Midsized Company Marketing Communications – Five Major Considerations For 2014

Another year is ending, and economic uncertainty and Washington’s gridlock continue to plague consumers, companies and brands.

That said, life must go on. And whether you’re a business-to-consumer (B2C), business-to-business (B2B), or nonprofit organization, the question remains as to what marketing and marketing communications investments, strategies and tactics should you employ in the year ahead. My thoughts on achieving profitable sales growth are as follows. Some may surprise you.

It’s Time to Increase Marketing Communications Spending
You probably haven’t heard many pundits talk about increasing marketing communications investments in 2014. However, you probably haven’t heard much about what Congress is considering in this area either. Did you know that Congress is now reviewing a reduction of the current 100 percent deductibility of advertising spending?

The current discussions center on permitting a deduction of only 50 percent of the costs in the year the advertising runs, and then amortizing the remaining 50 percent over the subsequent five or ten year period. In reality, a new tax on advertising.

Both parties are pushing this, and while it is doubtful that anything will make it into law in 2014, once the process has started it’s very difficult to get it stopped. So, consider the significant opportunity that exists – for at least a year – to use increased spending to profitably build your brand in 2014.

Employ Market Research to Further Understand Your Customer
Many B2C and B2B marketers believe they understand everything that is important to their customers and prospects. But do they really?

Rather than “thinking” you understand what’s really important to them, and how they perceive your brand versus competition, doesn’t it make good sense to conduct market research to uncover the real truth?

In today’s fast changing world, your target audience has multiple ways of evaluating your product or service well before entering a store, placing an online order, or speaking with a sales person. And unless you constantly monitor their conversations on social media, you’ll never know, for sure, their attitudes and perceptions (or, perhaps more importantly, their misperceptions).

Before you invest your precious marketing and marketing communications money and time, make it a priority to invest in fully understanding your target audience. Look before you leap!

Improve Your Brand’s ROI with a Marketing Communications Audit
Consider conducting a marketing communications audit to determine when, where and how to invest your time and money. An audit can provide you with an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of your existing program as a whole, as well how each marketing tactic does or does not meet your objectives.

A marketing communications audit will help you determine:
What subject matter should be emphasized (or de-emphasized);
How to improve your budget allocation and media mix;
The fit of existing or planned theming, graphics, and tone and manner of all messaging;
A roadmap of how messages should be delivered across all media, both traditional and “new”
Integrating your marketing communications in a holistic manner (with messaging that is important to your audience) before you commit marketing dollars can provide a significant opportunity to improve ROI.

Recognize the Importance of the Creative Product
With all of the focus over the past few years on the efficiency of media delivery, some marketers have forgotten that the creative product itself has been – and always will be – the key to effective marketing communications.

If the creative product doesn’t break through the clutter and increase awareness, and if it doesn’t improve your image and convince your customers and prospects to buy, the delivery system you employ really won’t matter.

This is true in all aspects of your communications – the website, content marketing communications, advertising, social media, public relations, direct mail, collateral materials, and even that latest cure all, “native advertising”.

As Tom Bradley, head of marketing at Nestle once 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.”

And don’t settle for unproven creative practitioners or cut corners because of cost. Good creative work is priceless, so nurture the creative professionals you have to constantly deliver impactful messages that your audience can relate to and be engaged by. Make sure someone in your organization has the expertise to not only encourage brilliant creative work, but also to recognize it when he sees it. As the old adage goes, “you get what you pay for”.

Marketing and Marketing Communications Consultants Can Improve ROI
There will be challenges in the year ahead. Consumers are more demanding and knowledgeable, and along with businesses, have learned to purchase in new ways. Rapid changes in technology have created an “always on” media environment. A recent study by Forrester reports that 34 percent of marketers currently feel overwhelmed by change.

If this hits home with you, now may be the time to tap into established, experienced, media neutral consultants. It’s an efficient use of your resources and can provide much needed objectivity to the choices you have to make.

In this uncertain economic landscape, B2C and B2B marketers are already stretched to the limit. Many will benefit from candid and apolitical “fresh eyes” who are willing to tell it like it is.

Above all, search for consultants with broad scope and senior level experience across industries and brands. This diversity of experience and their network of like-minded professionals can expand your horizons while keeping you on budget.

Success in the Year Ahead
There will be many other factors for marketers to consider in 2014 – recognizing a rapidly growing older population, the importance of the Latino community, globalization, the effectiveness of various content marketing tactics-to name a few. Hopefully, the five major considerations discussed above will challenge you to even deeper thinking for a more profitable year.

Developing A New Nonprofit Marketing Communications Plan

With another unsettling economic year on top of us, it’s time again to begin developing or refining a new marketing and marketing communications strategy, budget and plan. If you’re fortunate enough to have achieved a good ROI from your current program, along with the data to substantiate the reasons, you’re in better shape than most.

For example, in the for profit arena, only eight percent of Chief Marketing Officers (CMO’s) say they can determine the ROI of their social media efforts. And 93 percent of CMO’s say they’re under more pressure to deliver significant ROI.

A Changing Nonprofit Marketing Landscape

The Giving USA Annual Report presented the nonprofit community with some good news – giving increased by 7.1 percent in 2014 versus 2013 to $359 billion. Individuals again accounted for nearly three-quarters of the total, with foundations a distant second, at 15 percent.

And, interestingly, while arts/culture/humanities increased by 9.2 percent, and the environment/animals by 7 percent, international affairs declined by 2 percent for the third year in a row.

As individuals are leading this growth, the obvious question becomes how to continue this trend? Consumer demographics, income, expanded consumer promotion and politics will impact many marketing communications programs next year. Consider the following:

The two largest age groups, Millennials and Boomers, are very different. Millennials are cash strapped, unimpressed with brand names, and socially conscious; Boomers, on the other hand, are brand loyal and projected to account for about 70 percent of U.S. disposable income in 2017 (Quirk’s Market Research).

Asians and Hispanics will continue to become even larger and more potent portions of the US population. Many will be courted by nonprofits for the first time, representing a brand new audience (US Census Bureau, 2014 National Projections).

Median household income actually declined 8.7 percent between 1999 and 2013 to $51,939 (Census Bureau Current Population Survey). And, while many people care deeply about certain causes, how to dispose of those hard earned disposable dollars rules many spending and giving decisions.

At the same time, these consumers are being bombarded with the largest major media and marketing services expenditures in history — $406 billion is expected in 2015. That’s a staggering $1,262 per person (Zenith Optimedia)! Beyond the dollars, that’s a lot of clutter and competition.

The road ahead will be very different than previous years. And, with the onslaught of political advertising driving up prices and reducing media inventory, even greater emphasis must be placed on developing smarter marketing communications plans to deliver improved ROI.

Marketing Tactics To Consider Before Finalizing Your Plan

There are a number of important tactics that can be used to improve ROI as well as brand presence. I’ll focus on four:

Like most managers, you probably think you understand what’s important to your donors, prospective donors, staff, volunteers and even your Board. But, do you really know what they believe about the organization? And, do they in turn understand your mission, or has “mission creep” expanded your core identity? Further, do they see their time and financial commitment rewarding and making a difference? That means employing market research to learn what’s really important and providing focus before committing to a marketing communications plan. It’s prudent, and fact trumps opinion.

Consider conducting a marketing communications audit to determine when, where and how to invest your time and money. An audit will provide an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of your existing program as a whole, as well as how each individual tactic does or does not meet your objectives. With this information, all of the elements of your program – subject matter, budget allocation, media mix, theming, graphics, tone and manner, new versus traditional media – can all be integrated into a holistic marketing communications program well before committing to the unknown. Look before you leap.

Be sure you’re media neutral. Traditional media such as print, broadcast, direct mail, newsletter, events and public relations still remain important media tools. But, today, so do blogs, social media, online videos, webinars and more. All have value, but learning how to use them is vital. There must be an understanding of the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.

Your anniversary, whether it’s your 5th, 33rd or 50th provides a unique opportunity to rekindle enthusiasm, and to galvanize all of your constituents to the relevant, important and needs of the organization. It gives you the chance to tell your story, not just your history but also your plans and goals for the future. Unify and focus everyone around a 12 – 18 month program to establish your vision.

Marketing Communications Consultants Or Internal Staff

If you’re like most nonprofit leaders, the majority of your time, talent and training is devoted to your passion for the programs and services you provide. The same is probably true of your most committed volunteers, staff and Board members.

Given that, does your organization have the marketing and marketing communications talent and background to develop the strategies, budgets, plans and tactics that are necessary to help you succeed in today’s environment?

If not, consider partnering with established, media neutral, senior level professionals to help your team formulate, refine and, if necessary, implement your programs. Look for people with experience in both nonprofit and for profit arenas, with extensive experience across brands and industries, as well as a willingness to “tell it like it is”, so that candor will flourish.

Multiple Forms Of Marketing Communication – Helping You Reach Your Widest Target Audience

You’ll have heard the saying ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ and when it comes to your marketing communications you really do need to take that on board! Using just one or two types of marketing communication can be a risky business.

But, just to confuse matters a little more (!), using too many different marketing communications can be just as dicey…

So, what direction should you be taking?

Well, in short, you should be focusing on 4 or 5 marvellous marketing communication types to ensure you have all avenues covered. Should you continue to focus on just one you can be sure that you won’t reach the widest audience possible. Also, what would happen if the one and only communication type you are using is no longer flavour of the month?

It goes without saying that your aim, where your business is concerned, is to reach as many people within your target audience as is possible.

No two people are the same – the world would be very boring if we were… So, to be sure that you are reaching all of these different personalities, it’s essential that you include a variety of marketing options to be sure you appeal to the largest chunk of this medley of personalities within your target audience.

As with many things these days, different marketing methods are in and out of fashion at the blink of an eye… If the marketing model you are using goes out of fashion overnight, you have a problem and will need to work quickly to implement something new. The trouble with this is that ‘rash’ decisions aren’t often good decisions. Plus, you’ll have lost valuable marketing time while you sort the issue out.

Also, different people have their likes and dislikes of various forms of communication. Some people love e-mail delivery, but you’ll have some who don’t even use e-mail (imagine that…) or they are so fed up with receiving e-mail in droves that it no longer has the desired effect. Or, they may feel that the e-mail being sent doesn’t focus on relationship building and is too ‘salesy’ from the outset – the opt-out button is hit in one split second… So, it may be that the e-mail phobics would be better suited to direct mail.

Then there are those that don’t own a fax, but do use Facebook. They love social media and Blog reading, so maybe that’s how you should be marketing to them.

So you catch the drift. What one person likes, the next person doesn’t. Your quest is to find out who likes what and the types of communication that people will marvel at!

For example, if you look and note that a proportion of your target market is male, age 18-35 and living in an urban area. It is likely that social media communications would be a better fit than direct mail.

To fulfil your quest, you need to be sure to test and track your marketing. You could even ask for feedback on your marketing methods to help you understand what is liked best and by who.

So, in summary, to be sure that your marketing system is durable and robust:-

- Never focus on just one lonesome type of marketing communication

- Be sure to interface multiple marketing communications

- Track and test what type of communication works best and with who

- Ask for feedback on your marketing communications

Multiple marketing communications are important to ensure that you reach the widest audience possible and to be sure that they get to know about your offering!