval.
People buy on emotion (or psychology if that feels less fluffy and more scientific)
ACTION: I invite you to look at your product or service through the eyes of your customers, reading reviews if you have them. And ask ‘what was the real impact this had on their life and mind?
Step Four: Brand Archetypes – How do I define my brand?
Branding is the whole shabang. From the cleanliness of your windows, the way the phone is answered, where your office is to the font, colour and logo you use.
But behind all those physical indicators of your brand its about personality and values. Think of every blockbuster film you have ever watched… there was a plot and characters who had a role within that film. The joker, the hero, the adventurous one. Our natural way as humans is to tell stories and recognise characters with distinct values.
It’s a phenomenon that Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson documented in ‘The Hero and The Outlaw’ where they define the 12 archetypes of brand character. Every successful business ever created embodies a distinct narrative with their audience. As the authors put it,
“A brand’s meaning—how it resonates in the public heart and mind—is a company’s most valuable competitive advantage”
The practical benefit of this for you is that all the questions about design, font, vehicle purchase, office location, content format, communication channels, promotion options all those questions get answered once you know your brand.
ACTION: I’ve found one of the most accessible blogs on archetypes to be from Sparkol here, check it out and see which fits your business.
Step Five: Copywriting – How do I write compelling copy?
Tell a story. Take the reader from what they are experiencing now to what they could experience with your product or service.
Two tried and true formulas for compelling copy are;
Problem Agitate Solve
The basic structure is to describe what they are feeling and experiencing now, which you will know well from when you defined the consumer problem in your product design. Then introduce the experience of what they are missing out on or agitate that problem they are facing a little. Then show them how you provide a solution. This is the problem, agitate solve method of copywriting that has stood the test of time and is seen in many TV adverts.
Another popular option is AIDA
It will work for all media, TV, facebook ads, email, sales pages and it’s probably as old as copywriting itself. You’ll first get the attention of the audience. Think headline grabbers here. Then pique their interest with a first line that really spells out what they are about to discover. The desire builds through the flood of benefits you present. And you end by spelling out the actions they need to take to get them.
Copywriting is not a birth gift. It’s something you work on and develop over many, many years. If you have the budget, shortcut the learning and hire a professional copywriter who understands the subtleties of this artform. A solid copywriter is worth their weight in gold.
When it comes to the delicate details such as style, tone of voice complexity of sentences. Take your cues from who you are selling to, their natural preferences and your brand.
I’ll share an extreme example for you to see the difference. ‘Sell me this pen’ was a phrase made famous in The Wolf of Wall Street film. Let’s imagine you’re selling two types of pen. One is a bright pink disney princess pen. One is a limited edition Boehme Papillion Pen by Montblanc for over £200,000. How might your copy differ? For the disney pen its likely to be ‘Hey, look, get The Little Mermaid underwater pen’ ‘draw in the bath’ or similar. For the Montblanc I think ‘Hey, look get the shiny gold pen and scribble wherever you like’ probably won’t cut it.
My best editing tip is to imagine a person you know who is your ideal client. And then read your copy out loud as if you were having a conversation with them. You’ll soon catch yourself stumbling if the sentences don’t flow or thinking, wow I would never say that to my Mum!
ACTION: Take the PAS and AIDA model and using just one sentence for each step sell me your pen!
Step Six: Psychology of Persuasion – How do I improve my copywriting?
Ultimately anything you write should be persuasive, or else why are you writing it? I’m sometimes asked about the ethics of persuasion or as my partner calls it the ‘daily manipulation’ I do. I’ve had a client refuse point blank to do ‘marketing’ because they don’t want to be a spammy sales person. My answer to those critics is this.
Are you full confident that you have something that will make your customers life better?
Do you know that they are of sound mind to make a decision by themselves?
Are you a sadist?
Because if the answers to those questions are yes you want to make your customers life better, yes they are freely making the choice to buy and have a rational mind to do so and no you don’t like watching people suffer then you have a moral obligation to help those people.
Should I give advice for free?
You wouldn’t listen to your best friend talk about a problem that’s plaguing their life, find a solution and purposely not tell them about it. If they asked a question because they weren’t sure how the solution might work for them you would help them figure it out and decide if it is right. That’s exactly what persuasion should be about.
We also know that there are ways our mind works to shortcut these decision making processes. Because we can’t process every single bit of information that comes through we use rules of thumb that are right most of the time and in most situations, or at least they were during our evolution. These heuristics are so subconscious that we don’t even notice them day to day.
Nudge is a whole book dedicated to understanding heuristics and choice architecture at play in our automatic decision making systems and how the way we receive information can change our decision. It’s jam packed with practical examples of persuasion and will help you understand why certain words, stats and facts are actually putting off customers even though they want what you’re selling. Of course the reverse is also true. Why does having a high completely unrelated number on a sales page increase perceived value? How do testimonials reduce the risk in buying?
When you’re really ready to finesse your copy then understanding psychology is key.
ACTION: Choose one of your website pages and review it with these points in mind. Give it a marks out of 10 where 10 is ‘you couldn’t make it better’ and 1 is ‘I can’t believe I ever write that’. List the things you do well and then specifically what else you could do to make it a 10.
Step Seven: What’s a funnel? – How to date your customers
A favourite of digital marketers is the concept of a funnel. The idea being there are lots of potentials at the top and as you go ‘down’ towards the sale there are less people. For me that’s a little impersonal, although the concept is spot on. Allow me to put it this way; think of it like dating.
We humans have a natural affinity to co-living. It was safe in the days of lions eating us and our brains like it. These days we have plenty of potential tribes-people who may one day become our life partner. We know roughly what we are looking for (customer profile) what we can offer (our brand) and what sort of relationship we might want (product / service). So to filter the 7+billion people on the plant we engage in dating. This is a gradual process. Conversations, followed by a first date, followed by more dates, then closeness then potentially marriage. At any point during that process the partners involved may decide it’s not for them. That’s absolutely ok. And everyone knows roughly where relationships go and agree on what the end place might be.
But what you don’t see if many dating profiles with the headline ‘wife wanted: meet me at the altar on Saturday at 9am, I’ll be the one with the ring in front of the vicar’. Because we know that probably won’t end well. And even if a partner did show up, how do you know they’re the one you would want? So we date. And we go through a marketing funnel too.
A super basic digital marketing funnel is, content, commitment, sale.
You’ll put something out there that speaks to your ideal client. Full disclaimer, that’s exactly what this blog is. A few things will happen here…Your audience will;
- fully read every word and be banging your door down with money (least likely).
- read it, think is was cool and go about their daily life without much changing (pretty likely).
- read a few sentences, decide they’re tea is ready and disappear for eternity (most likely).
The next stage is a small step towards commitment that has super low risk and a huge reward. Don’t ask for more from your customer than the current level of trust allows for. The offer must be relevant to your relationship status.
Commitment can also come in the form of cash money. You’ll have heard the term trip-wire. Again a little impersonal buy the psychology behind it is sound. Once you’ve done a thing once it’s easier to do it again.
Think back to when you were a 7 year old child and your friends talked about holding hands in the playground. There were calls of ‘gross’ ‘eugh’ abd ‘I’m never touching a boy / girl’. That thing sounded scary because it was something you had never done. When you were ready to hold hands for the first time it was a little scary, even though you were now 14 and everyone seemed to be doing it. But after that first time, it felt less scary. You were more comfortable with the experience and there was less risk.
One thing at play here is the availability heuristic. The first time you do a thing, give money to a person, you don’t really have any idea of what is going to happen. But the second time you have an immediate example of what happened last time. I gave this person £7, implemented one thing they said and got a client sign up for £729. So make the first time super low risk, and then build the offer from there.
Sales come from people who know like and trust you.
Step Eight: Nurturing Your Audience – PRESS for the sale
There’s a process that takes people from painfully unaware of you to being your best clients. It’s called PRESS and it goes like this…
Public – All the stuff you put out in the world
Facebook | Facebook Ads | Twitter | LinkedIn | Medium | Blog | Pinterest | YouTube | Instagram | Podcasts | Guest Blogs | Display Ads |
Reply – The moment they ask for your reply
Lead Magnets | Phone Calls | Email | DM | Comment |
Exchange – When they’ll hand over cash (even if it’s just to buy you a coffee)
They Pay For Your First Date | Tripwire Product | They Travel To You |
Sale – They buy your thing
Cash money changes hands for your main product
Supreme – They buy your best thing ever
Upsells | Superior Service | VIP Product
Here’s the thing: you can’t skip a step. People won’t buy your best thing if the don’t know about you. And they’ll stay public consumers of your content unless you encourage the reply. The trick is to focus the right amount of attention in each area. Public content matters a lot, but if that’s all you spend your time on and the checkout is shaky you’ll lose trust and sales.
Step Nine: When digital advertising fails – Pivott
All digital advertising fails sometimes. That’s not just something you have to accept but a brilliant thing to embrace. Your job is to understand and interpret failure as the best information you’ll ever learn about the current state of your customers.
To prove to you that all digital advertising fails sometimes take a look at swiped.co. You’ll see the world’s leading marketers and their split test results. If marketing was easy then why would we need split tests?
When something doesn’t work you need to ask why and go back through this process, refining each and every time.
It’s only true failure when you give up. Everything else is vital research. Even if you’re spending £2 a day on a facebook ad to test headlines or hooks or any of the other things, you’re learning.
Every bounce from your website, every cart abandonment, every unsubscribe you have is the most valuable data you’ll ever have because it’s teaching you about your customers psychology.
It helps massively to have lots of tracking and analytics in place with this so you can remove your own emotion form the picture and resolve to the facts.