2013 Marketing Communications – Six Strategic Tips For Midsized Companies And Nonprofits

Everyone – organizations and consumers alike – continues to be wary of the ongoing negotiations in Washington associated with the fiscal cliff. It will take time to sort out the impact of what finally gets resolved, but marketers know they can’t wait any longer to determine how to aggressively promote their products and services now.

Whether you’re a business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C) or nonprofit marketer, you’ve probably also been overwhelmed by the countless claims, and counter claims, about if – and how – to use all the various forms of “new” marketing tools – social media, mobile, content marketing, email and video. Some experts project the demise of email marketing as social media and video sharing grow in importance. Others stress the need for mobile marketing, while even others shout “Content is King” (first coined by Bill Gates in 1996). All will continue to be important, but these decisions, coupled with the economic environment, means that the marketer’s world is more complicated than ever.

Rather than endlessly pondering these choices, maybe this is the time to put these latest tactics into perspective, and focus on some basic marketing and marketing communications strategies for 2013.

Target Audience Knowledge Trumps Opinion

A deep, reliable and projectable understanding of your existing and potential clients, customers or donors is key to developing effective and profitable strategies and plans. And that means market research.

Marketers should fully understand the wants, needs and attitudes of their target audiences, and how these factors relate to the organization, as well as competition. Facts, not opinions.

Employ market research and monitor social media discussions and behaviors to determine what’s important to your constituents before your tactical plans are developed. In other words, “Look before you leap.”

Embrace The Changing Demographic Landscape

With nearly 315 million people in the US alone, the dramatic growth of older consumers is significant and should be recognized. Does your customer and prospect planning take them into consideration? And does your planning recognize that:

  • 21 percent of the workforce is now 55+ years of age, and they plan on working well past traditional retirement age;
  • The number of people 65 and older was 40 million in 2009 but is projected to be 60 million in 2020 (US Census Bureau);
  • While 69 percent of those aged 18 – 49 used social media, only 38 percent of those aged 50 and above use any form of social media.

Acknowledging the growth and absolute size of this huge audience in your planning presents a major opportunity. And, depending on your product or service, you might want to go through this exercise for other demographic groups – Hispanics, Asians, younger people, women, etc. Understand them and make sure you relate to their needs. In summary, “Board a trend, don’t buck it”.

Don’t Discount Traditional Media

New media offers exciting potential and will grow significantly in importance. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about “old” media. Both new and traditional media have value and both should be considered in planning your overall media mix. That means that strategically you need to fully understand their relative effectiveness, not just their efficiency.

And, would it surprise you to learn that traditional media is actually becoming “new” media for some marketers:

  • Commercial and nonprofit marketers will spend $169 billion in direct marketing, representing over half of all US advertising expenditures (DMA’s Response Rate 2012 Report);
  • There were 195 new print magazines launched in 2012 (MediaTrends.com); According to Forrester Research, while consumers discover new brands, products or services by talking to friends (80%) and online searches (79%), television advertising is a strong third (71%);
  • While the average consumer receives 14 – 15 email selling messages a day, the average household receives only 2 – 3 direct mail promotions per day (USPS);
  • Despite the record breaking political spending in 2012, national cable television advertising is still expected to grow by 11 percent, while billboard spending will increase by 5 percent and radio by 3 percent (Zenith Optima).

New versus traditional media should not dominate the discussion. Rather, how you strategically develop your media mix should be on the front burner. Above all, be “media neutral”.

Anniversary Marketing Invigorates Established Organizations

Your anniversary provides an opportunity to leverage your past strengths while communicating your vision for the future. Your history and your plans for the future can have a meaningful impact on an already nervous audience of employees, channel partners and suppliers, much less existing and potential clients, customers or donors. Galvanize them to the road ahead.

A 12 to 18 month fully integrated anniversary marketing program provides a unique opportunity to unify and focus all of your efforts across your constituents. And a 35th anniversary can be as impactful as a 50th or 75th. Just don’t make the mistake of merely adding an anniversary logo to your messaging, or just having a celebratory party. Your message will fall on deaf ears.

Get Better As You Get Bigger

With market turbulence over the past few years, some in the C-Suite question the ability of marketing to profitably drive the organization to new heights. Lack of understanding or lack of trust may be an issue. Maybe it’s time for unbiased, fresh eyes to conduct a marketing communications audit.

This type of audit can provide an apolitical evaluation of your program as a whole, as well as how each marketing communication tactic does or does not meet established objectives. Recommendations from this audit can help everyone understand where improvement is needed, what’s registering with your constituents (internally as well as externally), what subjects and benefits should be stressed and, importantly, provide the organization with an integrated roadmap of how, when and where your messaging should be delivered.

The audit should give you the tools to maximize your marketing communications ROI before significant dollars are committed. Trust and confidence should follow.

Round Out Your Marketing Team

There will be many challenges facing marketers in 2013 and beyond. And, chief among them will be having a dedicated, smart, apolitical team, developing, creating and analyzing marketing communications strategies, tactics and plans to meet the uncertainties ahead.

A lot of smart thinking has already gone into developing the disciplines you need but, like most midsized companies and nonprofits, you may be understaffed and underfunded. Consider partnering with established, media neutral, senior level marketing communications consultants to help your team formulate, refine and implement your programs. Be sure they have extensive experience across brands and industries, as well as a willingness to “tell it like it is” so candor will flourish.

Most probably 2013 and the near future will present marketers with a very rocky road to travel. Hopefully, some of these tips will help, but as Mark Twain once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”.

Creating Great Marketing Communications: The Art and Science of the Written Word

Great marketing communications isn’t rocket science. Yet, there is a mix of science and art to achieve the right mix of eye-catching style, valuable content, and grammatical excellence. The skills necessary to produce it can be dauntingly elusive. And nothing can wreck the efficiency of precious marketing dollars than a mixed message or one that is poorly communicated. Some 45 years ago, when newspapers, radio, and television were the only communication vehicles, Marshall McLuhan stated, “the medium is the message” (and the 21st Century’s growing media choices seem to validate McLuhan’s famous quotation), and for business today, carefully considering multiple media for delivery of your critical message has never been more important. For small business executives, delivering your core message isn’t easy, amidst the flood of new and old media available today (web sites, blogs, social networking sites, podcasts and webcasts, e-mail blasts, local/national television commercials, radio spots, and print advertising). But it starts, as it always has, with the written word.

The current economic environment has spawned many providers of new and excellent services to help you with the art and science of marketing your business. But quality content still remains at the heart of any marketing message. In fact, it is more important than ever. Marketing automation technologies can churn out corporate messages in tremendous volume, but the quality of these messages (including the style, grammar, etc) can make or break your marketing effort.

Few things will distract a customer’s attention from effective messaging than misspellings, grammatical mistakes, or awkward sentences that must be reread before their meaning is eventually revealed. Publishers have learned that the reader’s eye can be subconsciously drawn to errors, like poor spacing, bad syllable breaks, and repeated words, breaking the reader’s train of thought. This happens regardless of the medium: E-mails or text messages are perceived by the mind’s eye just as a magazine or book might be. Text messages or twitters, which are intentionally misspelled or incorrectly abbreviated so that they are easily typed, are not always easy to read despite their brevity.

Many small companies have employees who can handle information technology or Web-related tasks. Consider the E-mail blast that mentions the July issue of your newsletter: One that you’ve spent considerable time, effort, and money to develop. However, the E-mail says July 2009 not 2010. The customer wonders why you’re sending old, possibly obsolete, information. There is a saying that a customer believes they will be serviced the way they are sold. The same can be applied to how they are marketed.

How many times have you been annoyed when visiting an interesting website, found some information that can be useful, and clicked on a malfunctioning link? It stops you (and other potential customers) dead in your tracks.

And many small business owners can relate to this scenario: You develop a product brochure to be used on the company website and printed for future marketing efforts, like an upcoming convention. The day after it is printed, mailed, or posted, you notice an embarrassing typo: The name of a well-known client has been misspelled. Or two product photographs have been switched. Or the contact information has been dropped from the back cover. Do you want to spend time and money reprinting a necessary marketing communication?

Editing and editorial services, in general, may be overlooked, especially in tight economic markets. Doing so, however, imperils a small business’ marketing efforts. Spending hard-earned dollars to upgrade a website, launch an email newsletter, use Google AdWords, or produce other marketing collateral, without having the editorial skills at hand to make that investment payoff, is like building a house on a poorly constructed foundation.

Does your business have the capabilities to generate distinctive messages with precise grammatical structure, pristine presentation, and clarity of thought? Does your organization focus on the written word, and how your critical marketing messages are portrayed to potential customers?

Infusing quality communications into your business development and marketing planning can mean the difference between stagnancy and growth. To optimize business development and marketing efforts, business executives (small or large) ensure that its core message is integrated into all communications, from business cards and logo tag lines, from press releases to product brochures, and from websites to client E-mails.

Most small businesses, particularly those with fewer than 20 workers, do not have their own Communications Department. Often, senior-level employees take on the task of communications as well as marketing and business development. Recognizing the need to not allow coordinated communication efforts to stagnate in today’s difficult economic environment will be critical to business success in the near future.

One solution to generating high-quality marketing communications is outsourcing it to an firm with experience and expertise is the wide variety of media that are essential today. communications and marketing services is one extremely efficient method for crafting your organization’s message, publicizing it through various media, and producing needed results, whether you’re seeking more E-mail requests for proposals, increased traffic on the company’s website, greater recognition at local business meetings or events, or simply more sales.

The ability to isolate, identify, and effectively deliver your message is integral to communicating with current customers and reaching potential new customers and different markets.

More Critical Reasons for Integrating Editorial Services Into Your Marketing Efforts
• A Web home page must use its words sparingly, yet clearly communicate your value proposition. Visitors will read a line or two from the home page before moving on, so it is imperative to hold their attention with your company’s message.
• A one-page company “Fact Sheet” is a perfect leave-behind or follow-up E-mail attachment for a new prospect. Its style should concisely, but precisely, generate a clear picture of your company’s strengths and differentiating features.
• A press release can serve to announce new contracts, communicate with potential clients about new products, build credibility by highlighting completed work. Yet, creating a press release that provides more than advertising – ensuring that it gets exposure–is the key to success.
• A periodic E-mail blast or company newsletter can inform and can help you stay “top of mind” with your prospects. It can provide value-added information related directly to your services. Writing a custom newsletter can be easy task with solid editorial support.

Midsized Company Marketing Communications Budget Planning

This is the time of year when most companies, brands and nonprofits are involved with developing their marketing communications plans and budgets for next year. This is not an easy task in any year but, whether you’re already deeply involved in the process, or just starting, the task is even more challenging this year given the continuing global and economic uncertainties.

More than ever, increased accountability and scrutiny of the decision-making process is a necessity for improving marketing communications ROI. Customers, whether existing or new, have a multitude of choices for evaluating and selecting a product or service, so it’s extremely important to be on the same page with them.

What follows recommends a three-pronged approach to help you develop a budget and plan to profitably impact your marketplace.

Understand Your Customer Target Audience
Like most managers, you probably believe you fully understand the wants and needs of your customers, as well as their knowledge of your brand. But with so many new methods available to customers for comparing your brand to competition, are you really sure?

Is it smart to plan and commit your precious marketing communication dollars to what you think you know about customers? Maybe it would be a lot smarter to learn directly from them what they want, and how you stack up to their needs.

Ultimately, that means market research. Whether you’re a B2B, B2C or a nonprofit marketer, now is the time to learn from your customer.

  • What attributes or qualities are important to them in selecting a brand? Beyond price, what other factors influence their purchase decision?
  • How do they rate your brand versus competition? What are your strongest and weakest attributes, and what do you need to improve?

Wouldn’t you feel more secure in your decision making if you had concrete answers to these questions before you develop, much less commit to, budgets? And don’t forget about making sure you understand your employees or distributors. They’re your first line of brand advocacy. Their beliefs may not line up with your customers’ beliefs, and could lead to lost opportunities or lost sales. Look before you leap.

A Marketing Communications Audit Can Sharpen Your Message
Once you completely understand your customer, the next step is to focus on your message. The single greatest source of leverage you have is the quality of messaging, whether it’s a television commercial, a post on a Facebook page, your website, articles, blogs or whitepapers. When messaging fails to deliver, it’s usually not the platforms that fail, but rather the lack of integrated focused brand communications.

A marketing communications audit, conducted by outside consultants who don’t have a vested interest or an ax to grind, can – like a financial audit – be an enormous benefit. It will tell you whether all of the creative elements you employ – subject matter, graphics, copy, and tone and manner – are working together with one clear and meaningful message to your customers, as well as your employees.

An additional benefit of a marketing communications audit is its ability to help determine your communications mix and resulting budgets. For instance, based on customer needs, perhaps more should be spent in content marketing, with articles and blogs, and less in paid advertising, consumer promotions or coupons. Just make sure all of your messaging is saying the same thing to meet those customer needs. It’s a matter of reinforcing the image you want to convey and trust in your brand.

Consider Marketing Communications Consultants
No one is doubting that smart, dedicated people have been involved in developing your marketing communications budget and plan. But, if you’re like most midsized companies, your people are probably stretched to the limit.

Consider partnering with an established, senior level consultant to help your team develop, refine and, if appropriate, implement your programs. Above all, make sure a consultant has extensive experience across disciplines, industries and brands, and isn’t trapped by “this is the way we’ve always done it” thinking. An apolitical team, with a willingness to “tell it like it is”, with fresh eyes can be a major asset to your profitable growth.

In today’s unsettled environment, an upfront focus on developing budgets and plans can go a long way to improving marketing communications ROI.