Every once in a while I receive an email from an unhappy customer complaining that the ad they placed in Vending Times isn't yielding satisfactory results. Often, that comment is followed by a request for more exposure in the magazine -- which, freely translated, means "what else can you do for me?" Other times I'm not so fortunate; the business is cancelled with no door left open for discussion.
When given the opportunity to assist the client, I will usually recommend trying a new approach, offer alternatives for testing the market and try to help them reach the buyer more effectively. Of course, there are times when the complaint has no basis in reality. The customer has already made the decision to go elsewhere, or is merely alleging dissatisfaction as a negotiating tool for a cheaper price! I'm certain this scenario is familiar to all of us who have a product or service to sell, whether that business is vending, coin-operated amusements or magazine publishing.
Unfortunately, the complex truth about advertising is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. If people, for whatever reason, are not disposed to buy your products, then advertising will not compel them to do so.
There are two general approaches to dealing with this. One involves taking a look at the things people aren't buying, and seeing what you can do to make them more salable. What attributes of your goods or services are perhaps not fully understood by prospective purchasers, but can help operators keep their revenues up during these trying times? What are you seeing other operators or suppliers doing that appear to be working?
The other approach, not incompatible with the first, is to recognize that there are times when people won't buy much of anything, and to adopt a posture that maximizes the likelihood that when they are able to start buying again, they will buy from you. This is an important role that advertising can play, but only a few astute companies recognize it. It is also known as branding. A purveyor who recognizes that the present situation is bad, but that we are all in it together and, collectively, can hang together and advance toward higher ground, will build goodwill and, ultimately, sales -- if his stuff is appealing to potential customers.
Editorial surely has a role to play in reinforcing either or both of these approaches. For example, if a company has an operator-oriented series of line enhancements, that would certainly warrant getting the word out to the industry. And I would recommend continuing and updating that communication as each new enhancement is introduced. Or, if a company were to emphasize its commitment to the long-term health, and recovery, of the industry, this would be worth writing about. But puffery, or treating editorial as a free alternative to advertising, will do no good at all.
The late Bert Betti Jr. told Billboard magazine in 1967, "operators must take pride in services they provide." I think all of us should, and we should communicate that pride in our marketing communications, whether advertising or public relations. You advertise and promote in order to sell things, of course, but you also advertise as an act of industry citizenship or solidarity, which in turn helps build customer confidence.
If people are not buying your product, it is not likely that the big problem is your advertising -- unless you aren't doing any, which is a real problem. It is important to recognize that the audiences for different types of product or service have different needs and desires, even if the same person appears in several of those audiences. The decision to try a new $1 candy bar is made on grounds very unlike those that guide a decision to buy a vending machine or, for that matter, a new cellular telephone.
Effective advertising is effective because it calls attention to something that people really want, but may not know about (or may not know enough about to understand why they want it). Advertisers cannot create demand; all they can do is show people how to satisfy that demand. If they will recognize the solution when they see it, then your advertisement can show it to them, and it will work. A prime example is Apple's consumer electronics gadgets. If simply spending a ton of money on really cool advertising actually changed peoples' minds, then the Ford Edsel would have been one of the best-selling automobiles of all time.
It also is important to keep in mind that some things are bought when they're needed: your old computer won't run new software that you really want to use, or you get a new location by offering to install a new machine. When such a need arises, many of us will remember having seen an attractive, informative ad for something that will meet that need. The manufacturer who runs those ads regularly, so we can find one in a recent publication, is the one who is most likely to make the sale.