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Promotion & advertising strategy

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Promotion is one of the key elements of the marketing mix, and deals with any one or two-way communication that takes place with the consumer. This article concentrates is a high level introduction to developing a promotional strategy for your business focusing on advertising and other 'pull' tactics.

Developing a promotional strategy

Deciding on a marketing communications strategy is one of the primary roles of the marketing manager and this process involves some key decisions about who the customer is, how to contact them, and what the message should be. These questions can be answered using a three stage process, which is equally relevant for all elements of the marketing mix:

Dividing the marketing into distinct groups

Deciding which of these groups to communicate with, and how to talk to them

How the product or brand should be perceived by the target groups

Delivering a specific message in order to influence the target groups

1. Segmentation

Dividing potential customers into discrete groups is vital if you want to increase the success rate of any communications message. If you don't know who you are talking to, it's unlikely you will get much of a response. Who are the potential customers? How many sub-groups should you divide them into? How do these groups differ? Hopefully, most of this information will be readily available from your market research.

Once you have an idea of the customer, you should further drill down to explore them in more detail.
What are their media consumption habits? What are their expectations and aspirations? What are their priorities? How much disposable income do they have? What are their buying habits? Are they likely to have children? How many holidays do they take a year? How much money do they give to charity? How can you help them?

This information can be obtained in a variety of ways, from commissioning a specialist market research agency, to examining sales patterns or social media interactions.

Commonly used market research methods include:

  • Sales analysis and buying patterns
  • Questionnaires
  • Desk research
  • Website statistics, especially social media
  • Focus groups
  • Face-to-face interviews
  • Specialist market research companies

Once you have built up an accurate picture of your customer, it's time to get their attention…

2. Targeting

For the purposes of advertising, targeting is the process of communicating with the right segment(s) and ensuring the best possible response rate. The methods you use to target your audience must relate to your marketing plan objectives - are you trying to generate awareness of a new product, or attract business away from a competitor?

Methods of marketing communications

Advertising is just one element of the marketing communication arsenal, which can be divided into the following areas:

Advertising – a mass media approach to promotion

  • Outdoor
  • Business directories
  • Magazines / newspapers
  • TV / cinema
  • Radio
  • Newsagent windows

Sales promotion - price / money related communications

  • Coupons
  • Discounts
  • Competitions
  • Loyalty incentives

Public relations - using the press to your advantage

  • Press launches
  • PR events
  • Press releases

Personal selling – one to one communication with a potential buyer

  • Salesmen
  • Experiential marketing
  • Dealer or showroom sales activities
  • Exhibitions
  • Trade shows

Direct marketing - taking the message directly to the consumer

  • Mail order catalogues
  • Bulk mail
  • Personalised letters
  • Email
  • Telemarketing
  • Point of sale displays
  • Packaging design

Digital marketing – new channels are emerging constantly

  • Company websites
  • Social media applications such as Facebook or Twitter
  • Blogging
  • Mobile phone promotions using technology such as bluetooth
  • YouTube
  • E-commerce

Deciding which media channel to use

In nature, evolution occurs most rapidly when competition for resources is intense. The same process is now occurring with promotional media. All traditional media channels are now saturated, and competition for consumer attention is intense. At the same time, the impact of any one medium is becoming diluted. There are many more TV and radio channels, consumer have the ability to skip adverts and free information is now much more accessible. As a result, companies are becoming increasingly innovative in their approach to communications and a host of new media channels have emerged. As a result, media choice is becoming a tricky task, which is why detailed segmentation is so important - it's no use starting a Twitter campaign if none of your target market are regular users of the site.

Highly targeted communications often lead to better results. You can usually expect a response rate of under 1% for a relatively generic mass mailing. However, personal letters to a handful of your most loyal customers would lead to a dramatically increased rate of return. When deciding which media to use consider the reach, frequency, media impact and what you can expect for your budget but most of all, ensure your target customer will see the message in the first place.

Media choice is a matter of compromise between volume of people versus the personalisation of the message.

Ensuring your message reflects the stages of the purchasing funnel

Once you have made the audience aware of your brand, work doesn't stop there. The customer needs to be guided through the purchasing process. This means identifying the key stages in the customer journey and ensuring communications messages are personalised and relevant.

Integrated marketing communications

Once you have decided which media channel to concentrate on, the next step is to ensure an integrated approach is taken. Regardless of whether you are promoting a new product or raising awareness, it's important that all ads across all media work together towards a common goal by using similar messaging and 'look and feel'. An integrated approach can dramatically increase the effectiveness of any campaign and will help create your brand image.

Getting the best response

To get the best response from your target market, you need ensuring the message is relevant and clear – once you've managed to gain the valuable attention of your customer the last thing you want is for them to be confused about what you're saying. Determine the objectives of the advert and ensure these aims are addressed clearly. Think about the next steps you would like the audience to take, whether this is visiting a website, ringing a number, or being able to recall your brand when they are next in the shops.

3. Positioning

Positioning is the process of developing an image for your company or product. This can be achieved partially through branding, but it's important to realise that all elements of the marketing mix combine to provide the full picture. You must ensure that all areas of your business live up to expectations in order to successfully position yourself in the way you hope. Positioning also considers the competition, and you need to explain why you are unique in the marketplace and better than the other products on the shelf.

Branding and messaging

Branding is a powerful tool for positioning your product. Branding is used on almost all customer facing elements of a product, from the packaging design to the style of writing used on posters. Every communication a customer received adds up to form a mental picture of your brand and can influence the price they are willing to pay for your products. This ability to charge more due to the positioning of your product is known as 'brand equity'. Your branding also needs to consider your unique selling points (USPs) and ensure these are easily recognised through your messaging – is your product the best value, longest lasting, sweetest smelling or fastest?

Corporate identity

A corporate identity is a useful tool to ensure that your branding is used in a consistent way throughout the company. This detailed document runs through almost every conceivable customer touch point and provides guidance on the presentation and style which should be used. This could include use of logos, colours, tag lines, uniform and the type of coffee to serve guests. A CI guide is particularly useful if any creative work it outsourced to agencies or freelancers or if you have many offices worldwide. The most powerful brands can be identified by many elements of their communications material, not just a by their logo or slogan and this is due to successful implementation of a recognisable corporate identity. Recognition is a key part of any purchase decision so a corporate identity should for a core element of your advertising strategy.

4. Development of the advertising message

Once you have determined the positioning for your brand, it's time to develop the message in order to influence your target groups. Advertising objectives should be directly linked to your marketing plan, and tend to fit into the following generic categories:

  • Inform - raising awareness of your brand & products, establishing a competitive advantage
  • Persuade - generating an instant response (usually driving sales)
  • Remind - to maintain interest and enthusiasm for a product or service

It's a documented fact that creative, well branded, distinctive advertising generates the best results so ensure you use the best possible creative team you can get your hands on, and give them a detailed brief. Remember that a message will only be successful if it appeals to the target audience, so constantly refer back to the customer and tailor the ads to them.

Final words

Almost every business in the world will deal in advertising at some point, whether it is a listing in the Yellow Pages, or a billboard in Times Square. Whatever you're planning, the strategic thinking behind all advertising is essentially the same – get to know your audience, target them efficiently and position your brand in the way that will benefit your business.