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4 ways to waste fewer impressions

"Half of my advertising dollars are wasted; I just don't know which half."

This quote (most frequently but perhaps inaccurately prescribed to John Wanamaker) sums up the attitude of many marketing executives and business owners. Even with today's highly measurable digital marketing tactics, many marketers still feel the need to develop and broadcast advertising with little or no direct connection to customer acquisition. (Sometimes, this renowned quote is used as some sort of explanation for this lack of connection.)

It's true that an impression isn't wasted just because it doesn't result in an immediate conversion. But that's no excuse for wasting money on campaigns with no explicit next step, all in the name of "branding." A limited few benefit from such a branding approach -- giant companies with decades of mass market exposure (e.g., Coca-Cola) or local brands that are already top of mind for their locale (e.g., the bar down the street).

Advertising with a clear call to action is not difficult. Such advertising can serve double duty: extending your brand while assisting key viewers to take another step toward purchase.

Here are four guidelines on how to connect your broader advertising efforts into something a little more useful.

Don't try to make the sale in one step

The celebrated copywriter Joseph Sugarman aimed to make each sentence of his writing compel the reader to read the next sentence. That was his focus. By applying this discipline to an entire sales letter, he would gradually lead the reader to a purchasing decision. The reader wasn't confronted with the decision right away -- rather, the reader, as he or she read, only had to make the small commitment of reading another sentence. But each sentence read convinced the reader to want the product. A base of desire grew, the final sentences would ask for a purchase, and the primed reader was much more likely to buy.

Treat your advertising the same way; don't aim for just an impression, and don't aim to get the sale right away. Instead, aim to convert the impression into an engaged prospect by capturing that person's contact information.

Highlight a clear reason to take action

Don't expect your fancy image to be enough to entice most consumers to take action. Give them a reason to move forward. This could be as easy as a discount or offer, but it could also take more subtle forms, such as:

Reference to a product benefit. This could be visual or written out. Think of an ad for a local fair showing a family smiling among a sea of amusements, visually indicating a fun day. Or you could simply write, "A fun day awaits."

Statement of an existing problem. Highlight something bad in the viewer's environment and then suggest the possibility of eliminating that bad thing. (The recent display ads from Target do a fantastic job of this.)

Each of the above, though not direct, imparts an emotional state on the viewer that creates the desire to take action.

Make the next step easy and attractive

Make use of specialized landing pages, QR codes, offer and coupon codes, etc., to make it easy for your viewer to take the next step.

Be creative

Just because you are more focused on a specific call to action doesn't mean you throw creativity to the wayside. Effective advertising does two things: gets attention and initiates action. The guidelines above help to better initiate action, but you can't ignore the creativity that gets attention. A discussion of good creative advertising is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find several good resources online.

This approach to your advertising should connect your efforts more closely to your results. It might be difficult, even after applying the guidelines above, to attribute increased sales or customer acquisition directly to your advertising efforts. Rather than measuring by ROI, simply try to measure the number of viewers that take the next step as a percentage of assumed impressions. This should give you some idea of how effective your advertising is as a customer acquisition and purchase-driving tool.

Justin Williams is a senior digital marketing strategist at StrongMail.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Thousand dollars in the trash can" image via Shutterstock.

As senior director for Internet and new media, Williams is overseeing digital-content development, including the network’s Web site and future products such as mobile-phone downloads, broadband video and video-on-demand.

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