The Danger of Sale-Only Advertising

“Your customers buy when they want to buy — not when you want to sell.”

—– Clate Mask, Infusion Software

Jane sells high-end furniture to homeowners in the Pacific Northwest. As a general rule, she only advertises when she has a sale or special event.

In 2006, she decided to have a storewide year-end clearance sale. She bought a strong radio and newspaper schedule — good copy, great frequency, and a really good offer — and almost doubled her sales goal for the month.

She was so happy with the results that she put on another big sale in January. Sales weren’t as strong as the last event, but they were pretty good. So at the end of February, she had another sale.

The February sale was a bomb. Not much traffic, not many sales. Jane decided that the advertising wasn’t working anymore — and she’s decided not to advertise again until the fall.

What happened? Did people stop reading the paper and listening to the radio? Or were there other factors at work?

In my mind, Jane made three mistakes:

1. She patched together a series of short-term strategies rather than a long-term plan.

2. She created “sale fatigue” among her customers by holding three big sales in three months. By the time the third one rolled around, it didn’t feel like such a bargain.

3. She didn’t create any value in the customer’s mind before cutting prices.

Instead of deciding not to talk to her prospects until the next big sale, she might want to consider the philosophy of Dale Carlsen, President of Sleep Train Mattress Centers. Reflecting on the fact that the average consumer buys a new mattress every seven to ten years, Dale had this to say:

“If a customer doesn’t walk into my store when he’s in the market, I won’t have another chance for seven years. And I don’t know when he’s going to decide he needs a new bed. So I want to be talking to him every single week, all year long.”

The most successful marketers recognize that people make purchasing decisions for many reasons. Some, it’s true, are motivated by a big sale. But especially for big-ticket purchases, many consumers won’t buy until they’re ready.

If they’re not ready when your sale happens, the best advertising in the world won’t bring them in.

On the other hand, if they decide they’re ready to buy right now, they could very well buy at full retail. But they’ll only buy from you if they remember you’re there.

You don’t need huge budget to craft an effective long-term plan. If you can’t afford to be in multiple media like Fred Meyer, pick one. I’m partial to radio and internet, but any medium will work if the message is good, your frequency is strong, and you stay put.

If you can’t afford to be on a bunch of stations all the time, pick one. If you can’t afford to be on the #1 station all the time, pick the #10 station. To paraphrase Roy Williams, you’d be surprised how many couches 50,000 people will buy in a year if you talk to them enough.

“The only difference between lettuce and garbage is timing.”

—- Bill Glazer, Glazer-Kennedy Marketing

You can’t control the timing of customer demand. They’ll buy when they want to buy, not when you want to sell. That’s why Dale Carlsen advertises all year long, and why Les Schwab, Fred Meyer and The Shane Company don’t cancel their campaigns after a slow weekend.

Want the results the best marketers get? Do what the best marketers do.


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