How can you sell your service with your service?

Bench Advertising Kills!(Via Corrupt Camel)

Granted, the first thing I think of when I see one of those “you just proved bench advertising works!” ads on a bus shelter is generally “you just proved you have unsold inventory!” but since I don’t much like driving I’ve got some extra brain bandwidth while I’m being chauffeured past these signs, and here’s where I ended up:

Why is it so seemingly awkward for people to use their service to sell the actual service?

I think there’s a little bit of mental holdover from the “make money with tiny classified ads” (that teach you how to make money from tiny classified ads, ad infinitum) and other Ponzi-like schemes that are preventing people from doing their best work, but it boggles my mind that, in this case, bus ad people aren’t taking notes from which customers stick around (which would be a clue that they’re successful) and borrow some of their concepts to promote the overall service.

Or maybe bus ads are inherently unprofitable to run and there are no success stories. Or maybe the “you just proved…” ads have been tested to be the most awesome tactic ever.  I don’t really know, but the things bug me.  If it didn’t break my rule against rewarding behaviour I don’t like, I’d have an entry on my todo list to buy as much outdoor advertising as I can, at least in my neighbourhood, to ensure the messaging I see every day fits how I want the world to look.

(As an aside, how awesome would it be to be able to think up a sustainable business model that allowed you to put ads all over town reminding you that you’re awesome, or maybe just that you should get back to work? Hmm, maybe there’s a segment of realtors that got into the business purely as a way to have a tax-deductible means of putting up really good photos of themselves around town.)

Anyway, my main point with bus ads is that using unsold inventory to sell more space seems like a poor means of positioning if you want to get maximum value for your service, and that would hold true for most ad sales that have a finite pool of inventory. TV networks can get away with running ads for their own product because one of their jobs is to increase viewership, which then increases the rates they can charge for ads, which, by the way, is the purest form of using ads to sell ads I’ve found, with Adwords arbitrage being at the absolute other end of the spectrum.

For everyone else, even – or especially – if you don’t sell advertising or lead generation services, it’s a fun exercise to look at what you sell and see how it itself can be used to generate more of your core business, be it in the packaging, the experience your provide, or some other differentiator that brings prospects back to your offer.


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