The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Advertisers – Habit #4: Invest With More Focus, And Less Diversification

It’s not hard to buy advertising, anybody can do it. You don’t have to work with an ad agency, and you don’t have to belong to any exclusive club.  You could call up the NBC network sales office in New York City tomorrow, cold, and purchase a thirty second commercial in their most popular program, viewed by millions, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Like most things, all you need is money, and a desire to buy. In fact, buying advertising is the easiest part of any marketing strategy – just like any athlete, playing any sport – it’s finally getting to play the game you’ve practiced for. 

And advertising practice includes honing your inside game to maximize leads, developing a unique selling point, and having a compelling call to action so you can hopefully generate a measurable response. 

The only point of paid advertising is to acquire new customers.  That’s it. If you have a motive beyond that, and you aren’t a giant global corporation with a million-dollar ad budget, you are delusional and on your way to wasting money. 

Picking which media to purchase used to be easier, there were fewer options.  Today there are endless types of advertising to buy.  In addition to traditional print, mail, TV, radio, and outdoor, there is an explosion of digital and audio streaming options, social media platforms, and literally a billion different websites. 

The trick is to find a media that reaches your target audience relatively well, not perfectly, nothing is perfect.  Then focus your budget and be relentlessly repetitive within that media.   

Conventional advice for buying stocks and bonds is to diversify your portfolio and spread the risk among many different asset classes, this was in part the reason index funds were created.  But diversification also reduces returns in bull markets.  

The greatest return on your advertising investment occurs with less diversification, and more focus. 

Why? Because today you are assailed by more advertising than ever before.  Some studies suggest you’ll see over 5,000 commercial messages each day, and only absorb a tiny percentage of those impressions. 

Very few local businesses have enough of an advertising budget – or the time – to buy effective amounts of advertising, or develop effective creative, in more than one kind of media.  The ones that do usually have multiple locations, or the ability to use co-op funds from a manufacturer. 

In most cities it can take a five or six figure investment —per each form of media—to establish an ongoing dominating presence.  So, every dollar spent in other media keeps you from being effective in the one right media.  

Think about some of the advertisers you’re tired of seeing, the ones who invade your world on a daily basis.  Probably a local car dealer, a furniture store, maybe a grocery chain like Kroger.  It’s likely you will see or hear an ad from GEICO by the time you get to work each morning.  

This is the type of repetitive consistency needed if you want customers to think of your product or service in their time of need.  And it’s achievable if you focus your resources. 

You might ask, but what if I miss some people?  If you choose the one right media, and you’re consistently repetitive, you will eventually reach a majority of your prospective clients.  Over time your message will penetrate a larger portion of your target audience as different people cycle in and out of your chosen media.  

Try to be unavoidable to a smaller percentage of your target audience, rather than easily forgettable to the majority.  

It will be tempting for you to spread yourself too thin, by taking advice from the wrong sources, meeting with too many salespeople, employing ineffective media professionals, or trying to copy what larger and more capitalized businesses do.

All of us are consumers of media, and we develop biases from our own consumption habits and preferences.  This makes it hard for you to objectively buy media because you’ll be inclined to think your customers ingest media the way you do.  They don’t. 

This creates a terrific contrarian investing opportunity, because setting up a roadblock in one type of media is proven to work, yet very few marketers have the discipline or courage to stick with it.  

Remember Snapple?  Their star has faded, but back in the day they started advertising in just one radio program, Howard Stern, and after a great response there they added Rush Limbaugh.  Just focusing and dominating two radio programs basically launched a billion-dollar brand. You could do the same, on a local scale.  

The #1 Chevy Dealer in Indianapolis is Hare Chevrolet, located in the far northern suburb of Noblesville.  You will drive almost 15 miles, past three other Chevy dealers, to get to their dealership from downtown. But one of the reasons for their success is an unwavering commitment to one media – local radio.

While their competitors switch in and out of different media; choosing to do TV one year, radio the next, and a digital focus the following year.  Never committing, never enjoying economies of scale, or building any equity with an increasingly confused public.  But day after day, week after week, year after year, Hare sticks with radio. 

You may be familiar with Shane Co. jewelry stores and the voice of Tom Shane. From a jewelry perspective, they own radio. On any given day in any given week, if they have a store in your market, you will hear Tom Shane’s soothing (or annoying to some) voice with an appealing story and offer. Notice that you won’t see Tom Shane on TV, in the newspaper, or doing much of anything online. And I promise you, Mr. Shane was not able to dominate radio from the very beginning. He started with one station, in one city, and built from there.

Don’t let me lead you to believe radio is the only media that can be dominated successfully, because some of my favorite examples come from that media.  But you can find examples in every form of media.

Business was slow for Wall Drug in South Dakota until the wife of the owner, Dorothy Hustead, came up with the idea of advertising free ice water to parched travelers heading to the newly opened Mount Rushmore monument.  Today Wall Drug claims to give away over 20,000 cups of water per year, and in addition to free water, they also offer cups of coffee for only five cents.    

This sprawling retail operation in the middle of nowhere draws over two million visitors per year.  Why?  There is nothing unique about their merchandise, aside from having a lot of western gear and tourist trinkets.

And there is nothing extraordinary about their food, they sell a lot of rib-sticking favorites like biscuits and gravy.  In fact, everything they sell you can find somewhere else – especially on Amazon – for less money.

But Wall Drug has embraced their remoteness as a unique selling point.  And they have a laser like focus on how to attract customers; through the use of clever, rustic outdoor billboards. 

Over time they built a roadblock of signs across every major highway in South Dakota and neighboring states.  The sheer volume and cleverness of their campaign has spawned a viral effort from customers, who place replica stickers of their signs across the US and in foreign countries. 

If you travel along the 600 plus miles of Interstate 90 from Minnesota to Montana, you will see perpetual sea of Wall Drug billboards.  You can try to ignore them or get angry over this invasion of the scenic landscape.  

But you can’t, and this sense of being overwhelmed, this recognition that submission is easier than the effort it takes to consciously ignore it, is the type of sensation you should strive for.

You must come to the realization it’s not about looking good, and branding your business, but that success in media buying requires a relentless, premeditated pursuit of ownership within your chosen media. 

How I Once Bought More TV Commercials Than Anybody in America for Two Weeks

One of the most nerve-wracking moments in my professional career happened in the Summer of 2013, I was a rookie account executive for one of the largest marketing firms in the country, and was suddenly tapped to build a media strategy for our largest client, the Albertson’s grocery chain, who accounted for 80% of our revenue. 

If I messed this up, I’d likely be out of a job, or even worse, a lot of other people could be out of jobs. 

Why would one of the largest marketing firms in the world tap a junior account person to lead a media strategy for their top client? 

Things like this happen more than you know, advertising agencies work on razor thin margins, and they usually can’t stock a deep bench of talent behind their creative and media experts.  If someone goes down, or quits, they have to scramble. 

Our VP of Media at the time was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer, so my 8 years of selling TV advertising suddenly qualified me to lead this effort, and I was soon whisked down to our Dallas headquarters to begin preparation.

Albertsons is one of the largest grocery chains in the U.S., and they own multiple grocery brands, including Safeway in California, Jewel in Chicago, Shaw’s in Boston, and Tom Thumb in Dallas.

My assignment was to develop a television media buying strategy with a budget of $10 million, and the idea was to promote a “stock-up” sale over a two-week period using aggressive discounts on popular soups, snacks, and soft drinks. 

$10 million may seem like a lot of money, and it is, but when you operate in major cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, where thirty second commercials can cost more than $10k a pop, even the largest budgets can evaporate quickly.

I thought back to my 8 years of selling TV advertising.  I learned a great deal from the consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster & Company, who TV stations hire to help their advertisers get better results.  What I learned was getting response required more repetition and focus than you would ever imagine.     

A typical ad agency would buy commercials in a variety of shows, sprinkling them across a wide range of programming like sports, prime time, news, and soaps, reaching a lot of people with little repetition.  This was driven in part by clients wanting to see their commercials in their favorite programs. 

Our consultants suggested a much different strategy.  Rather than sprinkling commercials across a dozen or so programs, they advised buying just one or two specific types of shows – local news, or syndicated shows like Oprah, or Judge Judy – and then “stack” 3 or 4 commercials into each show. 

Figure 1

The chart in Figure 1 shows what a 30-minute local news program looks like in terms of actual content vs. commercial and promotional airtime.

Three commercials may seem like a lot over a 30-minute program, when actually, it’s only 90 out of 1,800 available seconds, or .05%.

Our consultants especially liked local news and syndicated shows because they offered an engaged, brand-safe environment with fresh content every day, reducing the chances our commercials would be skipped by DVRs.  TV viewers typically don’t record live news and syndicated programs because there are no continuing story lines or plots. Each day is a new day, and a reason to tune in.

I also learned from that viewers of news and syndicated programming tend to cycle in and out every 15 to 20 minutes.

And this was the strategy that I nervously pitched to the CEO of Albertson’s, and his entire executive committee, right after I spilled a cup of coffee on their boardroom floor. 

First, I suggested we focus on just their top 10 markets, which accounted for about 80 percent of their sales. With this approach, we could afford a more dominant share of media in each market, rather than less effective amounts spread over more markets.

Then we focused further by choosing local broadcast television over cable television, because it had greater reach, and offered more of the local news and syndicated programs I wanted. 

We further focused our budget so ads would only run on the days when most people do their grocery shopping, Thursday through Sunday. 

Our focused efforts would allow Albertson’s to have more commercials than any other advertiser in every program we purchased.  I wanted as many viewers as possible to see their commercials at least 10 or more times every week, before they went shopping.   

And to my surprise, and to the delight of my bosses, Albertson’s bought into my strategy.  It was one of the most satisfying moments of my young career and would lead to a promotion and a new role within the agency, as the new director of broadcast advertising.  

The TV campaign ended up being a huge success, resulting in double-digit sales and customer traffic gains for Albertsons. We had aggressive pricing offers on popular national merchandise (unique selling point), we focused our spending for greater impact (focus), and the in-store displays, signage, and a well-trained store employees made it easy for customers to spend beyond just the advertised items (a well-honed inside game).

Our two-week schedule absolutely dominated the airwaves in 10 major cities across the United States. Our commercials ran so frequently that a few customers even complained about seeing them too often.  I took that as a measure of success, I thought if customers are complaining about seeing your commercial too much, you are doing something right.

Albertson’s received a few hundred complaints out of more than 20 million viewers reached. I believe these complaints, in part, influenced them to try a less-focused strategy the following year, which I was not a part of, and they did not experience the same growth in customer traffic or gross sales.