Monday, December 2, 2013

Selling = Interviewing

Guide to Nailing that Ad (and that Interview)

Selling a product is a lot like interviewing for a job. And a lot of the same dos and don’ts that are considered inviolate in the world of job hunting are not given their due in the marketing and advertising arena.

I. Connect the Dots

The late, great Ed Koch had many wonderful sayings. Among them was, “I can only explain it to you. I can’t comprehend it for you.” In this case, however, this is exactly what we have to do.

Just like it's not enough to tell potential employers about your skills, experience and education and rely on them to figure out how you can add value to their business, it's likewise not enough to simply state all of the great things your product can do and hope customers make the connection to how those benefits apply to their own lives. 

You need to connect the dots. Just as you’d tell the interviewer the wonderful job you could do at Acme, Co., and go into detail about the goals you could accomplish and the money you could save them, so too, you should hammer home the benefits of your product, and the difference in can make in people’s lives. It’s not enough to make a bulleted list of features and some starbursts, and hope they get the point. 

II. Don’t Lie - It Will Blow Up in Your Face

MBA from Princeton? Phi Beta Kapa at Yale?

Almost every career advice site will tell you in no uncertain terms that any fibs you include in a resume, whether about job experience or education, will inevitably come out. So don't make them. 

So too, when it comes to singing the praises of your new doodad. Don't oversell it with false claims that will only come back to bite you. 

I once worked on a launch for a new retail product. I created a campaign including packaging, point of purchase displays and print ads. The problem was I had never seen, much less used, the product. I relied on the client's rose-colored information to create my materials, and, boy, did they look great. 

They worked great too. The product flew off the shelves for the first few weeks after it's release. Stores couldn't get enough of it. 

Then the complaints started coming in. 

It's not my intention here to bad mouth anyone, so I  won't go into any further detail. Suffice it to say that the item did not live up to the public's expectations, and later sales reflected that. 

Sophisticated advertising and marketing will still work if you lie - but only once. 

III. First Impressions Matter

First impressions really do matter. As one of my old bosses used to say, "Whoever said never judge a book by its cover never tried to sell one." Check out my last blog post for more on that. 

Life is not like "Britain's Got Talent," where a nervous fellow in a frumpy suit can wow the crowd with his stupendous voice and wind up an international celebrity. (True story.)

99.9% of the time you'll have less than 30 seconds to make a positive impression - either on a job interviewer or a customer, and you and/or your product need to look your (its) best. 

This applies just as much in print as in person. You'd be amazed how many promotional pieces use mediocre or downright bad photography. Or else imagery which does an inadequate job of selling the product. (See Sidebar - You’ve Got to See it To Believe It)

You’ve Got to See it To Believe ItThe level of cognitive dissonance in this area is truly astounding. I've had executives at ecommerce firms tell me that they know with absolute certainty that items with higher quality images sell better. And not a little better - a lot better. 
But the same executives then tell me that they're not planning on expanding their creative departments to generate this level of photography since there's no budget for it. 
When I was younger I even tried reasoning with them. "But with better images you're sales will go up. You already know this. The added revenue will more than pay for any additional cost.” 
When that failed, I tried just saying, “Hey, you’ll make more money!”
But it always fell on deaf ears. 
In any case, maybe this job interview metaphor would've been a more effective way of convincing them. 

IV. Do Your Homework

We've all heard this cringe-worthy interview story. 

A young fellow goes for an interview at McDonalds. 
The interviewer very logically asks, "Why do want to work here, at McDonalds?" In a voice full of youthful enthusiasm, the clueless candidate answers, "Well gee, Whoppers™ are my favorite food in the whole world!"

Of course, we all know that Whoppers™ are a trademarked product of Burger King. But our hapless job applicant got his fast food joints mixed up, and had his application rejected. 

If you're interviewing for a job you should find out as much as you can about the prospective company. 

If you're selling a product it's a little more complicated. You should find out as much as you can about both your product and your customers. 

Asking a copier salesman, "How many copies a minute does this baby churn out?" should be answered quickly and competently with the correct information. Inappropriate responses include, "Why would you need to know that?" Or, "I'll have to check with Tech Support and get back to you."

I recently went shopping for a car. When I had pretty much made up my mind which car I wanted, I went to a dealership to check it out. I asked the salesman specific questions about the car. Things like dealer installable options, financing, what the different trim lines included, etc. Standard stuff. The guy’s answers were all either misleading or factually incorrect. 

Hey buddy, FYI, Remote Start IS an option on the Prius V. And the model I wanted DOES come with Premium Sound.

In a similar vein you've got to know your market. Why is it that a lot of restaurants offer delivery? Take-out food is an impulse purchase, and something people very often want to enjoy at home or at work. (Not to mention schools and offices, that order in groups.) The storekeepers know that if they didn't offer delivery they would lose a lot of sales. 

Or how about cell phone service providers offering free nights and weekends as a gimmick to get new customers? They know the times when most people make calls, and they're not giving those minutes away! But it's something with a high perceived value, and it doesn't hurt their bottom line. 

The examples are limitless. 

V. Resumes (and Ads) Shouldn't Be Too Long - Should They?

Old school ad-man will tell you that there's nothing wrong with long-copy ads. Since an ad (or a resume) is doing the job of promoting something, theoretically you should be able to put in as much copy as necessary to achieve that goal. 

But that's only theoretical. The reality is far different. 

Career advisors say that, nowadays, resumes should be 1-2 pages, max. 

Are there similar rules for advertising? It used to be that long-copy ads were accepted under the “right” conditions. Usually that meant big ticket items for a more educated demographic who would be more likely to read a longer ad.

Nowadays, with gnat-like attention spans the norm, it is harder to find the a venue that lends itself to such advertising. Long copy should therefore usually be reserved for more qualified types of pieces - for example, brochures or PR pieces used as follow-ups after a customer has expressed interest. Once someone has shown interest in what you’re selling, you at least have chance that they’ll give you some attention.

The other instance in which long copy may be called for is in specific instances when you’re advertising a product to a tightly defined audience. E.g., if your ad has a headline like “Do You Suffer from Gastric Reflux,” you can be pretty sure who’ll be reading it, so longer copy may be ok.

Resumes have similar issues. I’ve spoken to potential employers and sent them my “short” resume. When I mentioned that I had a longer, more detailed version, they asked to see that as well, and were happy to get it. 

In fact, now that I think of it, the only ones to ever tell me my resume was too long were the career advisors I showed it to who told me to shorten it…

Basically, to tie it up and put a ribbon on it, I would say that advertising and PR copy should always be kept as focused and concise as possible to do the job you need it to do. And that goes for your resume as well - as long as you keep it to two pages or less ;-).

I’m sure there are more parallels and similarities between selling and interviewing, and maybe I’ll explore it further in a future post.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

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