Midsized Company Marketing and Marketing Communications – Four Keys To Success in Today’s Market

“It’s a buyer’s market!” We seem to be hearing that everywhere these days, whether it’s for a consumer or business to business (B2B) product or service purchase, this economy has taught our customers a new way to purchase. And, with the plethora of new technology providing information sources to evaluate and compare a brand’s attributes and reputation before purchase, how we now market to our customers – both new and existing – represents a series of challenges.

As a B2B or consumer marketer in this new marketing environment, how marketing and marketing communications plans and tactics should be developed and employed is a dilemma for everyone. But it’s possible to overcome these challenges – here are four critical keys to success.

Know Your Target Audience
Knowing your target audience is a major priority. Like the management of many midsized companies, you probably think you know what your existing and potential customers want and believe about your brand. But do you really?

Before you spend your limited marketing dollars, isn’t it a better idea to use market research to determine – beyond price – what is most important to your target audience? And how they rate your product and its attributes compared to your competition?

Also, don’t forget to conduct research with your own employees and channel partners to find out how their opinions match up with your customer’s wants and needs. Employees and channel partners can be your best brand advocates, but they’ve got to be in sync with the priorities of your customers and prospects.

Investing marketing communications dollars to uncover and then promote what your customers actually want is key to improving your marketing ROI. The old adage, “Look Before You Leap”, has never been more true.

Value Both New and Traditional Media
Traditional media, such as print and broadcast advertising, events, direct mail and public relations, still remain very important marketing tools. But, becoming equally important, are blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, webinars, online videos, and a whole host of new media alternatives. All have value, and learning how to use them in concert is vital. But you must take the time to understand their relative effectiveness, not just their efficiency.

The question to address is which media mix of these marketing communications tactics to employ to keep existing customers, much less gain leads for new customers. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of these tactics with your target audience presents some interesting challenges, and you have to be able to separate the myths from the facts. For example, did you know that:

  • 47 percent of Americans, between 50 and 64 years of age, are now actively using social media, up from 22 percent in April, 2009 (Pew Research);
  • Magazine readership has actually increased over the past five years, even in the 18 to 34 year old segment (MPS);
  • While U.S. advertising spending declined by 9 percent in 2009 to $117 billion, cable television advertising increased by 17 percent, and Spanish language television advertising increased by 32 percent (Media Reports);
  • Nearly two-thirds of consumers “value their direct mail”, but only 36 percent of marketers believe this – clearly a disconnect (USPS):
  • Retailers who post messages online have found that shorter posts (with fewer than 80 characters) receive 66 percent higher engagement that longer posts. And specific “dollars off” messages receive higher redemption than more general “percentage off”, “deal” or “bargain” phrases (Buddy Media).

Clearly, understanding the benefits of both traditional new media, especially for a midsized company with limited resources, is very important. Both are impactful, and finding the right mix for your business is another key to your success.

Participate in Content Marketing
Recently, there has been an explosion of content marketing to meet the demand for information by inquisitive buyers. Whether in the B2B or consumer marketing communities, existing and prospective customers have started looking to blogs, videos, articles, white papers and case studies to provide them with ongoing and fresh sources of information.

The depth of information now available to customers, and the speed at which it is available to them, when they want it, can raise brand awareness, improve reputation, develop qualified leads and achieve profitable sales engagement. It cannot be ignored. But there are issues. In a recent B2B Marketing Trends Survey Report from HiveFire, among nearly 400 marketing professionals:

  • Nearly 70 percent of content “curators” say lack of time hinders their efforts;
  • Two-thirds say a lack of original and quality content is a major disadvantage;
  • 37 percent say lack of expertise to do the work is a major problem, while a like number have difficulty in measuring ROI.

But, recognizing the importance of content marketing and addressing these problems could be another key to your success.

Don’t Go It Alone
Truly understanding your audience, learning about new as well as traditional media opportunities, and developing an impactful content marketing program represent major keys to improving your marketing and marketing communications ROI. But there’s more.

Probably a lot of smart thinking has already gone into creating your business strategy, plans and tactics. But, like most midsized companies, you may be understaffed and underfunded to make the changes to take advantage of these marketing tools in today’s environment. The solution – don’t go it alone.

Consider partnering with established senior level consultants to help you and your team develop, refine and implement your programs. Above all, look for consulting groups who are “media neutral”, and aren’t selling one particular marketing discipline. And be sure they have extensive experience across industries and brands, as well as a willingness to “tell it like it is”, so candor will flourish. And, happily, finding the right consulting partner to work with you could turn out to be the fourth key to your marketing success.

Midsized Company 2015 Marketing Communications Forecasts

Developing marketing communications strategies and plans presents a challenge every year, but 2015 seems especially problematic. While 2015 should be a good year for business in general, we believe that most B2B, B2C and nonprofit marketers should still be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Most financial advisors expect the stock market to keep gaining, and most projections assume modest GDP growth and low inflation. Even Madison Avenue predicts advertising spending to increase by 4.8 to 5.0 percent. So what’s the problem?

Well, the average American’s earnings haven’t risen in more than six years. Cheap money in the financial markets will limit corporate acquisitions. And political and economic unrest around the world continue to be major unknowns.

Marketing Communications Considerations For 2015

In discussions with clients, prospects and colleagues, my takeaway has led to the following ten forecasts for 2015:

  1. The tax deductibility of advertising investment is at great risk. As forecast last year, Congress is still considering putting a limit on the 100 percent deductibility of advertising in a single year. One potential in-coming Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee has already told advertisers that he’ll consider a proposal deducting advertising spending over a five to ten year period rather than just one. If or when this passes, it will have a huge impact on budget planning.
  2. There will be a much deeper and expanded look at the use of “Big Data” as a means of improving customer service, responsiveness, product development and measurement of social media. Fully understanding the “wants and needs” of customers and prospects will take center stage. Analytics will rule, and so will savvy analysts.
  3. There will be increased pressure on proving and improving marketing communications ROI. Evaluating each tactic employed (in traditional or new media) and how each contributes to the overall marketing program is a necessity for profitable growth. Professional and apolitical measurement will be a must.
  4. Outsourced consultants and staff will continue to grow in importance. Companies and nonprofits will continue to pursue a work-as-needed strategy, as opposed to full-time employment. By 2020, these “guns for hire” will comprise forty percent of the U.S. workforce. Now is the time to identify and evaluate these people who you will be so dependent on in the future.
  5. Companies and nonprofits will increasingly focus on internal communications. Employees are as much of a legitimate marketing asset as the product or service itself. Making every employee a marketer and true brand ambassador is becoming a priority. Be sure to make every meeting or internal function a brand building platform. And, above all, keep monitoring your employees’ opinion of the brand.
  6. Small and startup company entrepreneurs will realize that – to be successful – they will require a lot more than just their “big idea”. Building a profitable brand is team sport. And using marketing and marketing communications as part of your team will get you the leverage you need to turn an idea into a sustainable brand.
  7. More emphasis will be placed on marketing to older adults. A recent Nielsen study points out that by 2017 American boomers will control 70 percent of the country’s disposable income. And, according to Forrester Research, the 28 million people over 55 years of age buy twice as much online as do younger adults. In fact, the millennial generation has even less money to spend than did their counterparts of previous generations. However, new approaches will be needed. Marketing to boomers (and older) is a lot different than marketing to 18 – 34 year olds.
  8. The Yahoo-Bing Network (YBN) will grow in importance. Currently, 70 percent of the people who search business and financial service categories on YBN (17 million people) do not search these categories on Google. YBN now represents 29 percent of U.S. search volume (149 million unique searches/month), and the searchers themselves skew towards older, better educated and wealthier people.
  9. Being media neutral in your marketing decisions will become even more important. A recent Gallup study among 18,000 consumers reported that 62 percent said social media had “no influence at all on their buying decision”, while only 5 percent said “it had a great deal of influence”. And, reading between the lines on the importance of traditional media, Advertising Age projected an increase of 48 percent in event spending, 34 percent direct mail, 6 percent in radio and 4 percent in television. Make sure you understand the difference between efficiency and effectiveness for both new and traditional media.
  10. Considerably more time and effort will be spent on improving creative messaging. As competition increases, more effort will be placed on determining what customers and prospects want to know about a brand – fact, not opinion. More respect will then be given to the resulting creative product, regardless of media, to make sure it’s authentic, relevant and timely. As Tom Bradley, head of marketing at Nestle, said, “The best source of marketing communications leverage is the quality of message. It’s not the media vehicle, new or traditional, that does or does not deliver.”

Obviously, there are many other areas worthy of prognostication and discussion (e.g., Facebook’s decline, the rise of native advertising, fraudulent clicking on digital ads, the importance of marketing to women and Hispanics, etc.), but the forecasts discussed above seem to have greater impact on marketing communications in 2015. The question then becomes what to do about them.

Consider Fresh Eyes From Marketing Communication Consultants

Another recent study from Forrester Research reports that 34 percent of marketers currently feel overwhelmed by change. And, unfortunately, most companies and nonprofits don’t have the financial or intellectual resources to deal with the challenges in either the short or long term.

If this hits home, now many be the time to tap into established, experienced, consultants. Look for people with broad industry and brand experience, across organizations large and small. Candor should flourish. Most of all, make you future better than your past.

What Is ‘Marketing Communications’?

The term ‘marketing communication’ speaks directly to the heart of marketing as a science. Marketing communication identifies at least four distinct marketing functions and studies them at length to form a composite picture of both the marketplace and the consumer.

Basically, it is all about sending messages out to the customer and analysing the responses. This, in turn, allows sellers and buyers to interact more effectively, creating greater profits as well as a higher degree of customer satisfaction. Other marketing functions, such as product development, packaging and pricing, are not identified as marketing communications.

The four identified forms of marketing communication are:

1) Sales – Here we look at the interaction between buyer and seller, seller and buyer. In the most basic sense, this function is achieved if the salesperson helps you to make a purchase by starting a conversation with you, making a recommendation or answering your questions. This is also achieved via email messages exchanged between seller and buyer on online sites such as eBay.

2) Advertising – Caught somewhere between propaganda and fine art, advertising is a science/art form entirely unto itself. Entire libraries have been written on the subject and yet still new and innovative (and occasionally invasive) advertising methods are currently being dreamed up in boardrooms around the world. As a form of communication, advertising addresses the buyer via interpolation; attempting to win him/her over, usually with a combination of lifestyle promise, fancy graphics and sex appeal (although not always). Advertising is carefully considered, even though it is a one-sided form of communication initially; the sales figures for the products themselves usually define the perceived customer response.

3) Public Relations (or ‘PR’) – This is the act of addressing potential customers as well as existing customers. Building good PR is becoming more and more important to modern companies. Donating money to charity, ensuring that your products are ethically sound, or taking care of your employees in a positive and supporting way are all proven (and effective) forms of PR. Profits from PR are usually implied, as PR exercises typically cost money and bring in little, if any, revenue in the short term. However, once again, sales figures will constitute a consumer response. PR is also a direct way to reach the customer, demonstrating that your company is concerned with the same issues as they are. In the world of ‘ethical consumption’ that we live in today, PR is an especially important form of marketing communication.

4) Customer Service – Although it often feels like a lost art these days, customer service is a vital pillar of any business’ ultimate success or failure. Customer service, as the name implies, indicates that your company is serving the customer. Think of it this way, if you were in a restaurant with a snarky, abusive waiter, would you think twice about visiting that restaurant again? However, if you were in a restaurant offering quality, efficient and friendly service, would you be more likely to eat there again? This function overlaps somewhat with Sales, but it also includes unique functions such as dealing with angry customers and fostering loyalty among buyers.

So, to sum up, marketing communication occurs whenever the seller addresses or interacts with the buyer, or vice versa. Any time any of the above functions are, um, functioning, you’ve got marketing communications going on.