Two Rampant Marketing Mistakes

by Tim Francis on May 31, 2013

Over and over and over and over again I see these two mistakes in most advertising by small businesses…

1) No Differentiation: if you removed the business’ name and logo from their ads- no kidding – you’d have no idea if the ad was for them or their competitor. Below I provide real-world examples and explain exactly how to fix this issue.

2) Ads Aren’t Attacking Customers’ Problems: Look, your customers don’t give a SHIT about you, your goals, or how nice you are at home. (and god help you if your ad’s headline is your business’ name!)

All customers care about is getting their problem solved completely, reliably, from someone they feel good about doing business with. THAT’S IT, THAT’S ALL. Below I give raw formulas to follow and explicit examples that show the “before” and “after” of an ad that’s been fixed.


Two Ways to Devour Today’s Marketing Lesson

1) Read

2) Listen

If you prefer listening to today’s lesson (instead of reading the blog post), click the play button in the player below.  It’s an audio podcast that is almost word-for-word from this blog post.

Otherwise, scroll down to read the blog post.  Either way you’ll probably want to scroll down at least to see the ad examples.

One Simple Switch Can Double or Triple Response

Usually this kind of a statement is reserved for conversations about the power of headlines in advertising.

But in this case I’m going to talk about something different.

Something deeper…

Bland, Vanilla, Generic

I recently opened up a copy of the Yellow Pages.

I flipped it open.

It landed in the Plumbing section.

In front me me lay two full-page ads.  Full-colour, very expensive.

The left ad said (essentially) “Joe’s Plumbing”.

The right ad said (essentially) “Doug’s Plumbing”.

Which ad grips you by the throat, commanding your complete attention, dragging your eyeballs to read the rest of the ad?


As I compared these two ads, I saw:

  • both are plumbing companies
  • both are insured
  • both are bonded
  • both are “Better Business Bureau” approved
  • both have 24/7 operators standing by to take your call
  • both have the “Technician Seal of Safety” (whatever that is)

Dead serious – they were THAT identical.

Now, maybe these companies are successful…. but I guarantee it’s in spite of their Yellow Pages ad.  Makes me wonder: how much more successful would they be if they made the few simple suggestions I’ve made in this article?

Back to the ads…. ask yourself:

Which plumber you gonna call?  Which one is better?

You can’t tell?  Neither can I.  That leads me to believe the service will be the same, so I might as well just get quotes from both and pick the company with the lowest price.

Being Chosen Because You’re “Cheapest” is a Ticking Time Bomb

There will always be someone hungrier, willing to accept a lower standard of living, work harder, work longer, to deliver their product / service cheaper than you.

In the 1700s and 1800s work was done by hand with some mechanized tools.

In the 1850s manfacturing started happening in the U.S.  The Ford Motor Company was the most famous example of mass production assembly lines being used.  Henry Ford became obsessed with the manufacturing line (instead of manufacturing vehicles the manual way) because it dramatically cut his costs and dramatically expanded his scalability.  For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll focus on the cost savings of aseembly-line manufacturing… it was cheaper than building cars by hand.

By 1988, everyone was using the production line.  To get cheaper production, U.S. companies started offshoring / ousourcing to China.

In an interesting turn of events, today in 2013 the Chinese are now starting to outsource / offshore too… to Vietnam.  Because it’s even cheaper.  Chinese wages and standard of living are increasing – yes – so they need to outsource the lowest level of labour.  But my point is that…

There will always be someone else ready to do things cheaper than you, so if you….

Compete on Price, You’ll Go Bankrupt!

If we can’t compete on price, what *should* we compete on?

  • speed of service
  • guarantees
  • quality
  • experience
  • access
  • exclusivity
  • delivery times and costs
  • (any many more)

Goodness gracious, Domino’s Pizza took one of the most commoditized, bland, undifferentiated product on the planet – Good ‘Ol American Pizza – and found a way to differentiate themselves.

They introduced a guarantee – “Hot, Fresh Pizza in 30 Minutes or Less… Guaranteed.”  They no longer use this because crazed delivery drivers were mowing down pedestrians and suing the company for the extreme delivery demands.

But all this litigation happened after Domino’s transformed themselves into a billion dollar business.

Selling average-tasting, forgettable pizzas!!!!

Take note… where there is no intrinsic difference, follow the Domino’s Way, and just invent one.  Case CLOSED.

How to Choose Your Point of Differentiation?

Look at competitors.  Whoever’s making money… deconstruct their value proposition.  As in, what’s their pitch?  How do they position themselves?

Now reverse-engineer their sales and marketing.  Analyse their website.  Buy their stuff.  Take note of how you’re sold.  What up-sells you’re offered.  Join their e-newsletter.  Opt-in for their free reports.

The “Next Level” of Understanding Competitors

I developed this myself… instead of just looking at your local market, think to yourself: what’s the most intensely competitive market for this product in the world?

For example:

  • for luxury cars, study how they’re sold in Beverly Hills and Monaco.
  • for fashion, study how it’s sold in Paris, Milan, and Los Angeles
  • for luxury real estate, study how Sotheby’s sells property in Manhattan and Beverly Hills

…just because you don’t live in these cities or countries, nor do you compete inside of them, they are often a few years ahead of us in the competitiveness of selling.  Study what they do, and see what ideas you can bring home to your own market.

Match Your Unique Message to the Right Media

If you were a restaurant, and your point of difference was a “Gluten Free Menu”, then think… where do the gluties hang out?

Write articles and offer recipes for the Celiac Association magazine.

Offer food tastings to the local Celiac club.

Advertise on gluten-free websites.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

OK.  Enough about differentiation…. let’s move onto the second Rampant Marketing Mistake…

Prospects Don’t Care About You.

They just want their problems solved.

People that are lonely and seeking companionship pull out their credit card for a profile on an online dating site.

But people in the middle of a divorce wouldn’t.  Instead they pull out a credit card for their lawyer, to avoid getting screwed in their settlement, and to get relief from the overwhelming complexity of divorce law and paperwork.

Feeling bored?  You’d probably pull out your credit card for a book, a movie, registration fees to play on a social sports team.

Got a tropical vacation coming up?  All of a sudden that flabby belly is a problem.  Suddenly you’re racking up your credit card on a gym membership, fat burning supplements, and new food in the fridge.

See What I Mean?

If there’s no problem on the table, there’s no transaction to be made.

Humans spend money to prevent or remove discomfort.  That’s it, that’s all.

So why the heck is your headline: “Joe’s Plumbing”?!?!?!?!


Instead, the ad needs to

Speak To Customer Problems… ALWAYS

Instead, the plumber’s headline should read something like:

  • Embarrassed About a Clogged Toilet, and Too Grossed Out to Fix it Yourself?
  • Need Help Installing a new Hot Water Tank?
  • Leaky Pipe Causing Mould Behind Your Sink?

…I’ve never done marketing or advertising work for a plumbing company, so maybe the above examples are slightly off the mark.  But they’re all plumbing situations from my own life.  More importantly…

Do you see how these speak to the customer’s problems?

Simple Formulas for Writing Winning Ads

The vast, vast, VAST majority of ads make the mistake of focusing on themselves.

Instead, here’s a simple formula to follow to fix ads:

Do You Have _______ Problem?

We are _____.  We can do  (x) for you that give you (x) solution.

We’ve helped (x) number of clients since (x) year.  Our tecnhicians / professionals have received (x) professional training.

Call us today at 555-555-5555 to book a free consultation today.


This ad violates a few of the more intermediate marketing principles.  But as far as fixing the most fundamental errors it gets the job done.

Intermediate Forumla for Writing Ads

Problem – Agitate – Solve.

Provide Credibility Indicators, Make an Irresestable Offer to Act Now.

Get Relief From Sore Heels and Get Back in Action… Guaranteed! (problem / solve)

Do your heels hurt so much you can’t stay on your feet at work?  Do you find yourself staying home when everyone else goes for a walk?  Are you frustrated you can’t enjoy family and social events because it’s just too painful? (agitate)

At XYZ physiotherapy we’ve specialized in foot relief.  We’ve already helped 3,105 patients right here in Edmonton to reclaim their lives through the magic of orthotics and physiotherapy. (solve / credibility)

Most patients feel noticeable relief after just one session, and often within 3 sessions can resume those activities they thought they’d never do again: (solve / credibility)

“I’m awe-struck! After just 2 sessions with Dr. Smith, and a new set of custom orthotics from his team, suddenly I’m able to go out dancing again and join my husband for a round of golf.  I never thought I’d get to do those things again.  I’m forever endebtted to Dr. Smith’s clinic.  Thank-you!” – Jane Doe (credibility)

Will you be our next success story?

We offer free consultations to anyone who’s interested in their options for heel relief.  Call us now at 555-555-5555.  The sooner you call, the sooner you could reclaim your mobility and freedom. (Irresistable Offer to Act Now)

OUR GUARANTEE: If we deem we *can* help you, and you follow our prescriptions, we guarantee you’ll be pain-free and back on your feet in 30 days or less…. or your money back!  Call 555-555-5555 to book your free consultation today. (Irresistable Offer to Act Now)

Get back on your feet and back in action!

Dr. Smith, M.D., FPSS (credibility)

P.S. You may also be interested in our free ebook, “The 5 Fastest Ways to Relieve Sore, Aching Heels”.  It’s available from our website,  (Irresistable Offer to Act Now)

Are You Seeing the Power of Speaking to Problems?

The above “heel pain” ad (which I just wrote on the spot) is VASTLY more gripping than an ad that said: “Dr. Smith Physiotherapy”, which is the physiotherapy equivalent of “Joe’s Plumbing”.

In closing, keep these two lessons in mind:

1) Figure out how you’re different and superior to your competitors.

2) In all of your ads and marketing materials keep your prospects’ PROBLEMS front-and-centre, and speak to them non-stop at every step along the way.  This applies to *all* marketing and advertisement, including: newspaper ads, magazine ads, classified ads, Google ads, website, Facebook ads, business cards, pamphlets… EVERYTHING.

Onwards and Upwards,

Tim :)

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