It’s that time of year — companies are planning their marketing programs for the year ahead. Some firms will increase budgets; others will maintain the status quo. But regardless of budget size, marketing plans are increasingly required to ensure a return on investment and demonstrate “bottom-line” results. One solution to this conundrum is integrated marketing that effectively reaches target stakeholders through a variety of media channels.
Marketers, however, cannot presume to take a “cookie-cutter” approach. Companies must challenge conventions and be careful to select activities not just for the sake of including them in the mix. Marketers must be mindful of basic communications rules and then evaluate, if and how, each marketing channel should be emphasized.
Below are a few “bottom-line” issues to consider.
Focus on the Big Picture
At the heart of any integrated marketing communications program is an adherence to the fundamentals of consistency and frequency. While consistency of message is the cornerstone of any integrated effort, this is undermined if messages are not delivered with frequency. As a result, allocating funds across the integrated marketing spectrum must be based on how effective each channel can actually be in the context of the company¹s objectives and overall budget.
Bottom-line: Marketers must realistically answer the following questions:
- Is management committed to investing in a program that will meet long-term brand-building goals or is its objective to drive sales on an immediate basis?
- Is the overall budget number sufficient to effectively drive impact across all channels? Or would a focused strategy that cuts back some of the “bigger-ticket” marketing ideas be the better approach?
Emphasizing Select Channels
This is where the real challenge begins. Smart decisions result from a keen understanding of the benefits and liabilities of each marketing discipline. But equally important is a willingness to eliminate popular and creative ideas which, given budget limitations, might not yield results. A few pointers:
- Advertising: There is little argument that advertising is the single best avenue in building brand awareness — particularly for companies looking to reach a vast retail audience. But in today’s broad and fragmented media universe, the old “tried and true” rules of major network and print advertising penetration no longer apply. Significant budgets are needed to ensure that multiple bases are covered across cable networks, trade media and the Internet to effectively reach even niche audiences.
Only those campaigns with mega-media buying potential can blanket the broad landscape and then purchase media with the frequency required to achieve penetration. This puts inordinate pressure on companies with minimal budgets. While goals to raise brand awareness may be noble and justified, the reality of budget limitations makes that prohibitive.
Bottom-line: Unless a company has big-bucks for a big campaign, advertising may better support events, sponsorships and specific product introductions that are more likely to deliver a customer response. This is not music to the ears of creative advertising professionals, but without a tangible return on investment in 2004, chances are there will be an even smaller advertising budget for 2005.
- Media Relations: Media relations is the thread that weaves through the fabric of a marketing program. It can be performed as a stand-alone activity with distinct brand management objectives or in support of other marketing initiatives to broaden their impact.
While the value of media coverage is significant — it offers third-party endorsement and is cost-efficient - the fragmented media world challenges its effectiveness. While relationships between public relations agents and reporters still exist, they are harder to come by given the freelance nature of many reporting staffs. Even if a relationship does exist, coverage can no longer be “guaranteed” given the competitive nature of journalism.
Company managements must also understand that distributing press releases is not enough. Media relations practitioners must deploy creative approaches and aggressive follow-up to ensure that reporters actually see their company’s materials. Then, they must sell smart ideas and hope this will generate coverage.
Bottom-line: Just because media relations is a ”cost-efficient medium” doesn’t mean that companies can be pound-wise and penny foolish. An investment in media relations must be sufficient enough to invest in creative ideas and pay for the hiring of skilled professionals. Without this, media relations will not yield the desired results and will become an expensive and pointless investment.
- Sponsorships, Promotions and Special Events: In a marketplace where brand is now defined as the “experience,” sponsorships, promotions and special events have emerged as more critical elements. From high-profile sponsorships that generate broad-based awareness to lower-profile in-store promotions, creative practitioners can develop ideas that generate excitement with targeted customers, create “buzz” with journalists and meet the sales and marketing objectives of strategic partners.
On a cost per customer basis, fewer marketing channels can more effectively generate sales results. Additionally, sponsorships, promotions and special events can be easily tied to a number of advertising, media relations and direct marketing initiatives to create brand extension.
Bottom-line: For all companies — whether BtoB or retail focused and regardless of budget size — emphasizing these activities makes strong strategic sense.
- Internet Marketing: Despite the demise of the “dot.com” era, people increasingly get information and conduct transactions on the web. This makes Internet marketing an increasingly valuable medium given its level of usage, advertising/hyperlink opportunities and overall cost-efficiency. To maximize viability, however, Internet marketing must address three primary criteria.
First, as the web increasingly provides the first window into an organization, a website serves as a virtual brochure. It must showcase not only capabilities and product offerings but offer a glimpse into a company’s values and culture. Second, it must offer an easy-to-use e-commerce facility for transactions and e-mail strategies. And third, it must be staffed properly to provide effective and timely responses to customer inquiries.
Bottom-line: Websites should not be taken for granted. Like all technology, many websites have become “obsolete.” And what was sufficient two years ago may not be sufficient today. Website re-investment may be mandatory to provide up-to-date and dynamic information that is offered in a heightened technological experience. The cost investment for upgraded and well-staffed Internet marketing functions can vary greatly but given the growth of Internet usage and e-commerce, it is a must-do.
- Collateral and Sales Materials: Regardless of the information age, the importance of paper should not be overlooked. Companies cannot “over-depend” on the use of electronic materials.
Collateral materials, in the way of capabilities and product brochures, convey the image of a firm and serve as important leave-behind and direct marketing documents particularly in the business-to-business environment. And since sales materials are the tools of the trade for the most successful salespeople, marketing professionals should confer with the sales force to determine needs.
Bottom-line: If materials are outdated, this is not only counter-productive for sales calls, but conveys a negative impression of a firm unwilling to invest in itself. Companies should not automatically fear related costs. Creative design and printing strategies can make collateral materials more affordable than what many professionals perceive.
- Employee Communications: Employees help establish a firm’s reputation both through on-the-job performance and their personal experiences outside of the office. Creating excitement about a company’s marketing agenda helps to ensure a consistency of message. Employees should learn about advertising and promotional campaigns through internal announcements and events and not through chancing upon their employers’ ad campaign on television or at the local department store.
Bottom-line: Talk to employees and treat them with respect. This is nearly a NO-cost initiative but the return is both substantial and ongoing.
In a bottom-line driven economy, marketing initiatives must demonstrate a return on investment. Otherwise, a marketing program will be viewed as an unnecessary expense rather than as a critical business tool. Be smart and invest wisely.
This issue of Insights was prepared by Maria J. Lilly and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Associates.