What an Iceberg Can Teach You About Advertising


Estimated reading time:  7 minutes

Often when speaking with clients, the conversation about advertising consistency comes up.  Some businesses make the mistake of attempting to pick and choose months or seasons for advertising, often leaving their brand and message out of the sight of the public for months at a time.  Their logic is that this is a more economical approach, saving money in months deemed less favorable, and in the the short-term they may be correct.  But what about the long-term?

A consistent marketing presence is vital to building top-of-mind awareness, establishing consumer trust and continually stoking interest in your value proposition.

This isn’t a revolutionary thought.  Thomas Smith, a nineteenth century London businessman, penned some advice on the subject at a time when advertising was in its infancy.  Written in 1885, it is still applicable today.  I might even argue that with the blossoming of the internet and the fracturing of news and media channels into thousands of pieces over the past decade, his thoughts are even more pertinent today than in the relatively simpler times in which Smith lived.  Here is what he wrote in response to the question, “How Often Should I Advertise?”:

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 2.50.34 PMThe 1st time people look at any given ad, they don’t even see it.

The 2nd time, they don’t notice it.

The 3rd time, they are aware that it is there.

The 4th time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it before.

The 5th time, they actually read the ad.

The 6th time, they thumb their nose at it.

The 7th time, they get a little irritated with it.

The 8th time, they think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”

The 9th time, they wonder if they’re missing out on something.

The 10th time, they ask their friends or neighbors if they’ve tried it.

The 11th time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.

The 12th time, they start to think that it must be a good product.

The 13th time, they start to feel the product has value.

The 14th time, they start to feel like they’ve wanted a product like this for a long time.

The 15th time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.

The 16th time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.

The 17th time, they make a commitment to buy the product.

The 18th time, they curse their poverty because they can’t buy this terrific product.

The 19th time, they count their money very carefully.

The 20th time prospects see the ad, they buy what it is offering.

Wit aside, his point should be well-taken in the modern era of the distracted consumer.  You must stay in front of your desired customers so as to earn that prized place as the go-to business in their community.  They may not need your product or service today – but they just might tomorrow.

Time and again I find that the happiest advertisers I work with are the ones that advertise consistently, over a long period of time, with a valuable message about the work they do.  They understand that not every ad is a home run, that short-term results can ebb and flow, but that the only results that truly matter are those that are measured over a long period of time.  They recognize advertising is an investment, and one that must be planned and budgeted for over the course of each year.

With that said, I hasten to add that advertisements can and do go stale over time.  It’s wise to change things up from time to time, add seasonal touches, tout different parts of your business, and run different promotions.  Keeping your advertising interesting only helps strengthen engagement and ultimately, return on investment.

But the one thing that should never change is your core message – that is to say, your unique selling proposition.  Craft a well-written value proposition that captures the essence of your brand and entices prospects to call, click or visit your place of business.

Then, to Thomas Smith’s point, repeat it over and over.

Repetition builds familiarity.  Building familiarity also builds trust and recall.  And as every good marketer knows…people do business with those that they know, like and trust.

The late Chet Holmes wrote about this in his excellent book The Ulitmate Sales Machine which was published in 2007.  “About three percent of potential buyers”, he wrote, “are buying now.”  He went on to point out that the three percent buying now drives all commerce – but that marketing cannot simple cater to that three percent.

Iceberg MarketingI have come to think of Holmes’ discussion on the subject metaphorically as an iceberg.  As you may know, especially if you’ve ever watched the film Titanic, only a small portion of a floating iceberg lies above the surface where it may be plainly seen.  The majority of the mass of an iceberg is hidden beneath of the surface of the water – out of sight – but very substantially there.

You ignore it to your own detriment.

Chet Holmes didn’t stop his explanation with the 3% that lies in plain sight.  There’s more to the tip of the iceberg, and so much more to the iceberg in total.  Seven percent he went on to explain of the population, he went on to explain, is open to the idea of buying.  Perhaps they are dissatisfied with their current provider, or they just feel no particular loyalty and are very much open to a change.  We might even call this the “buying soon” crowd.

That 10% is the portion of the market that is open to, and possibly even actively seeking your value proposition.  Of course, they are also likely hearing the the value proposition of your competitors as well as it certainly comes up right next to yours in a web search.
However, if they know, like and trust your brand already, you have a good chance at capturing a healthy share of that 10% of the market.

But wait, there’s more!  90% more, to be precise.

Holmes’ research goes even deeper.  The remaining 90% of the market lies hidden beneath of the surface away from sight.  Holmes wrote that based on his research, the remaining 90% fall into one of three equal categories:

The top third is the group of your market that is “not thinking about it” – meaning they aren’t for your value proposition, they aren’t against it either – they’re just not looking for   it right now.  Will the top third make their way to the top of our iceberg?  Likely yes, and they may get their sooner than later if your value proposition is enticing enough.  This portion of the market demands consistent messaging that clearly stScreen Shot 2016-07-12 at 4.53.06 PMates your unique proposition versus your competitors.

The next third is what Holmes calls the “don’t think they’re interested” crowd.  They are disinterested because they don’t see your offering as being relevant to them.  That’s not to say that they’ll never be interested.  But something will have to move them in that direction over time.  Consistent marketing will serve as a reminder to them that you are there and want their business.  When the time is right, they will come looking for you.

The final third is the “definitely not interested”.  They are either so happy with what they have, or simply know they don’t need whatever it is that you’re selling.  This portion of the market will always be the hardest to reach and, in fact, may never buy from you.  But don’t forget, this 30% of the market likely knows people in the other 70%.
Holmes goes on to recommend “education marketing” as the solution to this puzzle.  In my opinion, he’s more right than ever on that point and for this chapter alone his book ought to be required reading for every small business owner.  Education marketing can be tremendously powerful over a long period of time at establishing the “know, like, trust” factors that lead to a buying decision.  And it goes without saying that one should never ignore 90% of their marketplace just because they’re aren’t actively looking at the moment.

Thomas Smith wrote his witty advice more than a century before Holmes wrote The Ultimate Sales Machine but both men understood the same critical point that has changed little over the past 130 years:  A business needs to constantly advertise with a unique, valuable and consistent message.  Those who ultimately will be served as your customers depend upon you to do so.