Marketing Tips

There are two main ways to increase revenue: First, get current customers to buy more. Second, get more customers. There are others, but if you master these two, you will grow.

The first way is more up to you. How is your customer service? Do you have any sort of “frequent user” incentive? Keeping current customers is critical, and losing them is costly. But it’s up to you.

Getting new customers is external. Are you consistently inviting new people to the party? Will someone recognize your name on an Internet search? If someone who never needed your product before suddenly does, will your name come to mind?

You may think social media and word of mouth are enough to attract new consumers. While it’s important to be active in each, external marketing makes you known before you’re needed. Plus, you’re in complete control of the message and the vehicles of distribution. Don’t leave it to chance.

Social Media gives people the freedom to complain at will, safely, and often anonymously. Sometimes it’s a legitimate lapse in service, but often it’s not. No matter how good you are, someone will complain. It’s how we handle complaints that matters. We can ignore, we can argue, or we can ask for another chance.

Start with a softening statement: “I’m so sorry your experience wasn’t what you hoped.”

Acknowledge their grievance: “I understand you had to wait longer than you expected. It was busier than usual that night, and our staff was working hard to serve everyone as quickly as they could.’

End with a commitment: “It’s always a priority for us to do better, and we hope you’ll give us another chance to prove it.”

Online arguments often explode, and you can diffuse many of them with this quick three-step process.

Years ago, I remember HSN selling home computers. Their pitch didn’t include many specs on the device itself such as memory, video, or sound capabilities. That said, it was profound:

“This isn’t just a computer, it’s your child’s future.”


They realized a universal truth: People don’t buy based on features. They buy based on benefits. Is the future of our children really at stake if we don’t buy this product? What parent would take that chance?

We don’t buy furnaces, we buy warmth. We don’t buy VA Tech shirts, we buy pride. Your feature is the product you sell. The benefit is the emotional and human need your product solves. That’s what you should be marketing.

“If you win a customer solely on price, you’ll lose that customer solely on price.”

I’m not sure where I first heard that, but it’s one of those nuggets I always remember.

If someone bought your product because you had the lowest price, what happens when you don’t? If a competitor comes out with a special offer, do you lower yours even more? If you hang your hat on “We have the lowest prices”, you’ll need to always have the lowest prices, and a race to the bottom is not healthy.

I get it, some people are price shoppers. But you’re the one lowering your profit margin, so it’s not a win-win.

If your product is superior, if your customer experience is better than average, you shouldn’t have to yield on price. Everyone knows that better quality products cost more. Lowering prices devalues the perception of your product. Think hard before you make that decision.

Superior customer service not only brings people back, it justifies price.

About 13 years ago, I used my modest pull to get my daughter backstage for a Taylor Swift Meet and Greet in Charlottesville. Taylor signed some things, posed for pictures, and engaged my daughter in a conversation that felt unhurried. Then, Taylor’s Mom took us on a tour of the stage and tour bus. It could not have been better.

A week or so later, the card arrived.

It was addressed to me, with a nice handwritten note about how much Taylor appreciated my station’s support. Tucked inside was a small, purple envelope addressed to “Maddie”. When my daughter opened it, confetti and guitar picks fell out. And inside was another handwritten note, talking about their conversation, and how Taylor would never forget that night.

Now that, my friend, is customer service.

It’s one of the reasons hundreds of thousands of people are paying thousands of dollars to see her on tour this summer, including Maddie. Don’t think for a second that it happens by accident. Superior customer service brings people back and justifies price.

What’s the first thing someone sees or hears when they walk in or call your business? I admit, I feel good when I’m greeted with a chorus of “Welcome to Moe’s”. It’s a little thing, but it matters.

At the risk of sounding judgmental, I shake my head a bit when the first sign I see in a business window says NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS or RESTROOMS FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY. And yes, they’re usually in all caps.

I get it, you don’t want a parade of random humanity in and out all day.

But remember that first impression. Before any “Welcome”, or “How can I help you”, the first impression is telling people in bold, black letters, what they can’t do. It’s a little thing, but it matters.

Be vigilant in recognizing the first impression you’re giving. How your phone is answered matters. That sign in the window matters. If you take it down, yes, you may get an occasional request to use your facilities. But you’ve replaced an admonition with a welcome, and that matters.

Marketing is like exercise.

Have you ever started a commitment to exercise with the promise that, “This will be the year.” Typically, I stop after a month or so, most certainly failing to give it enough time to build muscle, endurance, or lose weight. Exercise works, but only if we sustain the effort.

Now the analogy:

When marketing your business, it certainly won’t hurt to do it for a short period of time. But building endurance and strength, in the form of long-term awareness and sales, takes sustained effort.

When someone tells us they tried advertising and didn’t get results, forensic analysis typically reveals a campaign that didn’t have enough duration or frequency. They only went to the gym once and were disappointed they didn’t produce a beach bod.

Physical fitness requires effort over a sustained period. Business growth requires the same.

Attention spans are getting shorter.

Those five words are about all your brain will give me before you mentally or physically move on to something more interesting. They better be good.

Anytime your business advertises or posts on social media, it’s critical to be succinct. Chances are you looked at the length of this post to determine if it was worth investing your time. Make every word or image earn its place.

Use your own attention span when sending messages to your customers. Then, subtract a little. You’re more interested in it than anyone else, therefore have a higher tolerance for information. We often think more is better. But as Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the sole of wit”.

If there’s too much, customers will be distracted by the first squirrel that runs by.

I was at a Graduation ceremony not long ago, and the keynote speaker said something that resonated with me. He encouraged the graduates to “Listen more than you talk.”

Unless you yourself are the speaker, I can’t think of many circumstances where this would not be wise advice. You get a ton of useful information by listening. You get none from talking.

If you’re interviewing a job candidate, lead them, but let them talk. They will reveal themselves, good or bad.

If you’re with a customer, let them tell you what they need. When they’ve shared enough information, you’ll know what product to suggest.

If you’re in an argument with an employee, your child, your spouse, let them talk. Those last couple take real discipline, but every human being needs to feel like they’ve been heard. I’ve lost more than a few arguments when I thought my agenda was the most important.

In the musical phenomenon, “Hamilton”, Aaron Burr encourages Alexander Hamilton to, “Talk less, smile more.” Spoiler alert: Hamilton doesn’t listen, and it does not end well.

If you ever want to talk, we’ll listen.

Legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, once said, “Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable”.

Many businesses employ occasional SWOT analysis (Strengths: Weaknesses: Opportunities: Threats). If yours does not, now is as good a time as any.

Gather your management team, and anyone else you feel could positively contribute, and get super honest and critical of your own operation. Note: It’s not a meeting to air grievances or simply complain. It’s meant to positively move forward. As facilitator, you have to make that clear. Don’t be worried about what you may find out. Be excited for the new paths you will uncover.

The “O” in SWOT is the one to be most focused on. Treat every Weakness and Threat as an Opportunity to improve. Ask for suggestions on how to do it. Ownership in the process results in buy-in, and buy-in results in……well, results.

It’s not easy to look in the mirror. The closer we look, the more flaws we may notice. But if we don’t, customers and competitors will. Those who bury their heads in the sand shouldn’t wonder why they are losing ground.

Give yourself a good SWOT soon

There’s a reason restaurant menus follow the structure they do.

First, they name the dish. It may be cut and dry: Prime Rib, Salmon, Liver and Onions (sorry). Or perhaps they come up with clever names for each item. I’m looking at you, Macado’s.

Next, they describe the dish using words like “tender, juicy, and succulent.” Prime Rib sounds good already, but they make it sound even better in a well-written description. As for Macado’s, how else would I know what’s in the Carpetbagger?

They’re creating value and desire.

The last thing you see is price. If they’ve truly done their job well in creating the value, price is far less of an issue.

When marketing your own product or service, remember to create value before you name a price.

We’ve all seen ads that begin with something like, “Mattress sets starting at just $299”. Don’t put the cart before the horse. Tell me about a cozy, restful night’s sleep. Then we’ll talk about price.

Even before our ears fully develop, we hear our Mother’s heartbeat. It’s the first sense we experience and the most powerful we possess. How?

You can choose not to look. You can’t choose not to hear.

Sound never stops. Even when a person is not consciously listening, sounds are absorbed into the subconscious. You may begin humming a song or jingle and not know why. It could be that your ears heard it hours before, even when you weren’t paying attention.

Visual ads require the consumer’s full attention, and that’s a lot to ask.

On radio, ads are heard even when someone is not actively listening. The subconscious will remember. You may remember jingles from 30 years ago. Do you remember any print ads from that long ago?

Very few people react to an ad immediately. Instead, they (hopefully) recall the business when the need for the product arises. What will be remembered more: Visual or audio ads?

People never stop hearing.

There is a reason newspapers and online news sources use headlines. The headline is meant as a tantalizing lure to get the user to read the article. The more interesting the headline, the better the conversion to the full article. Consider these:

“County Releases Wildlife Migration Study”


“Are There Bears in Your Backyard?”

Which would you be more likely to read?

Your own headline is just as important. The “Subject” line in your email, the first words visible on your website, or the first line in your ad. Does it entice further exploration from a potential customer? Or is it clinical and cliché? Hint: “Big Sale Today” is clinical and cliché. We can do better.

Oh, and the Free Beer? Well, it got you to read, didn’t it?

That’s an interesting statement. Our businesses pretty much depend on selling something. Perhaps I should expound.

Don’t sell your product, sell the problem your product solves.

I remember reading this years ago: Nobody wants a drill. They want a hole.

Let’s extrapolate a little: Nobody wants Insurance, they want peace of mind. Nobody wants a gym membership, they want a healthier life. Nobody wants a mortgage, they want a place to call home.

Think about the problem your product or service solves. That’s your starting point. Then, explain why yours is the best choice to solve it.

From our standpoint, nobody wants advertising, they want more customers. If only we could think of a way to get them.

One of McDonald’s slogans in the 70’s was, “You deserve a break today”. It was genius. They didn’t talk about burgers or fries, they talked about you, and what you deserve. You work hard, you’ve earned a reward, a break. And your reward for all of that sweat equity? McDonald’s.

Another classic slogan belonged to Hallmark. “When you care enough to send the very best.” This wasn’t focused on the individual, but on someone the individual cared about.

Consider these concepts when crafting your marketing messages, not matter your product:

Heating and Air: “Doesn’t your family deserve a warm, cozy winter?”

Restaurant: “Treat yourself tonight, because Mondays are hard.”

Jeweler: “She does so much for you, do this for her.”

You have the power to position your product or service as a reward. Try it.

Of course, we’re here to help in any marketing and advertising challenge you may be facing.

Nearly every Social Media platform was developed so human beings could interact with one another. Because they’re so popular, it’s only natural that they are attractive as marketing tools.

That said, businesses who expect to have meaningful interaction with their customers are often disappointed. Humans will do almost anything to avoid ads, so how can we expect them to interact with the companies whose ads they try to avoid? And worse, they may have negative things to say.

In the mid 2000’s, Pepsi pulled much of their traditional media advertising. They spent millions building their social media presence, accumulating “likes”. And they got them, millions of them. The result: They dropped from the #2 selling soft drink to #3, and they have yet to get back.

“Likes” are great. Social Media presence is essential. But be careful how much you’re asking of your “Friends” and “Followers”. Your current customers may enjoy staying up to date with you, but if they sense they’re being pitched, you’re in danger of violating why they agreed to the friendship in the first place.

Of course, we’re here to help in any marketing and advertising challenge you may be facing.

You don’t need a roofer today. You don’t need a plumber or a lawyer. But next month, next spring, next year, you might.

When you do, a name might pop in your head. Or you may Google “Lawyers in the NRV” and a couple dozen firms will come up. Again, do you recognize any of them? Most consumers will scroll down the list, even bypassing those who paid to be at the top, until they see a name they recognize. Think about it the next time you Google a business category. My hunch is that you do the same.

The reason we advertise is to be known. The reason we advertise consistently is to be known before we’re needed. Keep that in mind when developing your marketing strategy, especially if you’re in a business category that consumers don’t need very often, like roofers, plumbers, or (hopefully) lawyers.

Advertising for short periods only keeps you known to those who need your product right now. Advertising consistently keeps you visible to those who need you today, next month, next spring, and next year. Be known before you’re needed.

Of course, we’re here to help in any marketing and advertising challenge you may be facing.

Most of us face the ongoing struggle of finding good people. With unemployment low, we have to entice candidates to leave where they are and come to us. But how do we get them to risk change, to leave the comfortable for the uncomfortable transition to a new job?

Most job postings have a long list of qualifications and a long list of duties. While necessary, save them for the end. Make the beginning of your post sound like something an actual human being would be attracted to:

“This position doesn’t come up often because our people don’t often leave. If you’re hoping to find a supportive environment where everyone works toward a clear, common goal, you’ve found it. Yes, we expect results, and that’s why we pay you. But you’re allowed to laugh in the hallways and to show pictures of your pets. We’ll show you ours. Read on for the job description, qualifications, and application info. We’d love to meet you”

Atmosphere and culture rank high on employment decision making. Make sure yours sounds good and you’ll see a better quality response.

Of course, we’re here to help in any marketing and advertising challenge you may be facing.

Holiday shopping season is always an apt time to remind each other of the value of shopping local.

When we buy on Amazon or any other non-local online vendor, the money leaves and doesn’t come back. I get it. It’s easy, convenient, and even fun.

But Amazon doesn’t keep local people employed. They don’t buy Girl Scout cookies or sponsor T-ball teams. They don’t support schools, libraries, Police or Fire.

When we buy local, we’re not only supporting those businesses, but the entire infrastructure of our local existence. It’s that important.

Sure, it’s unrealistic to give up online shopping entirely. Some things aren’t available here in our backyard. But check here first. You might be surprised. If each of us made just one or two less online purchases this Christmas season, and shopped locally, it would make a world of difference.

The Girl Scouts will thank you.

Many of us are working on our 2024 budget this time of year. I don’t know of many businesses who don’t, each year, project even a modest increase in revenue.

That said, is there anything in your budget that justifies the confidence of achieving that growth?

If you’re just hoping that the economy improves, that interest rates go down, or suddenly more consumers become aware of you, you’ve put it out of your control. While “Hope” is a wonderful thing, it’s not a business strategy.

Developing and investing in a marketing strategy makes growth possible. Marketing should not be viewed as a cost, but rather an investment. And like any investment, you could and should expect a return. It’s not unreasonable to expect that for every dollar you spend on marketing, you should realize anywhere from five to ten in return. That helps you set the type of investment you should make.

Don’t leave it up to hope. Leave it up to a well-planned budgeted strategy.

Our business, perhaps like yours, is typically slow in January. Frankly, the whole first quarter can hurt. General consumerism does indeed slow in the winter months, but what outwardly seems like a handicap can turn into an opportunity.

While consumerism may slow, it doesn’t stop. In the NRV, millions and millions of dollars are still spent in January and February. While the pie may be a bit smaller, it may be your chance to grab a bigger slice.

Let your competitors go dark in Q1 while you step forward with increased visibility. If you’re the one people see and hear when they make a purchasing decision, you’ll get first consideration. If you’re invisible, off the radar, chances are you won’t.

And here’s the bonus: If you increase the size of your slice in Q1, it will stay that big when spending picks back up in the spring. We’d love to help you do that.

We loved buffets when our kids were young. Chicken tenders, mac & cheese, and soft-serve ice cream to our heart’s content. As our kids aged and our palates matured, we realized that the food at many all-you-can-eat buffets was not particularly…….good.

I know that sounds judgmental. Lots of food for minimal price is good, right? But at some point, quality trumps quantity. Actual conversation:

Wife: “This tastes awful”

Me: “But you can eat as much as you want!”

Many consumers economically mature into a position where they’re willing and able to pay more for higher quality products and services. They understand that to have the best, they have to pay for it.

Your product has value, and your marketing should focus on how and why you’re the finest at what you do. There is a place for economy, but you deserve more. Brand yourself as a 5-star establishment (you have to back it up), and customers will pay for it.

In January 2000, 14 “dot com” companies spent up to 2 million bucks for :30 second ads in the Super Bowl. They included, Life, and Our Any of those ring a bell? Me neither.

So why does the Super Bowl work for some companies and not for others? There are many reasons, but I’ll focus on one: The value of increased customers didn’t equal the cost of the campaign.

Many of the dot com websites saw increased traffic, but it didn’t translate into long-term gain. Our’s revenue jumped 350% in Q1 of 2000. Sounds successful, right? But its advertising cost was 10 times what those new customers spent. The company didn’t last another year.

The lesson is simple: You want to be in business for a long time, so spread your advertising investment over a long time. Pour too much into one splash and even a growth in customers may not cover the cost.

That said, I can’t wait to see this year’s commercials.

As we craft our advertising messages, we often get caught in the mundane web of the predictable: Lowest price, largest variety, convenient hours, friendly service, etc. When everyone makes the same claims, nobody is remembered.

Want to stand out? Market with content instead.

I had a lawn and garden store owner as a client a few years ago. His ads never mentioned any of those standard business features. Instead, he talked about the best time of year to fertilize, how to prevent Dutch Elm disease, or how to properly water an indoor Orchid. Each ad was a 30 second gardening show. It was content, entertaining, and he branded himself as the area expert.

So instead of advertising your tax service, give tax tips. Instead of selling flowers, tell me the romantic difference between the red and white rose. You’ll be remembered more for your useful content much longer than for your big sale. When they need your service, they’ll think of you.

Author H.G. Wells once said, “Advertising is legalized lying.” Being in the ad business, I somewhat take offense. But in a world where even factual information is met with instant skepticism (“Fake News”), what hope is there with our marketing messages?

You may have the “biggest”, “freshest” or “fastest” in your product line, but do you think anyone believes you? Even before the era of universal skepticism, these unsubstantiated claims fell on deaf ears.

Truth becomes powerful when you own up to what someone may perceive as negative.

“Yes, we cost more. But you expect craftsmanship and attention to detail.”

“If you want quick, there’s always the drive through. But if you want an evening of elegance and romance at a pace you decide, we have a table ready.”

Those truths can’t be denied, even by the most hardened skeptics. And you’ve preemptively weeded out “too expensive” and “slow service” from your Yelp review.

Sound never stops. Even when you’re not consciously listening to outside “noise”, your subconscious is absorbing the sound. You may start humming a song out of the blue and not know why. It may be that your brain heard it earlier when you weren’t paying attention.

This is a chief reason why audio marketing can be much more effective than visual marketing. Visual ads require you to look, to be paying attention. Moreover, the audio portion of visual ads stick with memory much longer.

If I sing, “We are Farmer’s”, how do you respond?

Remember: Seeing is optional, hearing is not. Songs, jingles, and commercials are still absorbed even when you’re not completely focused on the medium. And they are remembered far longer.

I used to sell billboards, so up to a point, I truly believe they can be effective. But in today’s world, IMHO, there’s a better option: Digital ads.

Billboards rely on people driving by them. Digital ads go out and find people.

Billboards are priced by traffic, so you’re paying for 16 year-olds and 86 year-olds whether you want them or not. Digital ads can target the exact demographics you want to reach.

Billboards require someone to remember them long after they see them. Digital ads offer instant click through to your e-commerce site. People can react right then and there.

Billboards pass by at up to 70 MPH. Digital ads appear on phones, tablets and PC’s while consumers are browsing content. They are paying attention.

Any exposure is good, but targeting the right consumer in the most efficient way is crucial to see an ROI. At New River Radio (And Digital), we can help.

Do you staunchly stay with a formula that’s working, or do you try to read the tea leaves to anticipate market and consumer evolution, making changes before you feel their effects?

About six years ago I took an Uber for the first time. Last month, I took a self-driving car to the airport after visiting my Mom in Phoenix, AZ. Things change fast, and we can’t be afraid of those changes.

Netflix didn’t put Blockbuster out of business. High prices, late fees, and lack of convenience did. Blockbuster didn’t realize their formula was broken until it was too late to fix it. Staying ahead of the curve requires a mindset of constant forward-thinking.

So certainly stick with what works, but be ever mindful of course corrections that consumers expect. That mindset fosters growth and ensures continued relevance in a rapidly changing world.

I don’t know the guy who owns “Thai This” in Radford, and I promise he’s not an advertiser (yet). So this is not a gratuitous plug for a friend or sponsor.

The several times I’ve walked in, I’m greeted with a welcome worthy of a family member, or at the very least, a regular. If you’ve been there, you’re smiling because you know exactly what I’m talking about. It makes me feel good, like my presence is of value. By the way, the food is outstanding.

I can think of too many instances where I’ve felt like an intrusion or annoyance.

Who greets your customers? Over the phone or in person, that first impression may be remembered, for better or worse. If you want an example of a place that does it very well, Thai This.

I was going to talk about common mistakes businesses make on social media, but I was short on time, so I asked ChatGPT to do it for me. (50 words on common mistakes)

“Common social media mistakes include inconsistent posting, lack of engagement with followers, ignoring negative feedback, using irrelevant content, and not utilizing analytics to track performance. Companies may also fail to tailor content for different platforms or neglect to respond promptly to messages, undermining their social media effectiveness and brand image.”

Not sure I could have said it better. Two tips in one here: First, what the robot said about social media. Second, don’t be afraid of AI. Use it to help with time consuming tasks, as a thought starter for blogs, posts and presentations, or in the case of the above, analysis of your performance in any given area. It’s not to replace jobs, but to help do ours more effectively.

When the robots take over, you’ll be seen as a friend.

Everywhere, if you can afford it, but we’re not McDonald’s, Geico, or Coke. The answer begins with a question: What are you hoping to achieve?

It’s probably universal to say, “I want more customers”, so we’ll focus on that. Even if you’re only advertising on one platform, the formula is constant. Reach enough people often enough, long enough, and with the right message.

· Enough people: How many ears or eyes does the media you’re considering reach? More is typically better, but reaching the right people is just as crucial. Who uses the media you’re considering?

· Often enough: Repetition is key to memory. Running an ad once or twice won’t cut it. Run as many as your budget allows. Like learning our A-B-C’s, it takes repetition to be recalled and considered.

· Long enough: People may not need your product right now, but perhaps they will next month, or the month after. Be known before you’re needed.

· The right message: Many purchases are emotional. How does your product or service make someone feel? What problem does it solve for the customer? Avoid cliché’s.

Keep this formula in mind and you’ll see your advertising effectiveness improve.



Paul Johnson is the Vice President and General Manager of New River Radio and Digital, offering broadcast and digital advertising and marketing solutions to businesses across the New River Valley.

Email Paul at