Improving Marketing and Marketing Communications – A Midsized Company Dilemma

You’ve slashed expenses and reduced investments to deliver your current profitability. But your sales growth is marginal at best, and you know this is not a sustainable model.

You’re not alone. According to Frost & Sullivan’s CEO Choice Growth Survey, ninety-three percent of Chief Executive Officers consider “growth” their number one objective over the next five years. And with an ever increasing need to use the latest “sales deal-of-the-day” to meet quarterly goals, you know you can’t profitably continue this course much longer. Further, and perhaps of even greater importance, marketing budgets have also been cut drastically, impacting brand value for the short, as well as long, term.

One tactic you should consider to begin “righting the ship” is to invest in and improve marketing and marketing communications to grow both the top and bottom lines. But where to begin? How to do this? Using which marketing tools? And with whom?

Understand The Changing Marketing Environment
First, you must recognize that there is a changing marketing environment. Businesses and consumers are learning to “do more with less”, while also having less time to evaluate choices and make purchase decisions.

Therefore, the most fundamental change revolves around one word – trust.

With all that has happened, people distrust not just the most traditional of institutions – banks – but business in total. According to a survey by Edelman, only 44 percent of Americans said they trusted business in the Summer of 2009, down from 58 percent in the Fall of 2007. Whether you’re a b-to-c, b-to-b, or even a nonprofit, how you act and communicate in this environment is vital to your success.

As a first step, employ market research. You probably think you know everything about your existing and potential customers but, other than price, are you really sure you know what’s important to them? And do you know what factors are critical to their purchase decisions, and how much trust they place on you to deliver versus your competition? And with downsizing affecting everyone, and new faces in many positions, what do your new purchasers and prospects know about you to begin with? It’s time to find out.

And these changes are taking place not just in the outside world. Your internal corporate environment has changed as well. With already stretched marketing and sales departments, are the leads generated by marketing actually being followed up by sales? A recent study by the Kern Organization estimates that up to 80 percent of b-to-b leads are not followed up by sales, and only 13 percent are followed up in the first 90 days. Why? Because sales doesn’t trust the leads from marketing as being qualified.

Whether you’re a $35 million organization or a $350 million organization, without recognizing and developing solutions to meet the needs of a fundamentally changed environment, your growth and brand will stagnate.

The economy may improve and help you, but it most probably will also help your competitors as well. So, now is the time to get an edge on them by improving your marketing and marketing communications.

Determine Your Best Marketing Mix And Measure It
There isn’t any boilerplate answer to determine which marketing communications disciplines to employ, much less whether your brand position is right for today’s marketplace. But there are steps you should take to answer these questions.

Focus your attention on being media neutral or at least find advisors who are, and are seasoned professionals with broad experience across industries and companies who don’t have a vested interest in promoting a particular marketing communications discipline.

And recognize that all of the hard work that goes into today’s marketing and marketing communications needs to be measured to make sure you’re on the right track. Find an individual or company that really understands analytics and what it means for the future.

Which Media To Employ – New Or Traditional
The next question is how to effectively and efficiently reach these customers and prospects. Professional marketers have spent countless hours addressing this; take advantage of their knowledge and expertise.

For example, your website is probably heavily branded, but did you know that less than ten percent of your visitors will actually click through to see the important message you’re putting out there?

You’re probably sending out email newsletters, and may even be blogging and tweeting to your important audiences. But, when was the last time you handed something to your customer or prospect, and looked them in the eye? There’s no question that webinars, for example, are effective and cost efficient, but what about in-person events, seminars and trade shows?

Much of today’s marketing dilemma is appropriately focused on media fragmentation and the resulting difficulty of efficiently and effectively reaching a prospect. Newspapers and magazines are clearly losing ground, but they’re still important channels of reaching certain demographics (such as the ever growing older demographic). Contrast that with the fact that the fastest growing segment on Facebook is women, aged 55 to 65.

Determining which media alternatives to use to reach any key marketing or demographic segment means that you have to consider both efficiency and effectiveness. Traditional media and social media should be able to co-exist in your marketing communications plans. It’s just a question of when and where to use them.

The Marketing Communications End Game
Which leads us to the ultimate dilemma – how to obtain and evaluate the creative work that will impact and move your customers and prospects. Recognize that whether you use television, radio or billboards, or emails, blogs, Facebook or tweets, they are only tools to deliver your message. The strategic thinking and outright “creativity” that you employ with these tools will ultimately determine your success.

Look for strategic and creative partners, with demonstrated ability; people who are genuinely interested in profitably increasing your sales, not just trying to garner the latest industry awards.

There is much to think about, especially for a mid-sized company. The dilemma is trying to understand what to do, how to do it, and finding people you trust to help you accomplish this. But, standing still clearly isn’t the answer.

Find a senior professional, or group of professionals, whom you can trust, who can not only improve your marketing ROI but will also be willing to help you evaluate your on-going marketing communications efforts.

Don’t try to go it alone.

Why Integrated Marketing Communications is Essential for Small Businesses

How can Integrated Marketing Communications help me, the small business owner?

Integrated Marketing Communication is essential to small business owners because they, even more so than large corporations can not afford to misspend or waste money on a single isolated marketing effort.

For instance, as a small business owner, it may be tempting to focus on one aspect of marketing – a new website, a direct mail campaign, radio ads or as a manufacturer, simply letting your partners market for you. However, what happens if that one piece of marketing doesn’t work?

ANSWER: Your entire marketing effort fails.

Instead, wouldn’t it be great to have an integrated marketing plan that takes the best parts of online marketing such as websites, email newsletters, search engine optimization, and pay-per-click advertising and use that to make your traditional, offline efforts such as direct mail, advertising and public relations even more effective.

For instance, this may be as simple as making sure that your website has the same key words as your radio advertising and that your banners at the little league games also have the same message. To internalize a message, a person must be exposed to it several times. If you hit them three times with three different messages it is nearly the same as being exposed only once. Even worse, it could be confusing and disorienting, resulting in a negative experience with your brand.

Integrated Marketing Communications addresses this issue by creating a plan with a consistent message and then delivering it through as many media as possible, online and offline.

What are the components of an integrated marketing plan?

An Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) plan should draw from all communications disciplines available, including online, offline, and interpersonal.

Online marketing channels include any e-marketing campaigns or programs, from search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click, affiliate, email, banner to latest web related channels for webinar, blog, RSS, podcast, and Internet TV. Offline marketing channels are traditional print (newspaper, magazine), mail order, public relation, billboard, radio, and television. Interpersonal marketing includes participating in community groups, networking organizations, your handshake, how you dress, and even how you answer the phone or return calls.

While not every communication discipline needs to be included for each campaign, it is important for any integrated marketing practitioner to be well versed in the various components so that he or she can select the ones most appropriate for a specific client’s budget and demands.

Is it better to go with an agency, or shop for individual services myself?

While both have benefits, an agency can be a benefit if you don’t already have a network of trusted service providers including printers, promotional products companies, tradeshow planners etc. who are familiar with your business. Often times, an agency can get things done for a client faster, more efficiantly and with better quality for the same or lower price. Plus, as a business owner you have to factor in the time you may spend shopping for the best price and reading reviews to make sure that the best price doesn’t give you the worst services.

However, the cost of each component shouldn’t be your primary concern when evaluating an integrated marketing plan. Instead, look at the expense and benefits of the entire plan working together. For instance, a website might cost $2,000 to build and then you might spend $10,000 in pay-per-click advertising over the next year, but if the content on the website doesn’t match the message on your direct mail, or your customer service people aren’t able to answer questions about the website then you wasted a lot of money.

Instead, don’t look at the website as a single entity. Make sure that it is perfectly integrated into your marketing strategy:

* Promote it at all opportunities. This includes not just pay-per-click ads, but also on business cards, in radio ads, even place a sticker on your products letting customers know they can download copies of the product manuals there, and print it on your receipts telling customers to download coupons on the website.

* Develop an email newsletter to offer your customers and prospective customers news and information they can use – not just a brochure to sell your products.

* Create a blog and allow people to subscribe to it. This will build trust and familiarity between your customers and your company. Don’t limit blog posts to just the president, sometimes a post from a project manager or even the receptionist can keep the blog interesting and attention grabbing.

* Create a contest – but make sure the message is consistent with your integrated marketing strategy. Have people visit your website to enter.

* If you run an advertisement promoting a specific service, make sure that that your customers can find more information about it quickly and easily. Perhaps even put a graphic at the top of your page saying “Attention 99.5 listeners, Click Here to Learn More about Gutter Cleaning”

Those are just some examples for how you can integrate your marketing plan and maximize the initial investment you made by building a website.

Isn’t an an integrated marketing communication just like any other marketing plan?

A marketing plan can be just a marketing plan for a website, or a marketing plan for an advertising campaign, but an Integrated Marketing Communications plan involves all aspects of marketing, across the entire company. This means that you are integrated all aspects of the company into a single cohesive plan.

After all you could have a great website marketing plan, an awesome advertising campaign and an award winning PR agency, but if a customer reads a press release or hears your ad and decides to visit your website where he can’t find more info about your PR or advertising message what’s the point of spending the money in the first place?

Integrated Marketing Communication

Let me start with correcting the assumption of advertising as integrated marketing communication. Advertising is a part of Integrated Marketing Communication. I.M.C. is much broader in scope. As the name suggests, it is the sum total of the entire all the marketing tools.

The communication tools broadly consist of advertising, personal selling, direct marketing, internet marketing and sales promotion.

With the increased competition and increased awareness of the buyer, the company is finding it very difficult to sell their products. Moreover, the products are getting commoditized. There is not much difference left between the products of two companies.

Here comes the role of integrated marketing communication. There are various touch points on which a prospect buyer can be targeted. The company has to identify these touch points and make their strategies accordingly.

As said earlier, I.M.C. consists of various communication tools, a company cannot deploy all the tools in its marketing considering the cost factor. Moreover, it is not advisable to do so. The company has to identify the tools which are appropriate for its marketing considering the buyers situation and the effectiveness of every marketing tool.

Advertising still plays a most important tool in integrated marketing communication. Almost 55% of the marketing budget is spending on advertising in USA. The other most important tool till recently was sales promotion.

But with the passage of time and increased penetration of internet, the internet marketing is seeing an upsurge of almost 300%.

Would internet marketing replace advertising or advertising would still play a major role in the whole integrated marketing communication?