I have worked with Mike Bersin for more years than I care to mention. And I am proud to call him a friend too.

As well as a brief taking and copy writing genius, Mike is one of the most savvy advertising and marketing people I know. I recently challenged him to write a post for my blog based on the idea of the biggest mistake he has seen his clients make over the years and he has come up with a storming piece of work!

On top of his marketing prowess Mike also runs a website that will teach you to bluff your way through playing rock guitar and he writes books that are essential reading for media sales people. Or people that need to use advertising in any format for that matter.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The biggest single mistake that advertisers make, in my experience, is to advertise their business.

What I mean is; clients spend good money telling people stuff they can work out for themselves. Once people know what category a business is in, they know 99% of all there is to know about it. You’re a bed retailer? Let me see now; you have lots of beds of all kinds for sale, displayed in a showroom, at a range of prices which is unlikely to surprise me. Am I close?

Of course I am. The beauty of language is to convey information as efficiently as possible. To save a businessperson having to list what they do they can just say “I’m a solicitor” and you know they are there for “all your legal requirements, including matrimonial, family and criminal law, civil litigation, conveyancing and wills”.

In my training sessions we explore the futility of simply advertising a business by encouraging delegates to tell me everything they know about a Garden Centre; what it sells, how big it is, what it looks like, how many car parking spaces it has, what days it’s open, what hours it’s open etc etc. They can keep telling me what they know about a garden centre for easily ten minutes, the equivalent duration of around 15 -20 radio commercials. And yet I know of advertisers who spend several thousand pounds a week with adverts that essentially say “We are a garden centre, and guess what… ?” and then tell you what you already know.

It’s our fault?

I believe this happens because we often approach our clients about “Advertising their business on the radio”. We should actually talk to them about “Selling something on the radio”.

Familiarity breeds sales, eventually

Now it is true that familiarity is a very powerful driver of business, so it is possible to increase your sales simply by using radio to become the most familiar business in your category. But it can take time to build a “brand”. (Most local advertisers aren’t strictly brands, they’re retailers where we go to buy brands, but it’s a useful shorthand for awareness and image).

If you’re going to use radio purely for branding, radio can make you rich by making you famous, and there’s clearly some value in your fame as (just) another business in your category. But, in an ideal world, your adverts would have two, complementary, competitive points of difference; one intellectual, (the content) one emotional, (the style).

The content

The intellectual information is a single simple fact that makes you more desirable to your targeted customers; more choice, higher quality, cheaper, faster, nearer. You cannot be all things to all people, you will end up as nothing to anyone. Pick a benefit and stick to it. People can’t remember complications, only simple stuff. How do you choose which benefit? Whichever one will make you the most money. If the most important thing to your customers is you deliver at their convenience, then you are the company that delivers 24/7 to suit them. Don’t tell them what they already know about your business, tell them what they don’t know.

And before you think, as many clients I meet do, that “good service” is your USP; customers expect you to be able to sell them whatever you sell, quickly, efficiently, politely and with a smile on your face.

Or the style

If you ask yourself what your customers want to hear from you, it should be easy to come up with a genuine point of difference, but sometimes you can’t. In this case the creative style has to do all the work of differentiation. Most lagers taste more or less the same, none of them really has a competitive point of difference. So the style of the ads has to do all the work; if you like the ad, you drink the lager.

So what should you put in the ad?

If you’re not telling people all about your business, what should you advertise? Well, the only reason you advertise at all is to sell things. So sell something. Pick the product or service which will make the most money for you right now – and promote it. Do it in your own brand style, so you increase your awareness and develop your image. Change your adverts, and what you promote, regularly and frequently. Never run an ad without trying to sell something; the least you’re going to get is more awareness of your business, and there’s usually somebody out there buying whom you can steal from your competitors. Don’t be afraid that people will think you only sell the one thing you’re promoting; when B&Q advertise barbecues, no-one thinks they’ve suddenly stopped selling everything else.

There is no one advert which will answer all your advertising needs for the rest of your business life. Advertising is a process, like buying in stock, or paying your energy bills. And crucially, if you only ever advertise your brand values; (what people can get from you anytime), you are likely to lose business to your competitor who is advertising a product or service and price with limited availability.

I follow my own advice

When my most recent book came out I told everyone on my database, and sold a few. When I followed that up a month later with a 3 for 2 offer, I sold more than ten times as many books. I wasn’t surprised. Are you?

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38 thoughts on “The Biggest Mistake Advertisers Make

    1. Pleasure Mike. The best part of your advice was that few people took it as fully on board as I did. Which was great for me as I made an absolute fortune out of it, unencumbered by competition from fellow sales people 🙂

  1. Always the voice of reason Mike. I saw a large bus rear ad this morning that asked if I needed an MOT or Service. Then it gave me the name of a business. I can’t remember the name of the business – but I do remember the large image of a spanner tightening a nut which was exactly how it made my nuts feel when I thought of the wasted ad budget. Needless to say I will have my car serviced at the same place I did last year because I know how much it costs and why I go to them every time I have a problem with my car.

    1. Hi Steve, Welcome to the blog, and thanks for taking the time to comment
      It amazes me that there are some people like yourself and indeed Mike that have so much expertise, yet advertisers keep making the same mistakes over and over
      Maybe there is a blog post in there too?

  2. Thanks so much both of you – will be referring a few of my clients to this article! It helps me to make the point … or maybe just to say ‘see, I told you so’

  3. I remember well the session you help a couple of years ago with us Mike – and this piece is timeless as the same mistakes you outline will I’m sure continue to be made – hands up I’m still guilty on occasions of taking much of the ‘bleedin obvious’ irrelevance as my brief ! I’ll have a word with myself tonight

    Quality article – all the best

  4. Hi Mike, I would like to thank you, I am new to radio sales and have been given your creative led sale volume 2 book and I can’t put it down, it makes so much sense it’s unreal? I haven’t yet put it into practice but I am very much looking forward on how to (and not tp) do things!

    Keep up the fantastic work!

    Thanks again, Dan

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