How to Tell if Your Advertising is Failing Before it’s Too Late

What is Developmental Research?

About six years ago, my agency onboarded a well-established retailer. At our first marketing meeting, the owner insisted he knew his best customers because he came face to face with them every day. He claimed they were 35-to-55-year-old males. His description was a little lacking in detail, so we suggested thorough audience segmentation and message testing, but he was adamant he knew best. We created television and radio campaigns for that audience. And when we measured who was coming into the stores, lo and behold, it proved to be the same audience we had targeted.

Our client was extremely pleased with himself for “calling” the right target. He was satisfied that the campaign was generating a solid return on his investment, and therefore, there was nothing more to do. However, we knew he was missing out on so much more business.

THE COST OF NOT RESEARCHING

Unbeknownst to him, we were conducting developmental and evaluative research. This involved testing new audiences — similar to the audience the owner had originally identified — with different messages to see if any of them resonated.

We overlaid census data with these new audiences and found that if we had targeted males 45 to 55 years old with a different message, we would have generated almost twice as much revenue. If we had used a different message that resonated with 35-to-45-year-old females, we would have reached almost as many people.

After showing him the data, our client became defensive and said we obviously needed a very broad message. Wrong. We needed three different messages. Later our client agreed to pay for the additional research we had done and adopted all the new strategies. Years later, he went on to sell his retail chain for tens of millions of dollars. The lesson learned:

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” — Peter Drucker

THE TRUTH ABOUT TESTING

Large corporations test, test and then test some more. Contrary to the popular myth, Steve Jobs routinely used focus groups in the development of Apple products — a fact that emerged from one of the many Apple lawsuits. For the Super Bowl, Bud Light doesn’t make one commercial. They make many. Then they test the different commercials so they know which ones are going to resonate best — running only the real winners. Today, everyone should be testing.

YOU’RE OUT OF EXCUSES

Audience segmentation and message testing have become so inexpensive, even the smallest brands need to take advantage of them. The cost of panel surveys is a fraction of the cost of doing focus groups, and much faster too. Facebook and AdWords surveys take more time but are extremely economical. Every day there are new services like Survey Monkey and Survata offering fast and cost-effective ways to survey the views of different audiences.

Once armed with a decent-size customer list, influencer list and IP addresses, you can cross-reference social data to get a pretty accurate picture of your customer. By exploring other audiences that have an affinity with your original list, you might uncover a larger audience or one more likely to buy your product or service. Through inexpensive surveys, you now have the ability to put a number of different messages in front of a number of different audiences. This helps you project how large your potential market might be, and — best of all — how you should be communicating with them.

Imagine not having to spend $100,000 on media and production to prove you have a viable market for your product or service. Welcome to the future.


Mike Johnston is the Senior Copywriter at Family, an Advertising Agency in Seattle. He is available for freelance assignments. Please contact Mike through the Family website for samples of his work. More of his articles on advertising can be found on the Family website.

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