You need to invest in marketing communications because, ultimately, the best products and services in the world will not be commercially successful if people who should be your customers either don’t know you exist or don’t understand why they should spend their money with you and not one of your competitors.
Committing yourself to a marketing communications campaign unavoidably involves embarking on a journey. It demands taking your business from where it is to where you want it to be. Now, imagine you need to drive somewhere you have never been before. You could just set off, heading in the right general direction, and hope that you will end up in the right place, more by luck than by design.
And, of course, you might. The chances are though that you will waste a lot of time and money going round and round in circles. You might well make damaging choices that lead you in the wrong direction and you could quite conceivably end up giving up in frustration without ever getting close to your destination. No SME can afford to do this.
Alternatively you could map your route, so that everything is carefully planned. You can take care to ensure that you know not just where you are trying to get to, but also where you are starting from and what points you need to pass through along the way.
And that is precisely what a well-researched marketing communications strategy provides you with when you are embarking on this critical journey.
Where are you starting from?
One of the most common mistakes taken by businesses starting out on a campaign is not to take full stock of where they are starting from. Any effective marketing communications campaign will focus not just on raising awareness of a business, its products and services, but also on generating positive perceptions of them, so that audiences have demand established and are convinced of the need to invest in them before they even make contact with a salesperson or a website.
It’s vital to deal with facts rather than beliefs and for establishing facts there is nothing better than using a third-party organisation to undertake some research into what customers, potential customers, suppliers, staff, associates and journalists really think, not just about your business, brands and services, but also market trends and direction and relative strengths and weaknesses of competitors.
An honest review of this intelligence will directly inform the necessary direction of your campaign, enabling you to identify opportunity and formulate messages designed to positively influence the audiences by directly addressing inaccurate or negative perceptions and reinforcing the positive things that make your brands stand out from your competitors.
You can then set about building a campaign that consistently reinforces messages you know to be effective to audiences you know to be receptive, directly exploiting market opportunities you know to exist.
Where would you like to go?
When you are clear you understand where you are starting from you need to identify what your destination should be. We commonly work with clients to agree objectives, because those objectives have to be realistic and deliverable and we expect to have the success of our work measured against them.
We sometimes find that clients want to set marketing communications objectives based on an increase in sales and we generally caution them that this is not a realistic expectation. Sales and marketing are not the same.
Marketing communication exists to raise awareness of a company, product or service among identified target audiences and to generate positive perceptions. It is reasonable therefore to set objectives based on the identification of more effective messaging, raising greater awareness of a company, product or service among target audiences and to generate positive perceptions of those brands.
Put simply, your marketing communications campaign should lead customers to your brands, but that isn’t the only factor that translates into an increase in sales. Other significant factors include the performance of your product or service, the efficacy of your sales team, retailers, wholesalers and, in particular, your website. This is the main reason why it is so important to consistently express the same messages to your audiences across your inbound and outbound marketing activities, as well as your sales operation.
Your website content should say the same things as your sales collateral, your brochures, your letters, your advertising and your trade media editorial, so that you consistently reinforce your messages to your audiences.
A successful marketing communications campaign will let a customer know that your business, product or service exists and will make them feel that this company, product or service is something they should invest in, in preference to a competitor. It opens the doors, creates awareness, establishes demand and, as a result, smooths the path to sales.
You can measure the success of this by understanding the level of penetration of your brands before the campaign and assessing the perceptions of your audiences to them, and by checking for variations in the levels of awareness and perceptions of them as the campaign progresses. There are various mechanisms available that enable you to achieve this.
What points do you need to pass through along the way?
Once you know where you are starting from and where you want to get to, you can start to plan your route. Any marketing communications strategy must be fluid and regularly reviewed, to take account of unplanned events, product developments, changes in attitudes and aspirations in markets and other hurdles and pitfalls that may occur along the way.
When we work with a client we commonly review the strategy on a quarterly basis, asking ourselves whether messages remain relevant or need to be adjusted, looking at the responses that are being engendered and asking whether we are being successful in getting the message across to identified audiences.
Fundamentally it is vital to remember that communication is a simple process. To be successful you must say the right thing to the right person and deliver that message in a way that inspires them to behave in the way you want them to. You can’t successfully communicate if the message doesn’t resonate with the audience, if you deliver it ineffectively or if you are communicating with the wrong person because any of these will ensure that you fail to achieve your objective.
As well as having the awareness and mobility to be able to effectively ensure that the strategy can be moulded to the shifting demands of the market, it is also vital to plan it to take account of specific known events along the way.
For example, if you plan a 12 month campaign and you know that you are investing heavily in a trade show in month three, a new product launch in month five and are looking to focus on a previously untapped market in month seven, then specific provision has to be made for these in strategic planning, rather than tackling them in a purely tactical way when they occur.
Excellent strategic planning means excellent tactical implementation
By the time strategic planning is completed you should know where you are starting from, where you want to get to, what you want to communicate, who you want to communicate with and how you want their behaviour to change as a result. Only once you have strategically mapped out your route in this way should you then start tactically planning how to make the trip.
Put simply, this is how best to get the messages to the audiences to elicit the desired response within the specified timescale and the available budget.
Different audiences may well be more receptive to different channels – some may react well to advertising, others to traditional PR coverage or to content marketing, direct mail, social media campaigns or trade exhibitions. We have to decide which channels will be most effective in getting the messages to the audiences and changing their behaviour according to the budgets you have available, the needs and expectations of the market and the objectives we have agreed.
It is only when you have reached your destination and achieved your objectives that you will probably fully appreciate the crucial importance of investing in strategically planning your route.