I am quite often stunned by the totally ineffective advertisements that companies run. This phenomenon occurs with both national advertisers and local companies. I often wonder what the creative people were thinking when they developed the ad campaign.

What is even more astounding is realizing that a senior marketing executive thought that this advertising campaign was a good idea. And worse yet, the CEO or owner of the company running the ad thought the money spent on the advertisements was money well spent.

One of these “stunning” moments occurred a few weeks ago when I went shopping at one of the large local grocery chains in the St. Louis area. This chain has the reputation of being upscale and they are noteworthy for carrying a huge selection and offering good customer service.

Our family has shopped at this chain regularly for nearly forty years. I know that their prices are higher than most of their competitors. However, through the years, their quality, their customer service, and the wide variety of products they carry have made it worth paying a bit more for our groceries.

In recent years, this grocery chain seems to have lost its way. They no longer provide better customer service. Their selection is still large, but they constantly seem to add new items for a while and then drop them once you have tried them and found that you like them.

My stunning moment happened when I got out of my car on their parking lot and looked up at the sign above the cart return. The sign – in bright yellow – advertised “Noticeably Low Prices.”

From the slogan that was plastered all over the store windows and the signs above the cart return, I couldn’t help wondering whether I was on a Walmart parking lot. I was stunned to think that this local chain – that had built their business on a totally different strategy – had now decided to run an advertising campaign built around offering low prices.

After shopping at the store that day, I noticed a few signs throughout the store highlighting some of the items that the store was running specials on. “Noticeably low prices” applied to a very small percentage of the items in the store. In fact, it clearly did not apply to more than 5% of the items in the store.

Customers are not stupid. They know who you are. So your message needs to reflect who you are. When you advertise, your message must be based upon your competitive advantages. If your strength is selection and quality, your marketing should reflect that. If it is customer service, then you should communicate this to your customers through your advertising and your ability to deliver excellent service on a daily basis.

No company can do everything well. Great companies know their customers. They execute an effective strategy to reach their customers and meet their customers’ needs. These companies know their competitive advantages and this knowledge dominates their marketing and execution.

Successful companies know that morphing into a company that compares your weaknesses to your competitor’s strengths is not an effective strategy. In fact, it is a strategy that will lead to failure in both the short term and the long term.

Your strategies and communications should emphasize your strengths, not your competitor’s strength.

The ineffective advertising by this local grocery store was probably the result of analysis that showed that the prices at their stores were higher, which they are! Telling your customers that you now have noticeably low prices – particularly when very few items reflect the reduction – is bad strategy and bad advertising.

Your messaging needs to be clear and concise. Messaging that does not align with your strategy means that the customer experience does not meet what the advertising suggests. This does not enhance your brand. It devalues it.

In your corporate communications and the execution of your business plan, focus on your strengths. If you decide to change your strategy, make it real change. In our example, if you want to offer noticeably low prices, then this price reduction needs to be reflected in most of your products, not 5% or less.

Bottom line, decide who you are. Build a strategy around your strengths. Create clear messaging that supports your competitive advantages. Then execute effectively to deliver a customer experience that matches what your advertising promised.