How to Penetrate Your Target’s Mind

 “A bed with a single nail sticking up will penetrate you the second you lie down. But a thousand nails can’t penetrate anything. The pressure of each nail is completely diffused by all the others around it.” — Bill Schley
Laundry list advertising is like a bed of nails

Photo by Полина Выдумчик


If you spend any time watching television or listening to the radio, you won’t have to wait long to encounter a “laundry list” commercial — a 30- or 60-second recitation of claims:

  •  A law firm lists every single area of practice, in the hope that one of them will interest a potential client.
  • A restaurant attempts to cram the entire menu into the commercial.
  • A dental practice wants the public to know that “we do it all!” — so checkups, implants, and laser treatments all get a mention.
 When I meet an advertiser who’s running a campaign like this, I’ll ask how this “bed of nails” approach is working. In almost all occasions, it’s not working.  The sales message is lost in the clutter.
For six years during my radio sales days, my biggest client was a Portland auto dealer. I wrote all of the commercials for all seven of his stores. And for most of the time during our relationship, we fought about the copy.
The dealer wanted lots of information in each commercial. He wanted a used car offer, and a new car offer, a mention of his service department, and, of course, the friendly staff.
I wanted one offer and a call to action. 
To penetrate the target's mind with advertising, pound a single nail

Photo by ashumsky

For six years, the auto dealer fought to put more into the copy, and I fought to take details out. One day he got fed up with me and said, “Why don’t you just have the announcer talk faster?”
I said, “Joe, with our software I can make the announcer talk faster by pressing a button. But I can’t make the audience listen any faster.”
When you write a script for radio, television, or online video, think of each detail as if it’s a tennis ball.
If you toss one ball to a listener or viewer, they can probably catch it.
But if you fling a whole bucket of balls at your audience, they’ll miss ’em all.
Details are like tennis balls in advertising

Photo by WavebreakMediaMicro

When too much stuff flies at their heads, their minds shut down. It’s too much work.
Advertising’s the same way. Your targets are busy, tired, and distracted. They don’t have the energy or desire to wade through a bunch of details to find the one that matters to them. Too much detail makes the mind shut down. 
Want an example of one-tennis-ball marketing? Think of McDonald’s.
As a restaurant, you may love it or hate it. But as a marketing company, McDonald’s has a brilliant, long-term track record of success. They know how to motivate a customer to get off the couch, drive past Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell, and spend their money with them.
McDonald’s has a lot on their menu. Big Macs. Quarter Pounders.  Chicken McNuggets. Egg McMuffins. Fries. Coffee.
But when you see a McDonald’s ad, it won’t be about the Bic Mac and the Quarter Pounder and the Chicken McNuggets and the Egg McNuggets.
It’ll be 30 seconds about a single product. One thought per commercial. Like this:

 Bill Schley calls it the Positioning Paradox:
“The narrower you focus, the wider your message goes.” 
“The more features you show, the less you are seen.  The more details you provide, the more vaguely you communicate…

By capturing undisputed leadership in a single important benefit, you are most likely to be noticed, remembered, and associated with a series of other great benefits, made all the more credible because you have reached prominence in one meaningful specialty.” 


— Bill Schley, Why Johnny Can’t Brand
Tom Ray, Author of Branding Is Out, Results Are In! Lessons for the Local Advertiser, recommends picking one thing to focus your message on:

Your goal, as an advertiser, as a business, is to determine what your one thing is…

Try to be as specific as possible. Think about your business, your company, and what separates you from the competition. For some of you reading this, the answer is obvious. Your company has some distinct advantage that makes you the better choice. For most reading this, the answer isn’t so obvious. You will struggle trying to pinpoint your ‘one thing.’

Answering these types of question should help you:

  • What do we do that no one else in our category does?
  • What can we claim that no one else can claim (or hasn’t yet)?
  • What special skill do we possess?
  • What piece of equipment do we have that no one else in our competitive landscape has?
  • What line do we carry exclusively in our market?
  • What’s our singular focus?
  • What’s our special offer?
  • What major designation have we achieved that none of our competitors have?

Simply put, why should someone come see you vs. anyone else in your competitive landscape?”

With so many things on their minds and so many distractions, your target won’t search the bed for the nail they’re interested in. Pick a single nail, and start pounding.

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