How To Make an Ad That Actually Works

Mahmud Ahmed, CEO, New York

28 August 2019

Focus on removing real obstacles instead of offering free consultations.

Step-by Step guide on generating leads online.

When I first started as a businessperson years ago, I was under the impression that ads were a simple way to get prospects on the phone.

This could be done by promoting a free consultation call, that looked something like this:

Or by simply leaving a call-to-action that had them call me:

I tried it all, and, as I’m sure you can imagine, none of this worked.

Don’t get me wrong, I gave it some time as well. I thought I needed to develop “branding” and “awareness”. But even though that sounded good in the textbooks, I soon learned branding doesn’t pay the bills.

So I started to look around, seeing where I went wrong.

After searching around for many months — and trying more things that I’d care to admit — I finally came across one piece of advice that changed my business overnight.

“Ads have one job — to overcome the reader’s biggest obstacle”

In other words, instead of taking the traditional “commodity” approach — where you simply say something along the lines of:

What you really need to do is just start with your target market.

Then, you need to find the main reason why they wouldn’t move forward with your service, and work back from there.

After we started using this method — we not only got incredible results right away:

But we also got a lot cheaper clicks (as people actually wanted to see what was going on):

And that’s what I’d like to show you today.


Step #1 — Finding the Obstacle

I mentioned this earlier, so I know you’re familiar with why this is important. But one thing people tend to miss is simply figuring out what the obstacle is.

This is a lot easier said than done — but don’t worry.

With the right formula, it’s doable — and even though there are a few different types of obstacles your readers might face, for the most part, it usually revolves around:

  • Not understanding exactly how you can help them (the reader does not understand what you do)
  • Not wanting to take the risk of working with you (the reader feels that your industry is high risk, which needs to be mitigated)
  • Not having a reason to work with you (the reader knows Amazon is the same price and they already know the brand, so why would they buy your sunglasses?)

There could be other obstacles, but those are the main three. Now that we have those covered — let’s run through them quickly.

Obstacle #1 — Not understanding how you can help them

This seems to be one of the biggest obstacles in today’s world, so it’s generally the best place to start, but remember — there’s never a “one-size-fits-all” answer either.

Sean Meyer actually gave a good example of this in his LinkedIn blog:

Meyer wrote about how a bookkeeper was trying to use the same approach as marketers — and as he explained — that didn’t work well. In this situation, prospects didn’t necessarily need to know what bookkeepers could do for them. Instead, they had a different obstacle, which we’ll explain next.

However, in more “artistic” industries, people may understand what you do, just not how you could help them (this issue often comes up with marketing).

For those industries, it’s imperative to have an ad that explains how you can serve the reader.

This is the same reason why you see so many marketing companies advertise on Facebook, promoting an ad that says something along the lines of:

We’ll cover more on these differences in step #2.

Obstacle #2 — Not wanting to take the risk of working with you

As the name explains, with this obstacle, the main reason why people aren’t moving forward is simply because they think there’s too much risk in working with you.

There are a few different ways that this happens, but one of my favorite examples happened in the real estate field to a man named Craig Proctor.

If you’re not familiar with Craig, don’t worry — most people aren’t. In short, Craig started his career as a real estate agent, and like most agents, he was told to “hustle” and “network” in the beginning stages to get the clients he was looking for. So that’s exactly what he did — but no matter how hard he worked, he could never get out of his rut. So he decided to start looking around and finally came across the concept of direct-response marketing. This is what we’re going over now.

When Craig first started marketing for his business — he’d use the typical real estate ads, which look something like this:

And. as I’m sure you can guess, that really didn’t do anything for Craig, as he just blended in with the crowd.

After realizing the importance of overcoming obstacles, he switched to an ad that said:

And went onto make over $1 billion with it.

This success was all because he overcame his prospect’s biggest obstacle, working with a real estate agent that wouldn’t be able to sell their home.

We will come back to this, but first, let’s go over the third obstacle.

Obstacle #3 — Not having a reason to work with you

This obstacle could affect any industry, but for the most part, it seems like e-commerce (or products in general) are the ones that get hit hardest by it.

The reason for that is because there’s generally little room to differentiate yourself when selling similar products. You can only go so low on pricing — and if everything else is the same, consumers will always go with the giants of your industry (i.e. Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc). In this situation, you really just need to give them a reason to work with you right away.

This is a process I outline in full detail over on a different blog post:

In short, however, what you need to do with this obstacle is start off by giving an “irresistible offer”.

Most people do this with a “free plus shipping offer”, as they know the word free gets everybody’s attention right away. Then they bake all their costs into “handling” because consumers don’t understand what handling is. Needless to say, doing this overcomes the obstacle of “why should I buy from you” and then the rest of the process takes care of everything after that.

Step #2 — Make Sure Your Next Step Isn’t “Too Far”

Now that we’ve identified your market’s biggest obstacle — and more importantly addressed it with an ad — it’s time to move onto the next step of the process: simply moving them down the journey a little further.

As with everything, there are multiple ways to do this — and I’ll show you some specifics in a second.

But before reaching that point, just remember: going “too far” right away will kill any deal. This is a huge mistake I see most marketing companies make (weird, I know) — where they put up an ad that goes for the free consultation right away:

This never works because I can assure you, people hate free consultations (because they know they’re just a sales call).

Anyway, this just something I wanted to mention; now that we have that out of the way, let’s jump into some examples.

For our first obstacle, where the reader doesn’t understand what you can do for them, you need the next step to do some “edu-marketing”.

This is the same reason why you see so many people doing:

  • Webinars
  • Case studies
  • Blog posts
  • Etc…

People use these strategies because they understand that if a client doesn’t understand how you can help them — then it’s very important to show this (on autopilot) because they’ll never work with you if you don’t.

For the next obstacle, where the reader sees too much risk in working with you, you really just want to have a system in place that explains everything on autopilot.

This works best, because when you do this, you will get a much higher conversion ratio. People will gladly move onto the final step (i.e. free consultation, phone call, etc.) if they understand the program details first.

Craig Proctor actually used this years ago, before we had all the technology available today. In his case, he had people call a phone number which took them to an automated recording.

This strategy worked well, because they could call this number and listen to his program details, and after that, he’d tell them that if they were still interested all they needed to do was leave their name, number, and address and he would be in touch within 48 hours (letting them know if they’d be a good fit).

For the final obstacle, not having a reason to work with you, the initial offer does most of the work. You’re simply getting them to become an “active buyer” with it, and, more importantly, establishing a relationship (so you can sell to them again later on).

But I did want to mention the concept of a “one-time-offer”.

This seems to be something that’s starting to become more well-known now, as all the funnel hackers are talking about it. But in short, since you already have an active buyer coming through, it never hurts to offer them a “one-time-offer” — that way you can increase your margins this way as well.

The actual offer doesn’t matter too much.

But the two things you want to remember are:

  1. You want to give them something relevant to your free offer (i.e. if you’re giving away cuff links for free, sell them a tie afterwards).
  2. Make the offer something they want, but don’t kill your margins either (i.e. 20% off works)…

And that should be everything you need.

These are the basics you need to know about overcoming obstacles, which brings us to our third step.

Step #3 — The Follow-Up

In a perfect world, most readers would see your ad and take action (i.e. buy now, free consultation, etc.), but in the real world, this doesn’t happen.

I am not arguing that it never happens, but most people need a little time to think about it, meaning a follow-up is needed.

Let’s jump into a few examples of how to do this.

For starters, when you’re dealing with the first obstacle — which was not understanding how you can help — for the most part, you’re probably going to have their email address. This is another reason why people like to do webinars, as it helps them grow their email list. In this case, if people don’t take action right away, then you’ll want an automated email funnel to take place, so that you can bring them back and in turn, get them to take action.

As for the actual funnel — there are many ways to do this, but in the simplest terms, the one thing you want to remember is that if they didn’t take action right away, they probably have some “side obstacles” that need to be addressed as well.

For example, if you’re selling an online course — then a huge obstacle most people have is worrying about whether they are capable. Said differently, they probably trust you — but they don’t trust themselves. So in that case, you’ll want to send out an email that helps them overcome this obstacle.

So that’s the follow-up for this obstacle.

For the second obstacle — which was too much risk —in this case, you’ll likely want to do a retargeting ad.

That works best because, in this situation, you’re probably not collecting their email address — you just want them to go watch a video. So if they haven’t signed up yet, then you’ll simply put a retargeting ad up that looks something like this:

And bring them back that way.

That’s the second obstacle. The third — not having a reason to buy from you— is a little different than the first two. You’ve already got them to make an initial transaction, but most people don’t realize that the main goal of the irresistible offer is so we can simply follow-up with them later on.

Again, I explain all this in full detail over on another blog (found here) — so not going to get into too much more detail now, but in short, now that you’ve established that relationship with them, and have them on your email list, you will want to send them special deals every once in a while.

That works best, because since you’re emailing them (which is free marketing) — you can offer great deals, which is usually enough of an incentive for them to take action, and keep taking action for years to come.

Alright, that’s all I wanted to mention at this point.

Tying It All Together

As I hope you’re starting to see by now, even though “ads” tend to get a bad reputation, as most people don’t do them well, and in turn, make them very unprofitable (and/or annoying), when they are done correctly they’re a huge asset to any business.

Not only will ads get people to take action right away, but they’ll get them to do so on autopilot. As long as you identify the right obstacle for your audience, then show them how to overcome it, I absolutely guarantee you — it will work for any business.

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