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6 Principles for an Effective Radio Campaign

“I tried radio, and it didn’t work.” How many of you have uttered those words? Or did you dismiss using radio as part of your marketing because someone you know discouraged you by making that statement? Well, radio does work, but maybe not the way you think.

I create radio campaigns for businesses of all kinds, in all sizes of markets worldwide. I’ve learned that by employing the following principles, you won’t catch yourself uttering the sentence above.

Your radio schedule: Nineteen to 25 commercials per week typically will deliver the necessary repetition to see results. It’s better to run an effective schedule on a station that has a smaller audience than it is to run a less-than-adequate schedule on a larger station.

Your campaign: The message is the most important element. A compelling message and offer work together to break through consumer resistance.

Your busy audience is bombarded with up to 5,000 advertising messages a day. Most advertisers are pushing (Me! Me! Buy MY stuff!). The smart way to reach prospects is pulling. Tell them a story, give them advice or show them how to get a free benefit. For example, if you run a lawn care service, you could create a series of commercials suggesting simple, free or inexpensive things that homeowners can do themselves to improve their lawns. Direct your listeners—pull them—to your website for more information in the form of articles, tips and videos. Continue to reach out to the contacts with more information, newsletters, specials, etc.

Throughout each commercial, answer the question that every prospect asks: “What’s in it for me?”

Don’t sound like a commercial: If you do, your message will be ignored. You’ll get better results with messages that surprise, educate, intrigue or entertain your audience (with the entertainment based on and integrated with the marketing of your product or service). If that seems difficult, think of it this way: You’re having a conversation with one person. You wouldn’t walk into someone’s office, tell him or her a joke, and then pitch an offer, so don’t do it in your commercial.

The beginning of your commercial, which is your audio headline, is critical for capturing attention. Make it entertaining, shocking, dramatic, important and/or unexpected but also relevant to your target audience. Two examples follow.

1. Helicopter evacuation service ad

Sound effect: Ticking (heard under announcer)
Announcer: When you have a life-threatening emergency, every… second… counts. How soon can you get to an emergency room?
Sound effect: Helicopter fades in and under…

2. Financial planner ad

Announcer: You know why you get a lousy return on your investments while the pros make the big money? They know five secrets you don’t…

Tell a story: Stories have captivated audiences for thousands of years. Instead of telling a story about what you and your business offer, make your prospect the hero. A moving company could tell about a customer whose household goods were loaded during a recent downpour, but nothing was water-damaged, so the customer became a hero to his family. It’s a powerful version of “What’s in it for me?” There are many ways to tell stories, from fairy tales, legends, myths or parables to movie trailers, news reports or stand-up comedy routines, any of which would sound refreshing compared to the usual commercials.

Make your story emotional so it will be readily remembered. We might like to think of ourselves as rational, logical creatures, but we make most of our decisions—especially buying decisions—emotionally. Radio’s ability to tell stories with voice, sound effects, music and silence helps it strike an emotional chord.

Stumped? Try asking yourself, What emotional problem do I solve? You may need to probe beneath the surface for the answer. If you’re selling real estate, you’re not just selling homes; you’re selling security, memories, prestige, comfort and possibly access to schools. Create your advertising message to address one or more of those basic needs, and you will touch the audience’s hearts and guts, which is where buying decisions are made.

Base your story on benefits, not features. What will your product or service do for the purchaser?

Analyze your business. For each feature (the what?), ask yourself in the voice of your audience, So what?—as in, What’s in it for me? Your answer should be a benefit. Then ask, So what? again and again, each time leading you to a deeper core benefit. You’ll get past the features fairly quickly, and somewhere in this What? So what? process, an especially meaningful benefit will jump out at you and you’ll realize, That’s it!

You’ve arrived at the benefit, which is where your power to influence lies. Write your commercial around that benefit. With our moving company example, the damage-free move (via plastic-wrapped furniture) is the immediate benefit. Going deeper, the advertiser is eliminating fear of loss and bolstering the customer’s position in his or her family as a protector.

Less is more: If you throw three balls at someone, he or she will probably miss them all. Throw one, and a catch is more likely. The same applies in radio. Don’t include too much information or sell too many items in one commercial. It’s important to create a single powerful, emotional image that touches people so they come away with one strong feeling.

The less-is-more tactic also applies to your call to action. What would you like for your potential customers to do? Go to your website, telephone you, email, read your blog, visit your location? Pick one. That’s right, one. Give listeners just one way to contact you in your commercial, and you will increase your responses dramatically.

Your script should omit do-nothing phrases and clichés, both of which make your commercial sound like a commercial. Do-nothing phrases include “going on now,” “and what’s more” and “you owe it to yourself.” Some of the worst clichés include “conveniently located,” “come see the experts at…” and “savings throughout the store.”

Results: How quickly can you expect your radio commercial to improve your sales? Ask yourself, How often do people buy what I sell? If you’re in the restaurant business, you’ll probably see results sooner (people eat daily) than someone selling large appliances (10-plus years for replacement).

Right now, maybe only 5 percent of current prospects are in the market for what you sell, but don’t ignore the other 95 percent. You have the opportunity to establish a beachhead in their awareness of your product or service.

Be patient. Radio generally works best if your approach is similar to that of a powerful long-distance runner. (It is possible to succeed with sprints, but you must have either a massively compelling offer for something people buy often, or an event with a short deadline.)

The ideal strategy for most advertisers is to commit to a 52-week schedule with a well-thought-out, thorough campaign. If you do, you may not see immediate results, but over time, you will win. Big.

Discover the No. 1 secret to a great ad.

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