There’s a gas station at one of the Interstate 20 off-ramps in Columbia, South Carolina that is rumored to have the lowest prices in town. If they don’t have the lowest prices, they certainly have convinced a large group of drivers that they do. Most hours of the day they have a constant line of cars at each of the eight pumps.
A casual observer will notice a young man drifting from car to car, speaking with each driver in sequence. The young man you notice on Monday will not be there on Thursday. Another young man will have taken his place.
And should the observer become an eavesdropper, he’ll hear the young man explain that he works for a glass company “up in Greenville,” has his materials with him, and can repair the dings and chips in the driver’s windshield for between forty and sixty-five dollars. He opines that the motorist’s insurance will cover it, reimbursing the driver so there will be no “out of pocket” expense.
Apparently, enough people accept his offer that it’s profitable for the young man, or one very much like him. They keep coming back.
Occasionally one of the motorists, wanting to “think it over,” will ask the young man du jour for a business card. He never seems to have one on him. Although he can name the company he works for, he can’t remember its phone number. No, he doesn’t carry a cell, so he can’t provide that number either.
In any buyer / prospective seller relationship, there are two basic reasons that people choose not to buy, and the young man carrying the battery-powered drill and pocket epoxy illustrates them vividly.
People don’t buy when they don’t feel the need for what you’re selling.
They don’t buy when don’t trust you.
People avoid risk on three levels.
- The biggest risk is that they’ll purchase the wrong solution – that they’ll have spent the money and still have the problem.
- But there’s also the risk that the solution they purchase won’t last, and their problem will be back. (The variant on this is buying from a company that won’t warrant the purchase, or even be in business if the purchaser ever needs their support).
- And finally, if all of the solutions seem roughly equal, there’s the risk of overpaying.
Put yourself in the mindset of someone who’s just become aware of a problem, which could be anything from “ring around the collar” to “my back hurts every morning when I wake up.” Whatever the problem she’s identified, she’s now looking for a solution.
Ring around the collar? One of the oldest formulas in advertising was perfected by major packaged goods companies like Lever Brothers and Proctor and Gamble. The familiar presentation is called slice-of-life and is presented as if we, the viewers / listeners / readers are peeking in on a conversation between real people.
The formula is basic:
State problem. Agitate problem. Announce solution.
- First, our slice of life dialog establishes that “ring around the collar” is an easily noticed condition that will reduce social standing.
- The off-camera announcer states the problem: “You’ve got ring around the collar.”
- He now agitates the problem: “Those dirty rings. You’ve tried scrubbing. You’ve tried soaking. You’ve tried powders. And nothing works.”
- We’re treated to a close-up demonstration of Wisk liquid laundry detergent being poured on the offensive sweat stain. The camera cuts to a close-up of the same collar without the stains.
- The off-camera announcer proudly announces the solution: “Wisk around the collar gets ring around the collar every time.”
This is a good example of a single-step ad. It’s also known as an order generation ad. Its purpose is to get the prospect to recognize her problem, accept the solution, and purchase it. Now.
Does order generation advertising work? Most assuredly, it does. You’ve seen examples of it every day of your life.
The catalog from Sears or Terry’s Village. Every Yellow Pages ad. The “cash for gold” ads on television. The long-running television or magazine ads for Miracle Grow. A significant percentage of the letters in your mailbox are from companies you’ve never heard of.
Let’s review those three risks.
Our slice-of-life laundry lady is highly likely to purchase Wisk, now that she’s seen, and accepted, the premise of the ad: “Wisk around the collar gets ring around the collar.”
- Is she risking the wrong solution (no pun intended)? She recognizes ring around the collar as her problem, because she sees the sweat stains every time she does laundry. This appears to be an exact solution. Minimal risk.
- Is she risking that her solution will be temporary? No. It’s a disposable product. If it doesn’t work as well as she expected, she can simply not replace it when she runs out. Again, no real risk.
- Is she risking paying too much?* Probably not. If our shopper purchases the economy-size “32 loads” bottle of Wisk, she can expect to pay roughly $7.50. If she pays $7.83 will that price increase damage her cleaning budget? Hardly
Without the perception of risk, it shouldn’t surprise us that this customer will quickly decide to buy the product.
Single-step ads tend to work best for simple, non-technical, and inexpensive products. The simpler the proposal, the easier it is to explain in a small ad. This is the principle that makes classified advertising work.
But what if the product or service needs more explanation than will fit into a small space ad, or half a minute on TV or radio? In general, the more complex the product, the more technical the nature of the product, the higher the price, the less likely a single-step ad will convert people from prospects to customers.
Back to the lady with the backache.
She wakes up and groans while getting out of bed. By her second cup of coffee, she’s moving freely and has forgotten about the stiffness.
But one day she realizes that this “back hurts first thing in the morning” business has gone on for weeks. In her mind (which is where it counts), that realization moves her backache to the status of a problem. Problems need resolution.
She begins to pay attention to what web marketers call “keywords.” Keywords aren’t limited to the Internet. Regardless of medium, they are one or two-word phrases that trigger her reticular activation system and reach her conscious brain. In her case, the words will be “backache,” and “morning backache.”
Now that her subconscious is aware that they are important she begins to notice the advertising messages which surround her. As her eye skims the newspaper the keywords seem to leap off the page. She’ll be riveted to certain radio ads. She’ll stop talking during television advertising in which the keywords resonate in her conscious mind.
- “Morning backache is a sign of a too-soft mattress. See how good you feel after 30 nights on a Simmons Beauty Rest.”
- “Morning backache is a sign of poor posture. WalkFit Orthotic Shoe Inserts helped over 90% of the people tested to reduce pain levels in their feet, knees, spine, and pelvis.”
- “Morning backache is a sign of poor spinal alignment. Should that stiff neck or sore back persist, call your Doctor of Chiropractic.”
- “Morning backache can be treated with Doan’s Backache Pills. They relieve the aches and pains and that helpless feeling of stiffness so that the system can be restored to full health.”
- “Morning backache is a sign that the vital magnetic energy from the earth’s natural magnetic field has been interrupted. Magnetic insoles provide penetrating magnetic therapy for the entire body while soft massage nodes stimulate reflexology points.”
Multiple products promise to relieve her discomfort. Multiple disciplines claim to treat her condition. With the limited knowledge she possesses as an entry-level shopper, she could easily choose the wrong solution, or one that doesn’t last. Without knowing which solution is appropriate she could easily overpay. She’s swimming in risk.
Sellers would love for her to buy from a single-step ad.
From the seller’s perspective, a single-step order generation ad is a quick sale. It doesn’t require any follow-up. Done well, salespeople may not even be necessary. The process seems so simple, so straightforward, so easy. “Here’s my offer. Come buy it.” There is no intent for these ads to build image or “brand” the advertiser. Their only purpose is to get the sale. Miss Prospect will buy, or not. No second chance.
But Miss Prospect may not be ready to buy when you want to sell. She may not need it today. Even if you do, she doesn’t know you. She doesn’t know your product. From her perspective, she’s surrounded by risk. Did I mention that she doesn’t know you?
She needs information about how you can solve her problem. She needs information about your professional reputation. She requires more information than can fit into a small newspaper or magazine ad; more than will fit into a radio or television ad.
When she’s in the early stages of seeking a solution for her problem, Miss Prospect will want to see a demonstration, read a specification sheet, see an estimate, meet for a consultation, or expect a presentation before she buys.
See the problem? One-step ads work best when the offer is simple and inexpensive. They work when the prospect is a late-stage shopper, and is very close to making a purchase. But when Miss Prospect is an entry-stage shopper, is bewildered by the sheer number of choices, and feels overwhelmed by risk, they tend not to work at all. Mr. Advertiser schedules his single-step offer to run in the noon newscast, and at 12:15 is standing at the door wondering where all of the buyers are.
If we’re selling mattresses, orthotic shoe inserts, chiropractic services, analgesic pills, or magnetic therapy – if we’re selling anything which takes a more detailed explanation than “this detergent gets the dirt out” – we’ll do better breaking the sales process into two or more parts.
Instead of asking Miss Prospect to commit to the purchase, we ask that she only commit to the risk-free next step in our selling process.
What’s the risk-free first step?
How do Proctor and Gamble minimize the customer’s $7.50 risk for any of their new detergents? They offer a free sample of the product. Enough for two or three uses. Miss Prospect tries the soap, likes the way it cleans, really likes the new fragrance, and adds the product to her next shopping list.
Summary: the manufacturer invests roughly 57₵ to acquire a new customer of their consumable product. It’s likely that she’ll spend roughly $90 per year re-purchasing it.
“If we pre-qualify you and your claim is denied, the Scooter Store will GIVE you your new power chair or scooter, FREE.”
Summary: by offering a “pre-qualification,” the advertiser gets the complete personal information on an active prospect.
“Well I married my dream girl, I married my dream girl, but she didn’t tell me her credit was bad…” This delightful ad for Free Credit Report dot com offers a three-bureau credit report, at no cost to the caller. There are two reasons this one is worthy of note. First, it uses network television (with only 30 seconds to tell a story) to drive traffic to a website where there’s no limit to the amount of information that can be presented to the prospect.
But pay close attention to both the tiny screen writing and the subdued voice-over, each of which says, “Offer applies with enrollment in Triple Advantage.” Did you catch it? The entire 30 seconds pushes the free credit report which people get by enrolling in a monthly credit monitoring service for $14.95 per month.
Summary: for the price of a single credit report (no incremental cost to the advertiser), and by focusing ONLY on the premium – the free report – they get a subscriber who will pay nearly $180 per year.
Imagine trying to convince people to sign up for a monthly credit monitoring service in a 30 second single-step TV ad. “Call now. Protect yourself from identity theft for only $14.95 a month. Operators are standing by…..” But asking them to identify themselves by requesting their own credit report? How elegantly simple.
They call it two-step marketing, but…
It may be the second, third, or fourth step which closes the sale after the first step provides the “lead.”
Or it may be a series of progressively larger sales. Roy H. Williams says the subscribers to his free newsletter may become familiar enough with his writing to purchase a $12.95 book. Some of the book buyers may purchase a $49.00 video, or a $495 training program, or a $3,000 three-day seminar. Some of those purchasers will become consulting clients. Roy calls this his “gravity well.”
Whether you call the two-step process a prospect funnel, a gravity well, or lead generation, there are a few things you can do to maximize its effectiveness.
Not everyone you meet will be a qualified prospect for what you sell. And remember that qualified prospects still won’t buy if they don’t believe they need what you’re selling, or if they don’t trust you.
Two-step marketing allows you to persuade your prospects that what you sell is the exact solution they’re seeking. More importantly, it allows them to experience your trustworthiness. And both are critical to the reduction of perceived risk among your prospects.
And risk makes the bait less attractive when you’re fishing for customers.
Full Three Part Series:
Zen and the Art of Persuasion. Part 3 of 3