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Using Data in the Right Context To Sell More Advertising
By Helen Berman

Unless you put that data in context, you'll never turn it into information that your client and understand and act on.

For years, I never really understood what an acre was. You could tell me an acre is 43,560 square feet, or that it equals 1/640th of a square mile. But then if you told me your house sat on a _ acre lot, I still wouldn't know whether to envy or pity you.

Finally, though, someone told me an acre was the same size as a football field, minus the end zones. Bingo. I got it. Now I know if I had an acre lot, I'd have room for that tennis court I've always wanted.

Data, in other words, isn't the same as information. You can tell your prospects any piece of data you want: that your readership is 300,000, that average household income is $75,000, that your CPM (Cost per thousand impressions) is $12. But unless you put that data in context, you'll never turn it into information that your client and understand and act on.

In his book "Information Anxiety," Richard Saul Wurman states: "Understanding is the bridge between data and knowledge." As salespeople, it's our job to create that bridge for our clients. It's also our job to know what it is we want our clients to understand about our magazine or publication. Before we start throwing data at our potential advertising client, we have to ask ourselves two things:
  1. What do we need to tell our clients to persuade them to invest in our publication?
  2. What data can be turned into persuasive information?
In advertising you might have heard the term 'positioning'. Creating this "bridge between data and knowledge," then, is really about positioning. We have to examine what perceptions our clients may already have about our publication. Then we have to decide whether we want to build on those perceptions, or help our clients change those perceptions.

To use data to sell advertising, take the following five steps:

1) Select the pertinent from the superfluous.

When you're dealing with a "big thinker" client, someone who wants to hear what's new and different about your magazine, you don't need to drag out every renewal statistic from your media kit. Instead, you can home in on the data that works for him/her. You can talk about landing a guest columnist from the Washington Post, or how your magazine is now the leading publication among the top-grossing poultry farmers.

Here is key information to know:
Use your pre-call fact-finding to learn what excites your latest prospect, and keep the rest of your data in reserve. Each client will be turned on by different pieces of data.

2) Turn your publication data into information.

Remember, information is that which leads to understanding. So let's look at the "acre" example. I like visuals and I like sports, so comparing an acre to a football field works for me. It might not work, though, for your warehouse executive trying to plan the size of a new building. In that case, I might describe an acre as big enough to hold 5,000 pallets, or small enough to enable a forklift to travel from loading dock to back wall within 30 seconds.

Any fact can be turned into information. Say 22% of your readers have household incomes of $100,000 or more; nationwide, only 6% of households have that income level. You could tell your client:
  • Our readers are nearly three times as likely to have $100,000 incomes
  • Our readers are 252% more likely to have $100,000 incomes
  • Our of every 1000 reader households, you'll find 222 with incomes of $100,000
Like kaleidoscope pieces, ordinary data can be presented countless ways. Try out different "patterns" and see which resonates best for your advertising client.

3 ) Create a meaningful context

In New York City last year, 311 people were bitten by rats. Pretty awful, right? Now consider this: In New York City last year, more than 1,500 people were bitten by other people.

Context can either bury a point or illuminate it. For instance, a CPM, by itself, is somewhat meaningless-until you compare it to your competitor's. Likewise, your competitor's readership may sound impressive-until you notice that half of it derives from bulk subscriptions. If you know your product, you will find your data.

As Wurman points out in "Information Anxiety," "A fact can be comprehended only within the context of an idea. And ideas are irrevocably subjective, which makes facts just as subjective."

4 ) Connect the information to the advertising client needs.

We all know that agencies love CPM. It's a solid, black-and-white figure that allows them to compare ad rates to ad rates, apples to apples. Not all magazines, though, benefit from those apples-to-apples measurements. For that matter, neither do all clients.

I once worked on a horse magazine that got clobbered on CPM, mostly because its circulation was so much smaller than its competitors. That's when I noticed our subscriber research. Each of the horse magazine's readers owned an average of eight horses; each of our competitor's readers owned fewer than three! By recalculating our CPM to measure "cost per horse," we beat our competitors soundly.

Information like this, however, sells only when it points up a client's needs. "Cost per horse" is meaningless to mass marketing advertisers looking to shower millions of readers with a product message. It works, though, when clients need an intense sell to capture fewer, but bigger, customers. If you're selling hay, saddles and medicine, the more horses, the better. And if you're looking for persuasive data, look to the context of your marketplace, and to the needs and desires of your client.

5 ) Communicate your point persuasively.

Information that impresses one client simply won't impress another. One may be sold on your magazine's gorgeous new redesign; another may think readers (his clients) will hate it. The very thing that might excite someone might turn off someone else.

Don't feel, however, that you need to suppress information in order to win over certain clients. Presentation can be just as critical as the facts. Don't show your client the redesign alone; show how new or younger readers (his prospects) are responding in droves.

Every client, every magazine, whether online or in print, needs the right presentation. If I'm selling People to Neutrogena, for instance, I might position it as "The Spa for the Mind." But if I'm selling to an investment company client - someone who's concerned that it's not serious journalism - I might be better off positioning People with the magazine's own positioning statement, "the intersection between real people and real events. "

Either way, I can back up my positioning with facts and information. More importantly, I can use those facts and information to create presentations to meet each client's needs.

If information is the bridge between data and understanding, make sure you have on hand all the information your clients need. Use your data in the right context and your presentations will turn into ad contracts. You'll find yourself building many profitable bridges in your sales career!

An exciting speaker and inspiring sales mentor, Helen Berman has appeared at dozens of media conferences and seminars worldwide, in addition to writing popular sales columns for Folio and Expo magazines. She's also written the two-volume book, Ad Sales: Winning Secrets of the Magazine Pros and is working on a new book, Integrated Media Sales: Beyond the Page, Beyond the Banner. To contact Helen directly, call 310-230-3899 or learn more online

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