Most companies we deal with don't think of this topic in advance, or at least not far enough in advance to not waste loads of hard to come by cash.
If you have not yet engaged in any form of direct marketing to consumers, whether it be via the web, periodicals, trade journals, or television, now would be a great time to begin, especially as it will hone your best marketing messages to a tee before you spend $10K, $25K, or $50K ramping up for a big trade show.
Why a Good Headline is Necessary
If you are a decent copywriter, as you know, a good headline is necessary to get people to open their wallets to purchase your goods or services or both. The way we recommend to learn what messages resonate with your clients is to run some advertisements in various venues such as a newspaper or magazine to start with. Place a special offer with a code in your ad so as to ascertain how many readers per thousand are responding to your ad.
The Relevance of Split Testing Your Ads
So, for instance, let's say your company offers window washing services to businesses. You could run an ad that has a headline "Windows So Clean, You'll May Not Know They're There." You might add a testimonial or two in the ad, then make a special offer such as 25% off your first window cleaning, and when a client calls in to schedule a window washing, they give you the code, which is noted in a log, and now you know how effective that ad is. Of course, how do you know if your ad could've done better? Great question again.
The way to know is run one or more ads simultaneously in the same periodical or other periodicals with similar readership with other headlines and supporting copy and testimonials, and keep a log of what codes all incoming callers are using. Within a couple months, if you've run two or more ad campaigns, you should know which ad is pulling the best.
If you want to continue to fine tune your headlines and copy, take that winner and pit it against some more similar but different ads. Again, within a month or two, you should have a clear winner. Rinse and repeat.
A Faster Way to Split Test Ads in the 21st Century
There is, though, in the 21st Century, faster ways to test copy and ads, and that is by using the advertising venues available online. The most popular is Google's AdWords, those little ads on the right side of any Google search. By the way, I am getting nothing from Google by talking about this, but we've used it successfully and it is a good and potentially cost effective tool. In fact, I would recommend using it first to fine tune your approach before advertising in other venues because of the speed at which you can amalgamate data.
If you are in a category that will require local search, like window washing most likely will be, you can hone your AdWords campaigns into an area, say, like Tulsa, Oklahoma or Tacoma, Washington, telling Google to only show your ads in certain ZIP code areas. Once you've built a landing page and some ads directing potential clients that direction, now you can test ad headlines and landing page copy, using discount codes again to help people decide to call your company. After a month or two, now you can expand to magazines and newspapers, or even television.
Testing each venue will be important as well, but at some point, you should have discovered the "phrase that pays." That will be your headline for your trade show booth. Your graphics will direct the eye to your headline and maybe a tagline that has been working well for you. Of course, at a trade show, it is unlikely you're going to book many window washing jobs, but you will likely collect lots of leads, and it's up to your sales force to follow up on those leads.
I've been to trade shows and fairs where I filled out a ticket for a drawing, or several drawings, and maybe one person from one company actually followed up out of ten or more tickets filled out. If you don't follow up, the show can be a waste of time and money, but if you do, you can take the show to the bank for a short term boost in business, and some great long term clients that will stick with you for years and years.
It sounds like your company is already doing some things right, so take my advice above, and maybe read a book by one of the old direct marketing masters like Eugene Schwarz or the like, and good luck!
Barry K. Brown has been in the Sign, Banner, Decal and Display Business for over 20 years. It isn't what he thought he'd do with his life, but he says he knows too much now to do anything else! He has been marketing these products online since 1998, and the company he was general manager of in 1998 was the first sign company to be listed on Yahoo!