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Part of the marketing communications food chain that we don’t hear so much about is the discipline of message definition. But for me, it’s the essential preparation that needs to happen before you really get stuck into communicating with the outside world. I do a lot of work for corporates in helping them define, distil and articulate key messages to their clients and target audiences, and although the process demands a certain amount of rigour, it’s not just for the big boys.
Every business, no matter what the size, needs to be absolutely clear about their messages from the outset. At any moment in time, you need to be able to clearly articulate what your business stands for, what you believe in, what marks you out as different and what kind of value you provide to your customers. This is more than an elevator pitch – this is describing the very soul of your company.
So think about it now. How would you answer the following questions?
Set aside time and space to think about these questions and really refine your answers. Write it down. Talk about it with colleagues, clients, and – best of all – those who are completely unrelated to your business. Do they understand what you have to say?
I advise clients to undertake this exercise every six months at least. Because as the world changes around us, it’s important to revisit who you are, how you do what you do and what is critical to you and those you serve.
Once you’ve established your messages, you’ll not only look at your business differently, but you’ll find that your communications will flow so much more fluently, through all the channels you choose to employ.
A new wave of marketing seems to be emerging. Collaboration, synergy, sponsorship, integration, partnership, engagement and branded content are terms heard on a daily basis. You could even argue that the UK government is joining this shift in marketing by uniting two different parties to reach one goal – although that might be stretching things a bit!
It seems obvious that this shift has come about because of the recession – brands and marketing teams are now forced to find new ways of obtaining the same results with half the budget and half the resource. Partnerships have proven to be the perfect solution. By partnering, brands are able to achieve more than they could have achieved alone.
The most interesting thing about this shift is its longevity — this new collaborative way of working looks set to continue well after we are in recovery. As a result, we are seeing a more engaged audience, more innovative marketing campaigns and strategic partnerships across all sectors and channels.
In particular, partnership through sponsorship is becoming increasingly popular. Professional associations, product launches, independent films and band tours are now realising how beneficial these types of sponsorships are. Sponsorship funding is a multi-billion pound industry in the UK and everyone wants to get a piece of that pie.
Done well, these partnerships add value to all parties involved. The rights owner receives additional sponsorship funding, the sponsor receives a receptive targeted audience and the audience receives added value through more engagement with the event. It’s a win-win-win situation and I anticipate that sponsorship and collaboration in all its forms will continue to thrive well into the future.
Jackie Fast is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut.
I started running marketing workshops for my customers back in January 2007 and I haven’t looked back since. Each workshop has helped me to develop relationships with my customers, find new customers, demonstrate my expertise and most importantly, help my clients grow their businesses.
Some workshops have been easy to fill, others harder. And whilst no one could say that they’ve been easy money, I’ve made a great profit out of each and every one of them and generated significant amounts of business after the event from the delegates in the room. You could say that I’ve had such a good experience with them that I’ve become quite evangelical about running them! In fact, I recommend that many of my clients run them for their customers too.
But many of the business owners I speak to can’t quite get to grips with the idea of running a workshop. They know it’s a good idea, but they get that sort of glazed look in their eyes when I mention it, and I can see them thinking “Just agree with her and she’ll stop pushing you”. But I can see that for most business owners, running a workshop is scary.
So why wouldn’t you run a workshop? Why might it be a bad idea? Well having done a bit of a brainstorm, I have a few theories.
Firstly I think people are scared. “Who do I think I am to run a workshop on X, Y or Z”. They’re worried about being lynched by their competitors for daring to put themselves out there as an authority on the subject. But you can’t run your business for the benefit of your competitors. You have to do what’s right for you, your business and your customers. If you think that you have some knowledge that will help your customers, why not share it?
I also think they’re worried about being “found out”. Found out by their customers for not being the world authority on their subject. Worried about having someone in the room who knows more than them. Worried about looking like a fool.
Well you know what? Maybe there will be someone in the room who knows more than you. Unless you’re a professor in your subject, the chances are that you don’t know it all. But if you’re clear about what you are good at and who this workshop is for, you will add value to your delegates and you won’t look like a fool. I promise.
People are also worried about no-one coming. Selling 20 spaces on a workshop is not easy. Even if people tell you it’s a good idea to run a workshop on the subject of your choice, getting those people to commit financially and making sure they’re available on the day isn’t easy. It takes skill, tenacity and organisation to fill a workshop. And that puts people off. Either they’ve tried it and had their fingers burnt, or the sheer scale of what they need to do puts them off.
Having filled workshops and conferences for more than three years now I know how tough it is. But I promise you that the benefits far outweigh the hard work.
Here's a strange story for you.
A few months ago I wrote an e-mail for a firm selling investment advice.
They took forever to get the damn thing out and never told us how it did, but one day sent us an e-mail asking us to adapt it for another firm's list with whom they had a deal.
By accident we saw two revealing insights into why so much marketing is bad.
An internal message said our e-mail was outdoing anything before — which would have been nice to know.
And note from the other firm said their new marketing chief was more interested in brand values than response, so could we make our e-mail shorter and less aggressive.
This reminded me of what the smartest guy with the biggest brand in the world said about marketing.
Sergio Zyman is the former chief marketing officer of Coca-Cola. In five years, when few people thought Coke could sell any more, he and his team increased its sales by 50 per cent, and the share price quadrupled.
You couldn't imagine anyone less like a direct marketer than someone who sells Coca-Cola. Or anyone you might think more dedicated to brand values.
What your job really is
Zyman could teach a lot of direct marketers who hanker after quasi- intellectual tripe about the realities of life.
He said in his excellent (and funny) book "The end of marketing as we know it" that marketers should be "the ultimate stewards of return on investment in assets".
Zyman’s wonderfully down-to-earth definition of the aim of marketing is this: "To get more people to buy more stuff more often at higher prices so the company makes more money".
He says a lot in his book about marketers' lack of intellectual discipline, and the way they fail to set exact targets, talking vaguely about "more" sales, "more" market share but never putting a figure on the increases — saying precisely how much more.
As I always say — though I probably stole it from someone smarter than me — if you aim at nothing, you usually hit your mark.
Zyman is particularly critical about the way marketers get into the boardroom and then start being more interested in what goes on there than their customers.
One of his best stories tells how he showed his first Coca-Cola ads in 1993 to his boss Roberto Goizueta, who said, "I don't like those ads."
"Look, Roberto," he replied, "If you're willing to buy 100 per cent of the volume worldwide then I'm happy to do the advertising that you like. Otherwise I've got to keep doing it to those damned consumers."
My favourite quote on this is from one of the great businessmen of the 20th century.
The architect of Sears, Roebuck's rise to become the world's greatest retailer was Julius Rosenwald. He once remarked, "My ambition is to stand on both sides of the counter at once."
I doubt if he ever used the phrase "brand values". He just knew that no matter how important such things may be, "Nothing happens in business until something gets sold."
Who said that? Thomas J Watson Jr. of IBM. Strange how the best people tend to say similar things, isn't it?
This month John Lewis launched a new multi-channel marketing campaign aimed at promoting its new-look luxury womenswear department. For many small and medium businesses, however, marketing across different channels can be a challenge. Here are a few suggestions to help focus on the necessities. They won’t make it as easy as slicing bread, but they will help maximise the effectiveness of multi-channel communication, and help put bread on the table.
1. Be consistent
For a variety of reasons, partly historical and technical, different marketing channels are often handled separately, and sometimes by completely different people with different skill sets. Often, conventional marketing such as advertising and direct mail may be handled in-house, and hi-tech marketing may be outsourced.
To be most effective, it’s important to keep the branding and messaging consistent across all channels. Make sure that through web pages and emails to printed advertising and leaflets you maintain the same look and feel, with consistent messaging and corresponding calls to action. Don’t confuse the customer but be concise, be direct, and be memorable.
Make sure that ideas, plans and results from each channel feed into the others, and that lessons learned through one channel can inform future plans for all.
Think carefully about timing. You may want to kick off all your communications at once, for maximum impact, or stagger them, for more sustained effect. Before throwing everything at one strategy, try some small-scale tests and measure the effect.
3. Pay attention to detail
More channels mean more work, and the temptation is to cut corners, but assumption is the mother of many mistakes.
Make a list of the key elements that should appear throughout the campaign, and check systematically that they are included in every communication. Add them to regular communications like letters and email signatures. Rope in family and friends to help with things like proof-reading and testing web pages. Use financial inducements, free samples and offers of beer wherever necessary!
4. Track with caution
Do track each channel separately, with unique landing pages, response codes, 0845 numbers etc. But take the individual results with a pinch of salt, and judge on the basis of the overall campaign. Some channels will be more effective than others at triggering an immediate measurable response, but judging the overall contribution of each one over time is notoriously difficult.
Targeting customers through social media has become more and more prolific over recent years. Household brands through to much smaller start-up companies are using tools such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.
However, it is vital that when selecting the social media tools you intend to use to target your audience, you are selected the correct ones. For example, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn users all have very different demographic profiles, so there is no point using a tool like Facebook to reach a target audience of professionals aged 40+, when statistics show that around over 80 per cent of UK Facebook users are under 40.
Once you’ve decided which social media tool or tools you are going to use, decide how you’re going to approach it carefully. What are you saying and to whom?
There have been numerous examples of major brands attempting to conduct social media campaigns or stunts, which have badly backfired and resulted in a consumer backlash, and ridicule aplenty.
No brand can afford that kind of damage, no matter how large or small.
Always have the consumer at the centre of any social media activity, and think as they would. Add value for your consumer, and always think of how they will gain from your activity. For example, a Facebook page that offers discounts and information about your product or service is innovative and is likely to increase brand awareness virally.
Be different and try to make sure that your social media campaign is one that will get people talking and one they will remember. No matter how simple.
And last, but by no means least, encourage your consumers to engage with you through social media activity. Simply talking at them by posting regular updates sends out the wrong message entirely.
Social media is all about engagement and interaction, and is not a passive process.
If you can actively encourage consumers to get involved in these campaigns, for example by posting suggestions for new products ideas as part of a competition, they will feel that they have some ownership of the brand, and this is vital.
Consumers engaging with each other through social media and sharing brand opinion has a favourable reaction, not only because these consumers feel they have ownership of the process, but also because they are more likely to relate to others’ opinions about the brand as they seem more ‘real’ than direct marketing messages.
Finally, don’t forget that many mobile phones today have powerful interactivity and will be linked to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You can take advantage of this by developing a downloadable application, which can be done on a relatively low budget and connects you directly with your consumer. Just remember that an app needs to add value for your consumer. That way it will make their life easier and cement their relationship with your brand.
Howard Scott is digital marketing director at Sequence Digital. The digital marketing agency’s clients include the BBC, S4C, The Welsh Assembly Government, Storm Model Management and Rachel's Organic.