Local advertisers: words and phrases that make customers groan

In this look at local advertising we’re going to focus on the next favourite words used by well-meaning but non-savvy advertisers … next, that is, after the famous first prize winner, WE (as in we-wee). This follows on from the last article which focused on the issues that cloud the effectiveness of the same ads.

words that make customers groan in local advertising
These words are not necessarily bad or even unsuitable (in themselves) for sales. However according to my research in dozens of local magazines and handbooks, they have become irritating because they are used by so many advertisers, and so they are relegated to cliché status. (Don’t forget that most clichés started out in life as very popular words which everyone loved and used over and over again, which is why they became clichés. One of life’s little ironies.)

The top 10 over-used words and phrases in local ads, and why they put customers off

Established for XX years. This rightly suggests long-term commitment and experience, but should never get in the way of how your business is bang up to date with its products and services. Customers may be impressed but don’t forget that some may ask themselves is it really XX years’ experience, or one year’s experience repeated XX minus one year times. Really, this term should only be used for low-tech businesses such as antiques, artefacts, traditional clock repair, artists / art galleries, and similar businesses where technology is not important.

Family business. I fully appreciate why small local businesses use this term to differentiate themselves from the big chains, franchises, major corporates and other modern mammoths often seen to be impersonal, unfriendly and expensive. But unfortunately many prospective customers – especially in swanky suburbs – feel more comfortable with the big guys and the option to hold them to account – by the b*lls, if necessary – should something go wrong. This term should be in the small print – not used as a main sales pitch.

Free quote. Of course you’ll give a free quote. What prospective customer expects to pay for a quote? You’ll do better to create a call to action that gets them on the phone asking questions about your product or service and how it will do things for them. The quote comes a bit later in the sales funnel, in any case.

Friendly. Use of this word is based on the very, very outdated assumption that the Big Boy competitors are mechanical, unfeeling and just want the maximum profit from the minimum effort. Sadly for you, the small local business, this is not true any more. Major corporates, chains and franchises invest hideously huge amounts of money in training their customer-facing staff to be very friendly indeed. (They’ve probably learned why that’s important from you small local businesses.) Today, the word “friendly” conjures up images of slobbering Labrador puppies. And do you know what? Most local customers value efficiency and reliability more than friendliness, anyway.

Fully insured. Again, this is something best left to the small print at the bottom of your ad, if you even use it at all. Some customers may not understand what you mean, anyway – does it mean that if you make a complete b*lls-up of the job their insurance will pay to have it repaired? Does it mean that if they fall off a ladder in your home they won’t sue you for thousands in liability? The term on its own is meaningless and can cause confusion. This topic is probably best left for further down the sales funnel.

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Lists. Dozens upon dozens of the local ads I studied in my research include lists – sometimes very long lists – of all the services their business offers. Readers (even of print publications as we’re discussing here) tend to get word blindness after the first few bullet points. Don’t forget that in the main people don’t want to know what functions you offer – only what problems you solve, and not how you do it. If you put yourself in your customers’ shoes, you can usually group all your services into a few categories of solutions to their problems, which has two benefits. One, it avoids the word blindness effect of a long list and two, it’s more appealing to them because it speaks their language.

Local. Just as in “Family business” above, I can well understand why you might think that stressing the word “local” is a good idea because it differentiates your business from the Big Cheeses. However don’t forget that the fact you are advertising in a local publication and have a local address gives readers the same message. Rather than stress the word “local,” you will make a better impression if you write in terms of what your business achieves – and quickly – for people in your locality / region.

Name of company as title. Hmmmm…I have seen loads of ads using the company name as a title and I think, “OK, maybe I should have heard of these people and so they must be good…” But that is a very tenuous assumption. Unless the name of your business is VERY well known in your locality, drop it down a peg or two and instead create a title or headline that focuses on what you do that can help / entertain / massage / de-stress / etc. the readers who are potential customers.

Professional. Yes, yes. This is another one of those words which has been overworked to death and – sadly, because of that – has become a bit of a nonsense. If, say, you’re a trades person with a number of industry qualifications, by all means show them in your ad – but box them off as a side element that backs up your main message which should focus on how you solve customers’ problems. Prospective customers are impressed by qualifications, of course – but their first needs are problem solving.

We pride ourselves. Oh, please … this phrase appears many, many times in local advertising all over the UK and I daresay, many other countries in as many different languages. I do appreciate the fact that you pride yourselves … of course you do! I pride myself on the fact that I have this lovely website that has been generating 1,000 to 1,500 page views or more per day since 2011, has won an award, is featured on a number of marketing/writing platforms, is (currently) on Page One of Google for its name (How To Write Better) and blah, blah, blah. But bottom line? My customers don’t care. Your customers don’t care. They only care about what we can do for them. Get over it. We all have to.

So what words and phrases should local advertisers use to advertise their businesses?

Watch this space! If you get your ad copy right, you won’t need to brag about how you “pride yourselves.” Let’s work on how you can make yourselves look more professional without losing your admirable local status.

I’ll be sharing my suggestions in an article coming up Tuesday May 30th, so check back here then.

And in the meantime, if you have any questions on how to word your local ads drop me a note on suze@suzanstmaur.com, or leave a message in the comments below … along with any recommendations you may have about non-buzz words to avoid in local advertising.

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