1. Briefly, what is the history of your business?

All I need here is the basic history. For example, when opened, ownership changes, location changes, name changes, and your market share. I would ask for your assessment of how you are perceived by the community or any major issues over the years that have had a significant effect on your sales. I want to understand your business!

2. What is the trend in sales today?

Are you in a decline in sales, on a plateau, or growing? This is important because our strategy will be dictated by this information. The past 5 years are especially important. We also want to look at the trends as far as the product or services you offer. Perhaps sales in one area have declined while others have gained. For example, in the dry cleaning business there has been a recent shift to promotion of being a “green cleaner.” I can use this information to help build a proposal customized for your unique situation in the ever-changing world of a local business manager.

3. What are your products or services by volume and profit?

Advertising strategy decisions require us to determine the strength of your current business. Often, it’s the thing you sell the most. For example, a pet store usually sells more pet food than accessories like leashes and dog bowls. This may be an indicator that our ads need to focus on pet food. But there may be an exception when we factor in profits. A dentist may have 80% of their volume in routine fillings, but if the huge profit is in the 20% of their business that focuses on cosmetic dentistry, we now have a question: which one do we advertise? It could even be a new product upon which you’re seeking new growth. Adding or refining an online extension of your business is a good example. Usually if we try to promote both – to be all things to all people – it fails.

4. Who are the core customers?

A basic mistake often made in marketing is to try to reach everyone who’s in the age group of your customers. Let’s take a fancy restaurant in Sarasota, Florida. The manager says he attracts 24- to 80-year-old women. But advertising to that wide of a group is not efficient. Instead, we want to narrow our target to the age group that represents the majority of diners. Sure, there are a few young people, but the vast majority are over 64. Hence, we target 64-plus. We should also match up the media we choose with their income levels, education, etc. You could start hedging your bets on the future by going to 54-plus, but if we try to target as young as the 24-year-old, they will likely shun our message because they see this restaurant as being a stodgy old place for senior citizens.

5. What are your seasonal variations?

After experience with thousands of advertisers, I have repeatedly learned that the maxim, “fish when fish are biting,” is rock solid. But, I’m only talking extreme variations.

A business, like a weight loss clinic that sees a 10% drop once summer is underway, would still be advised to keep promoting anyway. However, the lawn mower store that sees their sales drop 70% once spring ends and summer starts, would be best to cease promoting in July. This is especially true when the ad budget is limited. In those cases when we’re seeking sales right now, trying to spread the money over a full year for pure name recognition is a waste.

6. Who is the competition and how do you compare?

We have to separate ourselves from the competition. To do that we have to assess who they are, how much market share they have, and what identity/niche they own. What makes you different?

If ten lawyers claim to be the “car wreck specialists,” it would be foolish for us to also claim that niche. Instead, we would look for a niche that nobody owns. Maybe it’s oil rig accidents or 18-wheeler truck crashes. Or, it’s possible the niche you have is a good one. Maybe we want to stay with it and just go for a bigger share of that market.

There are always multiple options, that’s why we have to ask a lot of questions to be sure we understand your competitive situation. After all, your growth likely will come from taking some of their customers.

7. Where and when do you advertise?

We need a list of everything you use in marketing: radio stations, any social media, maybe TV, billboards or bus signs. As you know from the number of salespeople who call on you, there are many choices. It could be movie theater ads, glossy magazine ads or banners at the home of your college football team. I need the list to see exactly where your money is going. I have had experience with almost all the conceivable media you might consider and can give you excellent advertising stories about that media from business marketing in your particular field. Our mutual goal is to spend your money wisely and only in a manner that generates measurable results.

8. What works, what fails, and what is fuzzy? What does each cost?

We will take our list of media used and now develop a report card on their effectiveness. We want to grade each individual media on your ability to see a measurable result.

If you’re spending money on cable TV, I’ll want to know how much money, on which individual channels, and how effective it is? We will do that for all media being used or contemplated.

Too often the answers I hear are vague. “I don’t know what works and what fails” is a common answer. This is not acceptable! I want to devise a plan that definitely proves to us if a particular media choice is working or not. From thousands of experiences, I usually know exactly how to re-allocate advertising budget to get better results. These suggestions will be in the proposal I develop for you.

9. What is your typical message and could I see examples of past ads?

Getting the message right is something I approach with true fanaticism. I love working on messages because my 18 years of examining thousands of ads has been an invaluable experience few other people can claim.

Why? Because I always ask people what ad worked and what ad failed. I constantly hear answers that are disappointing, as too many local ads fail. The causes of failure repeat themselves over and over. Usually, it’s the ad copy itself. The same logic applies to those that work. When I see an ad that’s effective, there are elements of the ad copy that repeat themselves in successful campaigns. I use this vast experience with thousands of case studies to make sure you only run messages that have worked in other markets and in your specific business.

After years of experience, I developed the “14 Rules of The Guru” to summarize what I learned. I wrote a book with that title. For now, the best move for you is to review the rules in a simplistic form on this website. Just go to the menu in the upper right hand corner of this page to find them.

10. What is the point of entry? That is, when a new customer finds you, what do they usually ask or want at their very first contact with you?

This is a question I use to determine the focus of a message. The point of entry is easily discovered. It’s the very first words you hear when a new customer walks in your door, calls you on the phone or sends a digital inquiry.

It thus reveals the trigger issue that sparked the initial inquiry. I usually get the answer to this question from someone who answers the phone.

For example, people who call the chiropractor for the first time always have the same point of entry question. They ask to be seen immediately because they’ve injured something and it hurts. Thus, the main point of our ad tells people they can be seen fast for an injury that hurts. It’s almost always that easy.

But remember, experience warns us not to add in a lot of additional copy points. The dreaded “laundry list” with a litany of everything you do, usually fails. The KISS rule applies. Take a look at the billboards in your area. Many provide a great example of predictable failure with too many words. You simply cannot read them all at 70 mph. A 7-word maximum is a good rule of thumb.

11. The Magic Wand Question. What one specific thing do you want advertising to accomplish?

My last question goes like this, “If I waved a magic wand and granted you one wish from your advertising, what do you want?”

But no fair wishing for an increase in business. I already know that. I also reject generic wishes of being known for service or quality. These are best proven after someone becomes a customer.

Instead, I want a specific goal focused on achieving one singular outcome. For example, a ski area might wish to sell more season passes in September.

Then I have to calculate the chances that we can actually achieve your wish in the real world. But don’t worry. If I think we can’t do it, I’ll tell you. If we can do it, I’ll develop a plan to make it happen.