Best Practices for Print Advertising
November 16, 2021
This article is the third installment of our series on how to market your Green Industry business. Today, we’ll be talking about some best practices for your print ads. Many of these principles also apply to your online display advertising, so pay attention!
Here are some best practices for your print ads.
Messaging (also called “Tagline”)
This is a best practice for print ads that a lot of companies mess up. They try to cram in every service they offer so that “people will know we offer it.” Hear me clearly – resist the temptation to mention more than one service. If your ad does what it’s supposed to do (make the phone ring and the email ding!), your salespeople can tell them about other services. Stick to one message. I’ll repeat that for people in the back – stick to one message.
Your messaging should focus on one service line or offering where you want to increase sales volume. If you are a landscaper looking to increase Spring maintenance sales, your messaging should be focused on the benefit to the customer. What do they get from buying your services? Is it the professionalism that comes from hand-pruning their shrubs? Is it the time they’re going to save? What about being able to park in their own driveway since the massive pile of mulch they buy every year won’t be there?
Also, this should be a single, concise sentence. In the above example, something like “Driveways are for cars, not mulch” with the image of a mulch pile and a strong Call To Action (CTA) about the special you’re running would resonate (more on the offer below). Or, for the time-conscious consumer, “Take your weekends back” might be the approach.
You want to think hard about the image’s message for the pictures you’re using in your advertising. What does this picture say about your business? What does it say about the service you are offering? Most importantly, what does it say to the customer about their benefits from using your services? Here are do’s and don’t of print ad best practices when it comes to imagery.
An excellent way to check whether your imagery is on-point (or not) is to ask for input from family, friends, and neighbors who don’t work in the Green Industry. Run these images past them and ask for feedback. Does it speak to them about time with family? Perhaps it says that doing the landscaping on their own will be time-consuming? Does it make them feel they will gain an exceptional outdoor entertainment space? (Pro tip: Your immediate family doesn’t count. They listen to you talk about your business all the time.)
Think about what you’re trying to convey with this image, and then take some informal polls with people who are your target audience that are also in your personal circle. You don’t have to make decisions solely based on that feedback, but you may get some insights that you didn’t expect.
I’ll give you an example. I once worked with an agency to develop ads around a particular treatment line. They came back with a few concepts, and there was one I really, really hated. I thought it was awful. But as I passed it around, I got feedback from people who had no idea about the treatment that the image and messaging in the ad I hated actually resonated with them. They “got” the image behind it, and it polled pretty favorably. I learned that this imagery and messaging were on the right track.
Show what they’ll get from you
If you are marketing a design/build company, your messaging might be that people will gain extra living space outdoors with their new patio, firepit with knee wall, and outdoor kitchen. If so, you want to show more than just pictures of your work; the consumer cognitively understands that they’re getting a high-end patio. A best practice for print ads is to show them is images of that outdoor space being used – a dad cooking burgers on the grill, a kid playing with the family dog, and a mom watching from a lounge chair. Or, if you’re targeting young professionals rather than families, maybe the imagery is people having an outdoor cocktail party or folks playing cornhole adjacent to the patio while others look on from that beautiful knee wall around the fire pit.
The point is, once you’ve identified the target audience and their pain point (what they gain from buying from you), your imagery in your print ads and digital ads should line up.
The reasoning behind this is simple: in America, people read everything from left to right and top-to-bottom. Also, many people scan rather than read an entire line of text, especially in the digital age. We get so many emails a day, we’ve trained ourselves to quickly skim from left to right and top-to-bottom rather than reading things in-depth.
Knowing this, the order of preference, you should place your logo:
- Ideally, you’d like logo placement to be in the upper left-hand corner of the ad.
- Next, best is the lower left-hand corner. Note: Studies have shown that left-hand placement performs better for brand recognition than right-hand placement.
- The upper right-hand corner of an ad is the third option.
- Lastly, you can use the lower right-hand corner, if the image doesn’t allow it to go anywhere else.
These rules of thumb will help with designing your ads for magazines or Direct Mail (DM).
The Call to Action (CTA) or “offer” is perhaps the most obvious part of the ad, and it needs to be compelling to the person you’ve identified as your ideal customer. It should be aimed at the “buyer persona” you’ve created, and the offer should be crafted with that person in mind. A good CTA is critical since this is Lead Generation advertising.
Examples of a good CTA
I’ll give you a practical example of this. When I ran the marketing and Inside Sales team for a sizeable lawn care and landscaping company in Pennsylvania, there was a competitor on the edge of our service area that nailed the “offer.” They sent out a Direct Mail piece where the offer was “Two Free Insect Control Treatments!” on the front of the postcard.
Now, if you’re in the industry, you know that what they truly offered was about $8 worth of bifenthrin, especially considering they can do these treatments at the same time as regularly scheduled lawn apps. Not a huge offer, but it appears to be a massive offer to your ideal customer. “Wow! They’re going to give me two free treatments!”
I’ll give you one more great example. A grocery store chain used to offer iceberg lettuce at $0.15 per head on a specific day of the week. They allowed customers to purchase a certain number of heads of iceberg lettuce at this price, and people flocked to the store to buy. The grocery store actually lost money on this (not much, but a little), but it was a sacrifice they were willing to make. Why? Because they knew no one was coming in, buying four heads of lettuce, and leaving. The iceberg was a way to get people in the door, and they’d make their money back on all the rest of the grocery shopping those people did.
You’re in business, not charity
Here’s the point: you don’t have to give away the farm to get customers. You need to create an offer that’s compelling enough to make them pick up the phone.
If you run a tree pruning and removal service, maybe that’s free soil and seed with a stump grinding. Will you lose money on that? Increase your price by 10% to cover it. Most people aren’t getting tree work done so frequently that they’ll notice the change from year over year.
Do you run a design/build company? Make the offer a free initial consultation (not plans, just the meeting) or offer a free 1-year inspection after the job is completed to ensure the patio is still in good condition. This provides value to your client AND gives you the chance to upsell them on new plantings a year later!
Think about Existing Customers
Decide in advance if you will honor this offer for existing clients as well. They’ll undoubtedly see it somehow and ask you to honor it. If you will honor it for all clients, no additional thought needs to go into this!
If not, have your justification ready, so you can quickly and tactfully explain this to your customer base. You may also want to have a separate offer ready for existing clients who call in and ask for the “new customer” promotion. The conversation will go like this: “Mr. Jones, thank you for calling in about this! That offer is for new customers only at this time, but I can offer you an exclusive discount for being a loyal customer. Here’s what I can do for you….”
Thinking this through is definitely a key part of nailing your best practices for print ads. Don’t skip this step!
The “Fine Print”
Don’t put all your “fine print” on the finely crafted front of your Direct Mail piece. If it’s a postcard, simply put something like “Terms and conditions apply. See reverse side for details,” and then put that info on the back of the card.
If it’s a print ad (or online display ad), you’ll need to find somewhere to put it. It needs to be legible if it’s in a magazine, so you’ll have to consider the size of the ad and how much available space you have.
Your best bet is to keep this as short as possible. Something like “Offer valid for new customers only. Not to be combined with any other offers or previously scheduled work. Expires on MM/DD/YY” should suffice.
Putting it all Together (with Examples)
A good print piece that’s following best practices for print ads will have the following elements:
- Strong, clear Messaging about the benefit to the customer if they choose to purchase your service. Messaging is limited to one main idea!
- Imagery that reinforces the main idea in the Messaging.
- Your Logo is ideally placed on the left-hand side of the ad.
- The Offer is compelling and attractive to your ideal customer and placed in a way that doesn’t distract from the Imagery.
- The “Fine Print” is placed on the bottom of the ad or the back of the DM piece.
Examples of very good pieces
Examples of an overall excellent marketing piece (#52)
- Why it works: Logo is placed in the top left-hand corner, a single message (back-to-school shopping), and compelling Call To Action (CTA) with the coupons.
Example of excellent, clear Messaging – Opel’s “Don’t Text and Drive” campaign (see #8 on the list)
- Why it works: the message (don’t text and drive) is immediately apparent.
- The logo on the bottom right-hand corner works for this ad, as its purpose isn’t to generate leads but to raise awareness about a social problem.
Good examples, but could be better
Example of a good piece that ticks all the boxes but is a bit too busy (Pet Supplies Plus image)
- Why it works: Good logo placement, good messaging (“Minus the Hassle”), and a good CTA (20% coupon).
- What’s wrong: there’s too much copy and “fine print” on the coupon, there’s not a unifying image (why shop there vs. Petco?) for the message, and they split the space with info about their “Pets in Classrooms” program.
- How to improve it: An image of a Pet Supplies Plus employee helping someone get dogfood off a high shelf or selecting the best toys, logo top left, tagline “Minus the hassle” or “We’re not big on being big” (which was also on the original mailer), and the 20% off coupon in a bubble on the right. If you need that much “fine print,” make the CTA on the front read “See offer details on the back,” and include your fine print on the back of the mailer.
Example of using emotion and solving a problem for your customer: USAA (4th example)
- Why it works: They did an AMAZING job communicating that they’re solving a problem (impersonal insurance service) for their customer. Images families & kids share a relatable feeling to customers, too.
- They could improve: a shortened or stacked logo without the tagline (“We know what it means to serve”) would allow them to move it to the upper left-hand corner of the ads without compromising the image.
Examples of what NOT to do with your ads
Examples of lousy print ads (#4 and #5)
- #4 – What they got wrong: While the logo placement is good, the rest of this is a disaster. There’s too much going on with the random content broken into weird chunks that look like “thought bubbles” in a comic strip. For this ad, they’ve also got this bizarre overlay of white flower silhouettes that distracts from what looks like a decent image (a field in which to drive ATVs).
- #5 – What they got wrong: Just about everything. The logo appears too childish and is poorly placed as the centerpiece of the whole ad. There’s way too much copy, and there’s no call to action – what is someone supposed to do when they see this ad? It doesn’t ask them to take any specific action (phone call, book an appointment, visit the website, etc.).
Now you’re armed with a bit of information on high-level best practices for these ads. These aren’t hard-and-fast rules, but rather principles you should follow. You might come up with very effective ads that break some of these rules, and that’s great! As long as your ads are productive, that’s the main point.
Go back and check out Part 2 – Brand Awareness v. Lead Generation & Media Buying for an understanding of how to properly view your marketing efforts.
Keep reading our Marketing your Green Industry Business blog series with Part 4 – SEO and Email Marketing to learn about Search Engine Optimization and guidelines for email campaigns.