Does anyone play softball? If you do, here's a test. Next time you get up to bat, close your eyes. Take your best cut and wait for the roar of the crowd to let you know you've knocked it out of the park.

What's the matter? Not going to happen?

Of course not. You're going to do a lot better if you've got your eyes open. You'll do even better if you can place your shot. Third baseman cheating too much to the shortstop? Try to pull it hard down the line. Facing a slow right fielder playing too close to the fence? Try to push it over the first baseman's head.

You'll do a lot better in softball if you keep your eyes open and have an objective when you take your turn at bat. Advertising's the same way.

All advertising boils down to two objectives: 1) create an association, or 2) stimulate an action.

Creating An Association
Most image advertising is simply an attempt to create an association. Nike shows a runner gutting it out or Michael Jordan soaring because they want you to draw an association. It worked. The Marlboro Man was an attempt to associate ruggedness with their product. It worked.

Service companies use associations too. George Brazil has a picture of a clean, neat, friendly, all-American technician plastered on the side of his trucks and in his Yellow Pages ad. The idea is that you associate that image with his company. It worked.

All advertising creates an association. Whether you're swinging blindly or trying to place it with precision, all advertising creates an association. Unfortunately, most companies, especially most service companies, simply swing away with no thought to where the ball might land.

Stimulating A Call To Action
The other purpose of advertising is to get the consumer to do something. It could be to buy now, call now, request information, ask for a product
at a store, and so on. Many calls to action are weak. Yet, even a weak call to action is better than no call to action.

The closer you are to the buyer, the more action oriented your marketing must become. If you sell to reps who sell to distributors who sell to dealers who sell to consumers, your options are limited. About the most you can hope to do is create demand-pull on the channel of distribution.

If you sell direct to the consumer, you can stimulate the consumer directly. And if you run a small business, with limited advertising funds available (and by definition, any small business has limited advertising funds), you've got to have a call to action. You can't afford not to. Every advertising dollar must count. Every dollar must move the prospect in the direction you want. If there's no call to action, there's no movement.

Without a call to action, you're swinging blind. Maybe you'll get lucky and connect. The odds are against it. With a call to action, you're directing the bat toward the result you're seeking. You'll get a lot more base hits if you direct the bat, than if you just stick it out there.

Set Objectives
Look at every piece of advertising in light of the objectives. What is the association you want? What is the call to action?

Does the advertising meet the objectives?

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.