Someone recently told me of a negative experience they had trying to run ads for a book over social media. They spent money for someone to create and run an ad for their work but after a few days the ad had resulted in no discernible increase in sales. The author took that to mean that the ad had failed and they partly blamed the advertiser for the ads failure.
This got me thinking about ads, how to determine their success, and when an ad fails, who is to blame.
For me, ads are like gambling, there is never any guarantee beyond me spending money for the ad to take place. The results of the ad are a complete crap shoot that may either end with me getting new sales or absolutely none. There is no way to predict or ensure any particular outcome with something like ads.
It reminds me of this time that my wife and I took our kids to Tennessee on vacation one summer. While there we stopped at one of those gem mining places. The premise is simple; you give them money, they give you a bucket of dirt, and you sift through the bucket to look for gemstones buried within.
Before we started, the merchant advised us that we were essentially gambling. He explained that it was common for people to get mad when they went through their buckets and felt they didn't find enough stuff, or in some cases nothing at all.
"I don't know what's in the these buckets any more than you. You might find something, you might not. I can't guarantee anything either way and I just need you to be aware of that before you start."
His upfront honesty on the matter was refreshing but beyond that his words were something eye-opening. I knew going into that endeavor that there were inherent risks with what we were doing and that we might spend good money to find little or nothing but we weren't there as gem hunters. We were there as a family and this was something that we thought would be fun, something that we could all do together, and something that would be a good memory for all of us even after the trip had ended. The notion of people getting upset over it was something I had not thought about until he offered that warning. It didn't dissuade from from moving forward with our plans but it did make me wonder about the expectations of those other people that led them to get so angry.
Luckily, we found a ton of gems. We had a couple of pieces of jewelry made for my wife from what we found that day and I still have a few emeralds and rubies waiting to be cut and cleaned for more pieces. It would seem that we were more fortunate that day compared to others given the proprietors advanced warning regarding an activity that he was looking to profit from.
But upon hearing of this other author's plight and his dissatisfaction with his recent ad it made me reflect back to this experience. There are a lot of correlations between that author's ads and our family's attempt to sift through buckets of dirt for gemstones.
We had no guarantees of finding any stones and likewise that author had no guarantee of sales. Advertisers don't sell you guaranteed buyers, they sell you guaranteed opportunities. They sell you exposure where you have the chance find sales much like that guy sold me a bucket of sand where we had a chance find stones. He didn't sell me the stones, just the chance at finding them.
Marketing, no matter what industry, will always be a case of some campaigns are more effective than others. Some commercials are very popular and generate a lot of interest in a brand while others are hated and totally ruin a product. There has to be some intelligence behind the ad; what it contains, who it is geared towards, where it distributed, and even when it is distributed. Timing can be just as disruptive to an ad as its content. But even when the best and brightest minds create an ad, those ads are not guaranteed to sell anything, only bring awareness of a product to the masses and then it is up to those masses to determine if they want to buy what is being sold.
Side story: In my hometown there was a recent bond election by a local school. The bond vote was for a large multi-million dollar bond that included a number of things to be bought or built if passed. The voting window that included that proposal started just a week or so after the county sent out property tax appraisals that included massive hikes in property values for residents throughout the area. When the bond vote failed there were people angry that the residents didn't vote to pass a bill and accused them of hating children, not caring about education, and other things. One of the people who voted against the bond told them, "this was a matter of timing. The county just sent out letters to everyone telling them that they were going to have to pay more taxes on their property because the county determined that everyone's property values had gone up a lot in the last year and then there was a vote that would increase the rate in which those values would be taxed. The county basically told everyone, 'we are going to charge you more for your property and if you pass this bond then we will charge you more for it again.' If the county hadn't raised the property values so significantly across the board then this bond would have probably passed but you can't tell people that not only are we going to increase the amount that you will be taxed on but also the amount of tax we'll charge for it and expect them to be excited about it. Any other case and this bond would have gone through without any issues but trying to double dip like this was a nail in the coffin for this bond before it ever started."
That side story says a lot about ads too.
If you run an ad to sell something at a bad time then it won't generate sales. It'd be like running an ad for a book talking about stock market strategies during a major downturn in the market or running an ad about your latest spy story to thwart terrorists after a major terrorist attack. The content of the book, and hence the ad, can be easily seen as thoughtless or disrespectful by viewers depending on what else is going on in the world when that ad campaign is launched and the target audience the ad is targeting.
Timing is just as important as content, distribution, target demographics, and other elements of an ad.
But gambling analogies and side stories aside, the important thing to remember when running ads for your book (or whatever else you might be selling) is that ads never guarantee sales. Ads guarantee opportunity, nothing else. If someone tries to tell you that they guarantee their ad services will generate X sales or X followers or X whatever then it might be time to reconsider your involvement with that person or group.
Sales people are there to sell you their services, not to sell your stuff to the general public. They make money selling you services in the hopes that you can recoup your investment through their actions. Their cut is the same regardless of if that campaign nets you 0 sales or 1000 sales. If a sales person is promising you anything then odds are it's a sham.
I work in consulting. I have had customers tell me about sales people selling them products that didn't do what the customer needed it to do but the sales people didn't care. They wanted the sale. They wanted the commission. They were willing to tell the client whatever they wanted to hear to close the deal regardless of if what they were selling could actually achieve what the client wanted.
Does that mean that every advertiser and sales person is a scam looking to take your money with false promises and lies?
No, but it does mean that you should be very wary about how people approach you. If someone says that their service can reach X number of people because of their number of followers/subscribers then that might be something to consider unless that number seems suspect and you can't see where those numbers come from. If someone says that they will run your ad on their social media profiles and/or other pages for X days then expect that your product will be visible to others for that duration but that showing somebody a product and forcing someone to buy that product are two very different things.
Don't fall for the traps of guaranteed sales because there is no such thing. Don't expect every ad campaign to boost your sales. Don't expect any ad campaign to have an immediate impact on your sales. Sales are organic. Some happen on instinct while others happen over time. Some may buy for themselves while others buy for someone else. Some buy for instant gratification and others may wait to buy based on scheduling, finances, other obligations, holidays, etc.
When choosing to run an ad, give consideration to what is being advertised in conjunction to current events, who do you want the ad to reach versus where the ad will appear, and what is the true goal of the campaign. Most underlying goals of any ad is to generate sales but since that can't be guaranteed your goal should really be about getting exposure, finding new followers/fans, increasing the social awareness of your product. Those things will generate sales over time but only if the ad hits when and where it will be most effective.