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Asserting Your Online Marketing Message


When I tell people that I create online advertising, it often generates the same level of goodwill one might experience by wearing a New York Yankees cap into Fenway Park.

“Oh,” they often say, “Do you make those pop-up ads? I really hate pop-up ads!”

It is at this point in the conversation when I quickly change the subject to something more uplifting like the weather, current events or the contemplation of dental surgery.

It’s not lost on me that most people hate this type of advertising. I hate it too. So do most of the people I know who work in marketing. However, most of the online advertising formats that online advertisers use today exist because they have been shown to be effective in generating sales and leads. On the other hand, pop-ups have already gone the way of the dinosaur seemingly having done more to generate business for people to created pop-up blocker software then they did to promote value of the goods and services they represented.

The reality of online marketing is that it’s still in its infancy. This is still largely uncharted territory and as a result, many marketers are willing try anything to see if it works for them. This has resulted in waves of new marketing approaches, some which seem designed to drive their potential customers insane with rage.

The point of the matter is that online marketers are looking for ways to reach out to the people they want to become their customers. Unfortunately, in many cases, that reaching out offers the same emotional appeal as being attacked and dragged into an alley.

When I work with online marketers, I often start by reminding them that their real goal is to find a way of communicating with potential customers. It’s not about assaulting passersby with a marketing pitch nor is it about tricking people into clicking on ads. All online marketing should be focused on telling consumers what it is that your company or offerings mean to them as individuals.

Each advertisement, online or off, should have a main point that it wants to make. This point should serve to drive the consumer toward making a decision about whether or not they should purchase the products or services being offered.

A few years ago I designed an online marketing methodology I call the ASSERT model. This model outlines 6 steps that any successful online ad needs to incorporate in order to reach out to people in a way that will make them respond favorably. The steps are:

1. Attract the consumer’s attention

2. Show the consumer benefit

3. Specify which actions to take

4. Engage the consumer

5. Reinforce the message

6. Terminate the transaction

Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

Attract the consumer’s attention

The most basic law of marketing is that you first need to get the consumer’s attention. Without this step being successful nothing else matters. However, there are ways of attracting attention to products and services being offered online that don’t include obnoxious or overly aggressive behavior.

One of the best ways to reach prospective consumers is to show them that you respect them. It’s not surprising that most consumers dislike online advertising because of the way they have been suckered, tricked, bombarded and bullied in the past by ads whose only function is to be seen. While these guerilla tactics might achieve the task of getting noticed, they often have the undesired effect of negatively branding the advertiser.

Many of the best results in online marketing come from ad units whose purpose is immediately obvious to the consumer. Ads that offer animations, interactivity and slick graphics are easily noticed and may cause the consumer to linger for a moment to determine if the offer being made fits any personal needs.

The use of language is also a strong draw in attracting a consumer’s attention. Ads that quickly get to the point are much more effective then those which end up being too vague or subtle.

Also effective is the use of trigger words such as “FREE”, “NEW”, “SPECIAL” or “EXCLUSIVE”. These dynamic words automatically communicate concepts that appeal to many consumers. We like things that are different and new and special. We especially like free things.

Show the consumer benefit

At the core of most human behavior is the continuous search for ways in which we can improve our lives. As a result, our receptors are always open for any stimuli that appear beneficial.

The primary filter that we all use as we look at the world is one of relevance to our personal needs. Mostly, we make subconscious judgments about the hundreds of opportunities that present themselves to us daily. For example, a marketer earnestly trying to get my attention so that I can be sold the latest fashion in women’s shoes is going to have a hard time reaching me. The product being offered is irrelevant to my needs just as I imagine my wife would be a hard sell for a beard trimmer. If the offer isn’t relevant to a consumer, then the doorway used to communicate benefit is never opened.

Showing benefit can be as simple as the advertiser explaining what the offer means to the consumer. For example, a tag line that reads “Let us show you how you can save money on your auto insurance” leaves little room for misunderstanding. The benefit is of savings. However, it’s also clear that that benefit is also only relevant to those people who buy auto insurance and most specifically geared toward those who already have an automobile insurance policy. For those that the ad doesn’t ‘speak’ to, there’s no need to stop and visit.

The method in which the marketing message is delivered also says a great deal about the benefit being offered. Many pop-up ads, spam e-mails and other invasive ads already have a message attached to them. Too often the message states very clearly, “We don’t really respect you but hope you’re stupid enough to click on our ad.”

While there may be a few suckers out there, the majority of consumers are just like you and me. We recognize a good thing readily. We can also recognize a bad thing. If you can express genuine respect when you approach potential customers, you’ll do a lot more business.

Specify which actions to take

Advertisers need to think of the ads they run as marketing representatives of their companies. Does that ad reflect the way the advertiser would like to be perceived? Is it apparent that the advertiser has the consumer’s best interests in mind? Is the ad showing the consumer the same level of respect that they would receive if they were dealing with the advertiser face-to-face? As a good host, it is up to the advertiser to make the consumer feel comfortable not only with the offer but the way in which that offer is presented.

Just as you’d tell a house guest looking for the restroom that it was ‘down the hall, second door on the left’, you also need to be able to tell the consumer what actions they need to take to acquire the benefit of the offer being made.

For ads that focus on driving traffic to a Web site, that action might be to click on the ad to visit the Web site. In interactive ad formats, the action might include viewing an online brochure, playing a game or providing data to the advertiser so that a more personalized offer could be made.

Don’t make the consumer guess about their role in the marketing process. The human behavioral default when confronted with things that appear unclear or ill-defined is to avoid them in hopes that they go away.

Engage the consumer

Once an ad has grabbed the attention of the consumer, the next task is to find a way to hold that consumer’s attention long enough to provide them with the marketing message.

In online advertising the opportunity to request and achieve direct action on the part of the consumer is part of the marketing process. Online advertising doesn’t have to be a passive experience nor should it be. There are many ways to get the consumer to participate in the marketing process. Interactive ad formats offer games, simulations, tools and surveys as a way of holding the attention of prospects, while traditional online advertising focuses on driving traffic to the Web site. Either way, the consumer is expected to get involved in the process. Make it clear what is expected on them.

Reinforce the message

Every marketing piece should have a main point it is trying to make. That main point might be a clarification of the benefits being offered, a special deal that has a limited time offer, a list of advantages over what a competitor is offering or simply an opportunity to brand a company’s name and logo. As long as you have their attention, make certain that every second counts toward the consumer leaving the experience with a full understand of what the point of the ad is.

Terminate the transaction

Finally, like any good hosting situation, the time will come when your guests will want to leave. Make it possible for the consumer to do so gracefully and with little discomfort. If the marketing task has been completed, thank the consumers for their time and attention and offer a nice clean place to break off the event. A good parting can lead to a positive recollection of the event the next time they see an offer from your company.

Different marketers will have different needs. However, all paths should lead toward getting consumers involved, telling them why an offer is important to them and doing it in a way that is non-threatening and engaging. It just may be the approach that gets you remembered positively.

Sidebar Content

While advertising in general covers a great many topics and approaches, all ads need to be able to communicate clearly with the consumer. The initial question that a consumer will have when seeing any ad is ‘What does this offer mean to me?’ If the offer is relevant to their needs, the next question will be ‘what do I need to do to take advantage of this offer?’

Successful marketing is based on being able to answers these questions before they’re even asked. Let’s say, for example, that a company that offers mortgage services is creating a simple online ad. The first three steps of the ASSERT model might be:

“Would you like to have more MONEY at the end of the month?’

(Attract attention)

“Refinancing today can save you THOUSANDS of dollars over the life of your mortgage” (Show benefit)

“Enter your Email address and we will instantly send you our FREE report” (Specify action to take)

With those 3 simple lines the relevance message has been successfully delivered.

From that point on, the ad could offer an interactive option that pops up a simple mortgage calculator. (Engage consumer)

By entering their current mortgage information and comparing it again what’s being offered the consumer can get a very realistic idea of the savings being offered. (Reinforce message)

At this point, convinced that further exploration is to their benefit, the consumer can safely get more information (that will also serve to reinforce the benefit) just by entering an email address.

Once the email address has been entered and submitted, the ad might respond with a message like ‘We have sent you a free report! Thanks for your interest in XYZ Mortgage. Click here to visit our Web site!’ (Terminate transaction)

At this point the process is complete. For the consumer who wants to visit the advertiser’s Web site that option is available but the real core of the marketing goal has already been achieved. The advertiser has been able to deliver the message to the consumer. While the onus is on the consumer to read over the sent materials and make efforts to refinance, the advertiser can provide periodic email reminders to the consumer.

Submitted by:

Rob Graham

Rob Graham is the Director of Training for LearningCraft, LLC. (http://www.learningcraft.com), a training company catering to the needs of online marketers and businesses learning to communicate effectively in the online world. He can be reached at robgraham@learningcraft.com.





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