Advertising - Should You Be Advertising Your Services?

You offer a reliable, quality service. You know that if more people knew what you can do, you'd increase sales. So you advertise in the most likely media for potential clients to read about you. But there's no response. Why?

If this scenario is familiar to you there's a few likely causes.

1. Maybe your ad's aren't designed well - poor layout, inappropriate offer, etc.

2. Maybe you have selected the wrong media, placement or timing.

3. Maybe you shouldn't be advertising your services.

Now I know there's a lot to consider when writing advertisements - creating "killer headlines", long copy versus short copy arguments, using white space, etc - and I could give you some tips on how to buy media. But I'm not getting into that today. I'm going to talk about the third point - maybe you shouldn't advertise.

But wait! (I hear you ask)... Why shouldn't I advertise my business?

Put simply, some services are not suitable to be advertised in the usual fashion. Most advertising is to stimulate action, usually a purchase or decision to place an order. If you're selling a 'product' this is relatively easy to achieve. Customers know what they are buying. There's usually some sort of benchmark, or product criteria, customers use to judge whether your product will do what they want.

But when it comes to services, many potential customers (or clients - I use both terms interchangeably) may not be able to make the same sort of judgement. This is particularly the case for services where the specific outcome is hard to predict, or where there is a large degree of emotional involvement or risk in the customers decision making process.

Think about it this way. Services can be broadly classified under the following headings:

* People Processing (eg hairdresser, medical)

* Possession Processing (eg computer repairs, dog obedience training)

* Knowledge Processing (eg education, entertainment)

* Information Processing (eg accounting, investment advice)

Generally speaking, possession and people processing services are more tangible than knowledge or information processing. For possession and people processing services, clients can see/touch/feel the outcomes, and they may even be personally involved in the delivery of the actual service. Additionally, tangible services usually incorporate a higher level of personal contact (intensity or frequency) between the provider and the customer.

So, for more tangible services, clients often have more reference points on which to base a future purchase decision.

If your business provides services with less tangible, and more variable, outcomes then media advertising may not be the best answer for you. For your type of services customers will be very interested to understand 'how' you deliver your service and will need to develop a suitable degree of trust in you before they will make the decision to use your services. These criteria cannot be fully met through advertising alone.

So what should you do to get more business? Here are a few ideas:

* Perform your service to an excellent standard - surpassing mere customer satisfaction.

* Provide information to educate your potential clients.

* Develop sales processes that identify real problems you can solve.

* Make sure you address the true concerns and risks of your clients.

* Understand the clues customers use to decide whether they will use you.

* Create a network of related service providers who may refer prospects to you.

* Develop mutually beneficial joint-promotional activities with well-respected businesses in complementary fields.

Please don't misunderstand my message. Advertising can be very productive. If you can clearly state specific benefits (i.e. outcomes) and overcome the initial concerns of prospective clients, then advertising may work for you. That's why possession processing services such as lawn mowing can be easily advertised. For your average lawn the customer can recognise and understand what they are buying.

However, if your business provides relatively intangible services that deliver outcomes dependent upon a variety of factors, then media advertising should not be high on your list of marketing activities.

(c) 2004 Marketing Nous Pty Ltd

Stuart Ayling runs Marketing Nous, an Australasian marketing consultancy that specialises in marketing for service businesses. He helps clients to improve their marketing tactics, attract more clients, and increase revenue. Stuart also offers telephone consultations and runs regular marketing seminars. For additional marketing resources, including Stuart's popular monthly newsletter, visit his web site at http://www.marketingnous.com.au.

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