Small Business Advertising And Marketing, The Biggest Mistake

Every small business owner thinks of the product first, before what the market really wants. The real way to market (the way that almost guarantees success) is the approach "I have customers. What do they want? What can I get them that will satisfy that craving? How can I let them know that I have what they want?"
Think about this...It's hard to make someone want something. It's infinitely easier to find out what they already want, and get it for them.

For example. We sell several models of vacuum cleaner in our local retail store. Now, what do people really want in a vacuum cleaner?
Not what we think they should want...but what they really want?
They want lightweight and easy to handle.
If they have pets, they want it to pick up the pet hair.

So that's what we advertise. That's what gets them in the door. Now, there are plenty of dealers that say "They should want Made In America. They should want to buy locally. The customer should want metal construction", and the list goes on.
But it isn't what we think the customer should want that counts, it's what they actually want.

If you sell a weight loss product; What should they want? Better health, longer life.
But what do they really want? To look better to the opposite sex.
If you advertise a weight loss product that stresses the benefits of better health, and longer life, the ad will fail.

And what do weight loss ads show a lot of? Food. Lots and lots of food. Why? Because people who are overweight and want to lose that weight...really want more food.
The strongest appeal is "Eat everything you want, lose weight, and fit into that skimpy bathing suit." So successful weight loss ads get as close to that as they can without committing fraud.

An advertising representative came in my store recently. He wanted me to buy advertising space in a local magazine. I showed him an ad that I would be willing to run. He looked at the advertisement and told me that it didn't look like an ad that fit in with the other, brand building, ads. I told him that I wanted sales, not brand awareness. He was trying to sell me what he thought I should want, not what I wanted. Unfortunately for him, the person handing over the money, makes the decision.

Have you ever heard this? "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day...teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime" It's a beautiful sentiment. And everyone you see should want to learn how to fish, but what do they really want? A free fish. Ads that promise to teach you how to fish are harder to make work than ads that promise lots of fish. Shouldn't we want to learn how to fish? Of course. We should all learn more...the benefits are endless. But we don't do what we should do, we do what we want to do. And appeals to what we should want to do, almost always fail.

So the question you need to ask yourself is "What do my customers really want, and how can I deliver that?"

Claude Whitacre is author of The Unfair Advantage Small Business Advertising Manual. You can download a free copy at You can also buy the book at

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