Advertising is the Roof: Why Businesses Need to Stop Blaming their Advertising for Sales Woes

It took me awhile, but now I get it.  Ten years of media selling leads to certain cognitive biases.

In the past,  I would refer clients to Law #4 of Al Ries’ “22 Immutable Laws of Branding:”  The Law of Advertising. Ries argues that the purpose of advertising is not necessarily to drive sales, but rather to protect market share.  According to Ries (2002), “Your advertising budget is like a country’s defense budget.  Those massive advertising dollars don’t buy you anything.  They just keep you from losing market share to your competition” (p.18).

What??  I sold media for a decade and only on very rare occassions (normally with saavy business owners), would the strategy be “to protect market share.”  What did businesses expect from their advertising investment?  A return, and not in the form of maintaining market share.

Can you imagine this exchange?

Lowly Ad Rep:  So Mr. Advertiser, how’s it working?

Smart Business Owner:  “Well I maintained my 2 percent of the market, so it was a success!”

I had one client tell me he expects a “10:1 return on investment from my advertising.”  I thought if you’re already getting that type of return (which of course was BS) why would you be talking to me?  Just keep doing what you’re doing!!

Unless you’re selling Chia Pets, advertising is the roof.  It’s the protection, not the foundation.  So what actually drives “sales?”  According to Sean Stormes, a leader in designing business value, the Core Four (T3D™) of Experience, Community, Culture, and Story, ultimately drive revenue.  Let’s examine each briefly..

Experience

Think of Experience as how a play develops within a theater.  The actual play is the customer experience you are delivering, in each and every customer touch point.  Now, there’s an audience watching this unfold and two-way glass separates your “play” with the audience.  Would you get a standing ovation, or would people duck out at intermission?  The more your business strives to receive standing ovations, the less you’ll have to rely on advertising to attract new customers.

Story

One of the best examples of story, and how it relates to purchasing behavior, comes from Ty Montague’s “True Story” and those who drive a Hummer.  Does it make rationale and economic sense to drive a 6,000 pound modified tank that gets 10 miles to the gallon?  No.  But people don’t buy rationally, they buy the story that the product tells about themselves.  You don’t buy a Hummer; you are buying the story of rugged adventure, masculinity, and alpha-driven qualities that you already believe about yourself now or into the future.  If your business story aligns with what people think about themselves, you’ll have a packed house every night.  The issue is most businesses have no story, or at the very least, not one that is easily understood.

Community

If you have a story that people will share and deliver an experience that will yield standing ovations, expect a community to build.  The strength of the community is directly proportionate to how much interaction exists outside of your day-day interactions with the community.  Tom’s Shoes has created a community to raise awareness for children in developing countries who’ve never had proper footwear.  You know the company’s story; for every pair of Tom’s purchased, one is donated to a child who never owned a pair of their own.  Over the course of two weeks, the Tom’s community will post tens of thousands of Instagram pictures of their bare feet (#withoutshoes campaign) and Tom’s will donate to a child in need…..and you don’t have to buy anything!

Culture

Culture is similar to community, but it’s the internal component.  Building a culture can never happen without true purpose.  If a business cannot answer the question, “Why do we exist,” a culture cannot emerge.  Zappos, the online shoe retailer, will pay a new hire to leave if she doesn’t believe her values align with those of the organization.  Zappos believes so strongly in hiring employees that will live its values, it pays people to leave.  Wow, just wow.

To summarize, if you’re relying on advertising, or even worse, blaming it for not delivering a “return,” you’re working on the wrong side of the equation.  Focus on fortifying the value side of your business (Experience, Culture, Community, Story) and then protect what you’ve built with advertising.

-Dave Wieser

Please share with those who may value the insights and/or leave a comment – I truly enjoy the dialogue!

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