Is Your Marketing Confusing Your Prospects?


If you’re not getting the results you want from your advertising, it could be that your message is confusing your potential clients…

“I tried that and it didn’t work.”

“We ran ads in the paper, and never got any calls.”

“I can’t see the point in updating our website – it never brings us any students, anyway.”

“I don’t understand… we used to get great results from our ads, but they’ve dropped off to almost nothing.”

“Advertising doesn’t work, so we rely on word-of-mouth.”

“Business cards are a waste of money.”

3 Common Marketing Mistakes That Confuse, Dilute, and Hinder Your Marketing Message

Each of the above are statements I’ve heard over the years from school owners regarding advertising and marketing.

All too often, when a school owner’s advertising efforts fall flat, they are quick to blame everything from the advertising medium to sunspots for their lackluster results.

However, the real culprit is often that the school is sending mixed messages in their ads… and, due to the fact that “a confused mind almost never takes action,” the school’s marketing efforts subsequently produce pitiful results.

Sending The Wrong Message

For example, have you ever seen an ad for a women’s self-defense seminar featuring a picture of a terrified-looking woman being attacked and pulled into a vehicle?

This represents an obvious mixed message – the image of defeat and the message of increased safety through acquired knowledge are in conflict (and the negative image almost always wins out). So, if I wanted to attract women to a self-defense seminar, it would make much more sense to include a picture of a woman successfully defending herself from an attacker.

Here’s another example, and one you’re likely familiar with: A school runs an ad for children’s martial arts classes, promising to build self-esteem and teach valuable life skills. But, the picture in the ad shows two kids sparring, with one of them getting clobbered in the process.

Obviously, the emotion evoked by the image is incongruous with the message in the ad copy, because getting kicked in the head is probably not going to do much for that child’s self-esteem ( and while dad might think it builds character, moms are the ones who generally decide what activities their kids participate in…)

Trying To Be All Things At Once In Your Ads

Sometimes, the issue of mixed marketing messages has to do with the school placing an ad that advertises every single program the school offers. “Kids Karate! Mixed Martial Arts! Grappling! Weapons! Women’s Self-Defense! Inverted Trapeze Combat!” and so on.

The problem with this is that by trying to include something in your ad that will appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one. Your message ends up being too diluted to have any real impact.

A better approach would be to publish a single, laser-focused ad that zeroes in on a single market with just the right product and marketing message to appeal to that audience. In this way, you maximize your ad’s effectiveness and (although it seems contradictory) you also get a lot more mileage from your advertising dollars.

Not Providing A Clear Call To Action

The last, and perhaps most common mistake, is that of failing to provide a clear and unencumbered path to the desired action. Think about it – the purpose of the ad or marketing piece is to get that person to call, fill out a lead capture form, or walk into your school. If you haven’t made it clear to the prospect how they can do that, your ad is practically worthless.

You’d be amazed at how often this happens. Open up your local paper and start looking at the ads. I bet you can find multiple ads on every page that fail to tell the reader what to do.

  • “Call us at…”
  • “Visit our website now at…”
  • “Come visit us between the hours of…”

Just by simply ending an ad with instructions on exactly what you want the prospect to do, you can increase the response rate significantly. I know, it sounds obvious that you want them to call you, but unless you say it (and display the phone number prominently) chances are good the reader won’t contact you at all.

In Closing

So, have you been sending your prospects mixed messages, or confusing them in your ads? take a moment today and look over all of your marketing materials. Pick out those ads and marketing pieces that are ambiguous, confusing, or that fail to clearly state the action you want the audience to take.

Then, fix them immediately! They’re your marketing dollars, and ultimately it’s entirely up to you as the owner of your business to make each one count.

Mike Massie is the author of Small Dojo Big Profits and runs a martial arts business coaching website for new instructors and small school owners,


  1. Keith Sonnenberg on May 27, 2009 at 10:05 am

    This is the most interesting advice on ad copy I have ever read and I have read a lot of books on advertising and PR. Thank you.

  2. Mike Massie on May 27, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Thanks for the kind words, Keith – glad to know the articles are helping folks out.

  3. Richard Holdstock Sensei on May 27, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Mike — What you say makes good sense — got to put my hand up and plead guilty to some of the sins you mentioned — one glaring mistake I see with some in the Industry — is using pics of students in Flyers with their Belt tied incorrect or Karate Gi worn incorrectly.
    Devalues the Dojo — keep up the good work Mike
    Goju Ryu Bushido Karate Academy
    Blacktown City NSW Australia

  4. Mike Massie on May 28, 2009 at 4:38 am

    Richard, the funny thing is that the belt thing is a pet-peeve of mine…

    But the public would never notice it, so in all honesty it’s not as important as the emotion evoked by the image.

    Is the person in the image happy, sad, determined, indifferent?

    Are they in action? Passive? Poised to act? Relaxed and composed?

    Do they look like someone who lives in your area? Like your target audience?

    These are all factors that should be considered.

    Now, if we could just teach all professional photographers how to tie a belt… :)

  5. Jeff Barnes on June 1, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    As always Mike, This was a great article!

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