Suggestions for New Advertisers
Over the years a great many mineral collectors have decided to try their hand at the mineral business. Most of these people know their way around minerals pretty well. What they sometimes feel insecure about, however, is advertising technique. As editor and publisher of The Mineralogical Record I’ve often been asked for advice and suggestions, which I’m always happy to give. After many years of listening to feedback from our advertisers (successful and unsuccessful) I’ve accumulated a fair amount of empirical data on what works and what doesn’t. This website page is designed to gather up as much useful information as possible, which will help our advertisers get the most for their dollar.
YOUR ADVERTISING GOAL
The critical question in advertising is simply this: What action do you want the reader to take in response to your ad? A surprising number of new advertisers are a little fuzzy on this point, but it must be clarified before appropriate and effective advertising can be created. Your advertising must have a specific goal, and you must tell the reader what to do. Here are some possible answers you might give to that all-important question:
- Write to me for a list of available specimens.
- Send me your want-list.
- Visit my website.
- Offer me minerals to buy.
- Hire me to appraise your collection.
- Hire me to repair your specimens.
- Call or e-mail me and ask what’s new.
- Look me up at mineral shows.
- Visit my shop (or home).
- Consign your specimens to me for auction.
There are, no doubt, many more possibilities, depending on the exact nature of your business.
An exception to this rule is the “image ad.” The reader is not told to do anything in particular, and the text may give only contact information, but the quality of the ad design and the attractive specimen(s) illustrated give an overall impression of the advertiser’s image. The subtle effect is something like: “Think of me when you want the very best,” or “I’m still tops in my field,” or “I collect the very best quality” … not in so many words, of course. Actually, any ad, even one designed around other objectives, will convey to the reader some subjective impression of your relative stature among mineral dealers. It’s something to keep in mine when sizing, writing and designing an ad.
Another exception is what might be called the “directory ad.” You place continuing ads (they can be small) in the same publication for a long period of time, so that your customers will always know where to find your current street or website address, and will be reminded that, yes, you are still in business. This aspect of an ad is more important than many dealers realize. It demonstrates constancy and reliability. A reader who has seen your ad regularly will conclude that you are, at least, no fly-by-night huckster and that the magazine’s editor has not been forced by the outcry of dissatisfied customers to reject your ads.
The “directory ad” is especially valuable if you maintain a website, because potential customers cannot find your site using a search engine and general search terms. Type in “minerals” at Google and you get 5.8 million sites; “mineral dealer” gets 177,000 sites; “minerals retail” gets 406,000 sites; “fine minerals” gets 730,000 sites; and searching on the exact phrase “fine minerals” still gets 14,800 sites. No potential new buyer can look through all of those to find you. The Mineralogical Record’s “Internet Directory,” is published in each issue and, at only $200/year, provides a cost-effective method for giving the serious mineral collector your website address. It’s like a low-tech search engine that is highly effective in its simplicity.
CATCHING THE EYE
Advertising can also be divided into two other categories: “classified ads” and “display ads.” Classified ads are generally grouped together and printed in small, identical, undistinguished type unaccompanied by illustrations. We don’t carry classified ads but some other publications do.
Display ads are usually set in more attractive and varied type, perhaps including a company “logo” (emblem or type design for the company name). A wide variety of other illustrations can be included for the purpose of attracting the reader’s eye to the ad, and sometimes also showing the reader an example of your wares.
Display ads require the services of a graphic artist to select type, arrange illustrations and borders in an aesthetic and effective way, and assemble the ad from its component parts. Since mineral dealers rarely find their way to a graphic artist on their own, we provide graphics services at no charge to our advertisers. This keeps the design of our pages looking professional. However, we have no objection if dealers wish instead to work with their own graphic artists and supply us with finished “camera ready” or digital copy.
As might be expected, the most effectively eye-catching illustrations for the purpose of selling minerals are…minerals. A collector’s eye will be drawn to that which he loves. What seems to be most important, however, is simply that the ad include some illustration, no matter what it is. Even a picture of an aardvark will perform better than text alone. This is probably because illustrations register in the right hemisphere of the reader’s brain, and text in the left hemisphere; engaging both works better than only one.
WRITING YOUR TEXT
There is a general rule regarding advertising text: the more words, the fewer readers. Unless you can come up with an exceptionally catchy or creative gimmick, this rule generally applies. Therefore it’s usually most effective to keep your writing short and sweet.
The text of an ad for selling minerals will typically have three parts: (1) What you have to sell; (2) What the reader should do if he thinks he might want some of it; and (3) your contact information (business name and/or proprietor’s name, street address, phone number, fax number, e-mail address, website address). Taking these one at a time:
(1) What you have to sell
You may be specific or general or both. If you wish to be specific and advertise particular specimens or lots, remember that there is a fairly long “lead time” between the closing date (last date to order an ad in a particular issue), the publication date, mailing date and finally the delivery date of a magazine. Designing the issue may take weeks, scanning of photos also takes time, and printers generally want at least a month to print the issue; postal delivery can then take up to three more weeks, in the U.S., and even more time to other countries. This is obviously nothing like the newspaper business, mainly because magazine staffs are much smaller, and most production work is contracted out instead of being done in-house. Furthermore, quality printing simply takes time.
Most advertisers therefore find it more practical to describe their stock in general terms or categories. Commonly used phrases include “Minerals,” “Fine Minerals,” “Choice Mineral Specimens,” “Thumbnail to Cabinet Sizes,” “Worldwide Locations,” “Rare Minerals,” “Canadian Minerals,” and so on, whatever summary best suits the business.
(2) What the reader should do
Assuming that you have described your stock accurately, there will probably be some interested readers. However, they may be reading in a passive state of mind, and need to be told what to do next. Otherwise they may only think vaguely to themselves, “Gee, I wish I had some of that…” and then move on. You have only microseconds of mental processing time to deal with here, so you must command them to take some kind of action, or they may not figure out for themselves what to do before their eye moves to the next subject. “Call for more information,” “Visit our website,” “e-mail us with your order,” “Plan to visit our booth at the show,” “Check out our internet auction,” and so on are all good commands.
(3) Your contact information
One would think it goes without saying that the advertiser should include his name address, phone number, e-mail address, or other means by which the interested reader can contact him. Nevertheless, we have occasionally received ads where the advertiser has forgotten this. Sorry, not allowed. If you don’t include proper contact information your potential customers will contact the editor in an effort to locate you. Though always wishing to be helpful, we would prefer not to a middleman.
Many dealers will spend much of the year on the road doing the show circuit. In this case it works just as well to list the shows you will be attending and suggest that customers see you there. Just be sure to update your show list by the next publishing deadline. This can take a little getting used to…it’s easy to forget.
“Image ads” often do well with nothing more than contact information and a really smashing photograph. “Directory ads,” at the other extreme, need only carry contact information and can be quite small.
For reasons mentioned above, few advertisers choose to picture mineral specimens that are actually for sale. By the time the magazine comes out, the piece will probably already be sold. The alternative is to picture representative specimens that will show readers the kind of thing that you carry. These can be items in your personal not-for-sale collection, items which you have already sold, or items which you have in fact never owned. Naturally you can use ordinary stock items as well, knowing that they will be subject to prior sale. In the items-never-owned category you can, for example, use historic engravings of specimens from old publications, or you can even have an artist sketch a generic specimen for you. An illustration need not depict a mineral specimen at all, but minerals are the most logical if that’s what you are selling.
The illustration can be a photograph or a piece of hand-drawn art. Hiring a professional to produce the illustration is the best approach unless you have substantial experience as a mineral photographer or artist yourself. You do not want your ad to come off looking amateurish. If you need a referral let us know.
While on the subject of professional photography it should be mentioned that many dealers like to have their best specimens photographed and then make the photographs available to The Mineralogical Record for use in articles and on the cover. We cannot make in-advance guarantees of what will ultimately be used, but a photo used in an article or on the cover, and credited to you, amounts to some serious and much coveted free advertising. Cover photos need to be taller than wide, and in high-resolution digital format. if you think you have a likely candidate, submit it to us for evaluation.
Although the contact information is essential to any ad, the other aspects can be designed and conceived in countless unusual and creative ways. This is not to say that standard, relatively non-innovative ad designs should be avoided in favor of eccentric approaches. On the contrary, simple, straightforward ads can be extremely effective and long-lasting. But there is no denying that an original ad stands out. Unfortunately I can’t offer any advice on how to come up with one. If it could be formularized it would not be creative.
The only way to discuss creative approaches is to cite past examples, and perhaps some new inspiration will result. An advertiser of ours once produced a three-page fold-out calendar that was very attention-getting. Others have written chatty personal letters to readers in their ad. Some use humor in their ads, although the actual utility of humor in selling minerals is doubtful. Some take an original approach to the illustration, depicting various animals, mining scenes, fantasy collecting scenes, a map, perhaps a photo of the dealer himself, and even non-mineral items such as mining antiques and rare mineral books. Another possible source of inspiration is the non-mineral advertising in mass-market magazines; the work there is done by highly skilled professional graphic artists and copy writers, and may be adaptable to selling minerals.
As I said, however, highly creative approaches are not for everyone, and an advertiser should feel no compulsion to be highly original. Results are what count, and an ad that’s too clever can sometimes backfire. The tried and true approaches are best for most advertisers, especially those who are just trying to break into the business.
REFRESHING YOUR AD
No matter how beautifully designed and illustrated an ad is, its effectiveness will slowly decrease the longer it is repeated without change. Once readers have seen it enough, many will stop noticing it until some obvious change occurs. Therefore it is most effective to rejuvenate an ad periodically by changing the illustration or altering the text in some immediately perceptible way. The effectiveness of an unchanged ad will not fall to zero, of course; it will plateau at some level, and if this level is satisfactory, it may not be worth the trouble to keep changing the ad. A good, attractive ad with a high effectiveness plateau is a treasure indeed. But if your goal is absolute maximum effectiveness, you will want to make changes in your ad regularly.
EVALUATING AD SUCCESS
A good businessman likes to know if he is getting his money’s worth of action from his advertising. If it’s not working well, either the ad should be dropped or the approach changed. If it is working well it should be continued and perhaps even enlarged.
Evaluation is easiest when the responses are strictly by mail; just alter some word or aspect of your address in some unique way (adding something like “Dept. MR” is one way), and you’ll be able to easily spot ad-generated responses as they come in. Or you could offer a special price or special deal of some kind that will be distinctive. Respondents can be asked where they heard about you. Websites should have counters which not only keep track of the number of homepage “hits” in general, but also which pages were visited most and least. These statistics can be checked for “spikes” in activity when your ad comes out.
In many cases, unfortunately, advertising effectiveness is very difficult or impossible to measure. Show-goers and shop visitors brought there by your ad cannot be easily identified unless you arrange it so that they will identify themselves. Methods include “Ask to see my 3-inch Red Cloud wulfenite crystal which will be hidden under the counter,” and the age-old “mention this ad and received a 10% discount on your next order.” Image ads and directory ads are the hardest to evaluate, and their true value is sometimes only recognized through negative feedback when the ad is cancelled. Questions like, “What happened? Are you still in business?” indicate the need to keep reminding the public of your continued existence. The public can have a very short memory.
Remember what Confucious once said:
He who has a thing to sell
And goes and whispers in a well
Is not so apt to get the dollars
As he who climbs a tree and hollers!
Well… Confucious should have said it if he didn’t. The point is that you can’t sell your minerals if you don’t tell people about them. The sooner you sell them, the sooner you can buy something else to resell. The faster you turn over your stock, the more profit you make. It all gets rolling much faster if you advertise.
Now here’s my own pitch: If you have minerals to sell, there is absolutely no better place to advertise than The Mineralogical Record. We have the most concentrated exposure to serious American and foreign mineral collectors of any publication. We sell over 4,000 copies of each issue to hardcore serious mineral collectors, and according to a survey we conducted, each copy is ready by 2.1 people. Furthermore, each copy is a collector’s item in its own right, and is therefore saved and reread by most subscribers for years, giving your ad unprecedented duration of exposure.
Sound good? Then here’s what to do: check our Advertising Information page. When you’ve decided what you can afford, put your mind to the matters discussed in this essay, and sketch up an ad for yourself. Then e-mail the details to me at email@example.com and we’ll come up with a good design for you. Send a check or transmit your VISA/MC number to me and you’ll be ready to start preparing for a jump in business. If you have questions you’d like to discuss directly, feel free to call the Editor, Tom Moore, at 520-325-3625. We look forward to having you onboard!