Advertising Done Right

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Just as you thought, it’s true. Well, some advertising doesn’t work. But in most cases, it’s not the fault of the advertising. It’s the fault of the advertiser.
Famously quoted New York retailer John Wannamaker once said, “Half my marketing doesn’t work. I just don’t know which half.” Every business person before and after him has felt the same way and most still do. This quote is often recited when you’re examining the P&L for your company for expenses to reduce to increase profit. Unfortunately, Mr. Wannamaker’s famous quote doesn’t answer our begging question, “Which half?”  Let’s search together for the answer.

The process of creating effective advertising is mysterious to most advertisers and most ad salespeople. Great advertising is the result of specific intent, which must be fueled with market intelligence and adherence to marketing principles and skillfully implemented. Advertising rarely gets results by accident.

Building Better Advertising

Chances are, you will feel what I’m about to say doesn’t apply to you. Please be open minded, because you probably need to take your blinders off to see what I would see.

The foundation of good advertising is to build, then advertise, a truly better business. To do that requires defining what a better business looks like. Then invest the money and roll up your sleeves to make it happen. There is no fast or easy way to advertising success.

I believe the cause of some decline in transactions in most garden centers is the lack of advertising a truly better business in the eyes of the customer. Advertising often depicts a better business than the one the customers find when they respond to the ads. If they’ve been there before, it just may be the reason they do not respond to more ads. So another customer quietly fades away, also reducing positive word of mouth. The more advertising a faulty business puts out, the faster the business may grow, and then systematically cause its own undoing. I regularly instruct clients who need to improve to invest anywhere from 30 to 100 percent of what they would spend on advertising to first clean up their acts. They almost immediately see amazing sales results and can then go about properly advertising to bring back the customers they lost.

Before you can master advertising, you must offer:

1. Better physical appearances.
2. Better service experiences.
3. Better product performance.

Your Marketing Message

The first answer to the question, “Which half of my advertising doesn’t work?” is within your marketing message. Once you build a better business, your advertising must be consistent with advertising principles. To do that, you should know the principles. Many people look for a successful advertising formula with a magical ratio of spending on radio, television, direct mail, Yellow Pages, Web site, etc. This approach causes at least half of advertising to fail because these are not advertising principles; they are media. Your media choice has very little to do with the success or failure of your ads. It’s the ad message that matters most. If your message is that you are better, you had better back up those claims. Your customers care mostly about what they want to feel or accomplish and whether your products or services will help them with that. Once you tell me your message, I can tell you if your message is all right or all wet. Don’t ask unless you really want to know.

Marketing Principles – Not Ideas

The second answer to the question, “Which half of my advertising doesn’t work?” is in the application of solid marketing principles, not just marketing ideas borrowed from other places or invented.

I have identified a prioritized list of the most important seven marketing principles:

1. Campaign Theme or Story – Focus on one thing for a period of time. Only through the power of focus will you get your point across. Focus on your strategic advantages from your customers’ perspective when developing your marketing message, then stick with them.

2. Multi-Media Marketing – The rule of thumb is that it takes eight advertising impressions for most consumers to know your product exists. Yet, most of the time, advertising is given one shot in the dark. In today’s crowded media market, your marketing message must cut through the proliferation of marketing messages and the clutter of poorly executed ads. Only by communicating your message through multiple media can you laser cut these to penetrate the mind of your consumer.

3. Ricochet Marketing – The least expensive and most effective marketing opportunity is to appeal to the customer in the store today to come back again. The power of appealing merchandise, appealing surroundings and truly exceptional and thoughtful service are your most productive marketing tools.

4. Incentive – Garden centers most consistently use and most seriously abuse this marketing principle. There are better ways to provide incentive than discounts, coupons, rebates, bonus bucks or free prizes inside. First, you have to know and respect the other ways, then use them. The most powerful marketing incentive is the desire to own the benefits of a product or service as a result of the purchase. It is harder to communicate on this level, but far more effective and much less harmful to profitability.

5. Relationship – In the high-tech world we live in, people crave relational experiences although they don’t realize it or ask for them the way they ask for petunias. Most of the value of the product we sell is in the relationship in which it is purchased and experienced – if we’re selling it correctly. Trends consultant Faith Popcorn said, “Women don’t buy brands – they join them.” I believe this is just as true of men.

6. Word of Mouth – Word of mouth is best, and increases in direct proportion to your ability to advertise effectively. (Last month’s article addressed this Killer Attitude of Revolutionary Garden Centers. See the archive mentioned at the end of this article if you missed it.)

7. Stacking – You won’t find this principle in the textbooks. It is based on my observation and will help you build a balanced and effective advertising effort. Each of these marketing principles can be effective used alone, but that would be unusual. When you combine three or more of them, each done very well, and always including the principle of having a campaign message, your marketing will be more effective.

These are more than marketing principles. They are your guide to effective advertising. If you are diligent about mastering them, you will know without a doubt which half of your marketing works and have the guts to make it all work. Eliminate what doesn’t work and apply extra effort and investment only to marketing that does work.

Sid Raisch is president of Horticultural Advantage, a training and development firm serving independent garden centers and a service provider to The Garden Center Group. With 30 years of experience in horticultural business management, Sid has a very special understanding of the industry and is dedicated to helping his clients reach their goals. Contact Sid at 888-338-9456 or e-mail and go to to sign up for his Strategies e-newsletter.

Sid Raisch is founder of Horticultural Advantage, a consulting firm to independent garden centers and servce provider to The Garden Center Group. He created the Advantage Development System to help client companies increase effectiveness to earn greater profits. For more, go to, call 888-339-7456, or eMail

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