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”.

Marketing Communications and Other Brand Communication Activities

The odd fact, is that as much as we all have been the targets of marketing communications for pretty much our entire lives, it’s but a select small percentage of the population who understand what it is and how it works. Those who have studied it, and make a living at it are called market communicators.

On the surface to the novice, it can all seem so simple. Marketing communications is simply communicating with potential clients or customers about whatever it is that you have to offer. The end goal of whatever it is that you’re communicating is to convert them from potential to actual clients and customers.

Look below the surface though and you’ll find that it has become an incredibly complex art/science and perhaps you may have already heard of subliminal advertising. This is a form of marketing communications that is done to transmit hidden messages to the public, and it can take a wide range of forms. Major corporations have been doing it for years.

Of course subliminal marketing communications is being done on the Internet as it has been on TV, and radio but one new genre of marketing communications confined exclusively to the Internet, is called mass interactive marketing communications. It’s been generating a huge buzz not only due to its effectiveness, but also because of the potential it holds.

The name interactive is the big giveaway that what it is, is actual two way interaction that allows the public to at least have the feel that they’re in actual communication with a marketer. Of course two way communications has been around ever since the first person filled his or her basket with something to sell, so in that respect it’s not a huge breakthrough.

What is a huge deal though, is that online interactive communications allows you to conduct simulated one on one communications with multitudes of people spread all over the globe, if that be the case. In fact you may have already ran across auto-responding emails and not even been aware of it. If they were professionally done that is.

Auto-responding email are a series of prewritten emails that are arranged to be sent out in a specific set order that ideally leads a person in a step by step fashion as close as possible to a sale or, “marketers end goal”. Now do keep in mind that this is nothing like spamming.

Rather well crafted auto-responding emails are produced and arranged in such as way that your recipient believes that they are “personally written” and sent. Preferably as a response to the last emails he or she sent. A four or five series of back and forth emails.

So the more one looks into marketing communications, the more fascinating it becomes, and as digital communications technology becomes more advanced, so too does this art/science. In the end though, it’s all is done for the same purpose, and that is to drive sales.

Explaining Customer Communications Management Technology For Marketing Communications Professionals

Customer Communications Management is a term highlighted by research companies such as Gartner Group, Forrester Research and Madison Advisors to define a convergent set of Information Technology solutions that together provide marketing communication professionals the ability to advance the way that they communicate with their customers.

Advocates of Customer Communications Management and its definition include Gartner Group, Forrester Research and Madison Advisors as well as a host of vendor organisations such as Pitney Bowes Group 1 Software, HP Exstream Software, Thunderhead, Xenos and EMC Document Sciences.

Initial Customer Communications Management concepts were focused upon the utilisation of company transactional documents. These documents such as bank statements, statement of account, invoices and other customer transactional documents were viewed as an ideal location in which to promote company products to customers.

The rationale behind this was cited in analyst research by Info Trends that, “transactional documents are opened and read by more than 90% of consumers. Because the average consumer is bombarded with advertising, e-mail, direct mail and other forms of solicitation each day, TransPromo can help you cut through the clutter and stand out.”

Not only are transactional documents more likely to be opened and observed than other types of document, they are also more likely to be studied for longer than say a direct mail piece. Thus, a company has an opportunity to communicate and promote its message to the customer.

The technology that supports customer communications management also allows sophistication in the content of the messages. Customer communications management technology may consist of the following components (of which you’ll find plenty of information on this site):

1. Data Extraction, Transform & Load software.
2. Data Management, Analysis and location intelligence software.
3. Data Hygiene database software.
4. Document composition software.
5. Electronic document archive software and perhaps payment processing functionality.
6. Print Stream Engineering / Post Processing Software.
7. Mailing compliance database software.
8. Printer Management Software.
9. High and medium volume production printers.
10. Envelope inserter machines such as those manufactured by Kern, Bowe or Pitney Bowes.
11. Email Marketing Software.
12. SMS Communication Software.
13. Mobile Media based content distribution software.
14. Entering the frame more recently social media distribution software.
15. Document Production Reporting Software

There are a number of key factors concerning the way in which the software assists the marketing communications professional.

The data extraction software presents marketers and business with an opportunity to combine data from multiple systems to enable a customer analysis. Through this customer analysis process it is possible for marketers to evaluate the marketing mix and position individual products to the customer in respect of relevance to the customer or the results of purchase propensity model.

The end result of this process will be the creation of a data model, data acquisition and decision rules that enable a document composition engine to follow its own set of document application rules to construct individual documents on the basis of data items contained within an individuals data record.

Thus the concept of one-to-one marketing is born.

It is theoretically possible at least that for a run of 100,000 statements, no statement will contain the same set of offers. Thus, clothing for women would not be marketed to men whilst ‘male gadgets’ would not be marketed to women.

But Customer Communications Management is not just about making offers to customers. It also provides companies with the opportunity to improve the clarity of their communications. Rather than producing line driven data in which it is difficult for a customer to extrapolate trends and a deepening of understanding in respect of his or her relationship with the supplying company, Customer Communications Management provides the opportunity for a company to deliver visual analysis through clear graphics and highlighted content.

The Document Composition engine is responsible for interpreting data and following a set of rules to create a set of documents that can either be printed or distributed electronically. The Document Composition engine usually produces either a print stream or, XML data.

Print streams are languages that printers use to instruct the print process. They are known as PDL’s or Page Description Language. Common print stream types include AFP, Xerox Metacode, VIPP, PCL and Postscript. There are numerous others but, in production printing environments these are probably the most common.

Sometimes the Document Composition Engine will output XML. The advantage of XML is that it may be repurposed either to print or to various electronic formats. Thus, XML provides a standard of interoperability between various computer software systems.

As documents move from the virtual data environment into becoming something physical, the may first need post processing. Post processing can be utilised to prepare a print job for production and distribution. This may include tasks such as the application of barcodes to deliver individual mail piece instructions to the inserters and to vary these in terms of the actual inserter being used. For example, one manufacturer’s inserter may require different barcode instructions to complete the same task than another.

Post processing does not only cover production preparation. One of the key cost considerations in Customer Communications Management is the cost of mailing. Various postal operators throughout the world offer discount schemes if a volume mail producer pre-sorts mail before despatch. As this process saves the postal operator considerable effort and cost, a discount is passed to the mail producer. Where mailing volumes are high, this discount figure can be significant to the mail producer where for example the Royal Mail in the UK will offer 18% discount to customers who pre-sort their mail into 120 ‘pots’.

Post processing may not suit all mail sortation needs however and for organisations who produce many smaller jobs, a Mail Sortation machine, situated as the very last element of the production process may be more suitable. Many smaller jobs can be aggregated through the day and then bundled together for a physical mail sortation process.

Sometimes, Post Processing may be an integral part of the document composition process and this may be more efficient from a production point of view because rather than creating a two step document creation and processing process, it can be delivered in a single step and as part of the major document application. This may save production time.

Print Management software controls the routing and distribution of print jobs to either a single production printer or a fleet of production printers. Print management software does not just provide routing as a benefit though, it also provides a mechanism for assured delivery (ensuring that all pages get printed) through communication and feedback from print devices and also provides management information that is useful for Document Production Managers.

Production printers in themselves have been a key driver in the development of Customer Communications Management as a concept. The advent of high speed, 90 page per minute and faster economic colour production printers in recent years has driven the usefulness and power of Customer Communications Management meaning that a company can produce ‘print shop’ quality documents ‘on the fly’ utilising data that may be infinitely variable as in one-to-one customer communications documents.

The final step of the process and the final major utiliser of data derived upstream in the inserting / mail finishing process. This is where paper documents are combined with envelopes and sealed. The inserter uses camera technology to read a barcode that provides a Piece ID, often combined with a data file produced by either the document composition application or the post processing engine.

By obtaining the Piece ID and performing a data file look-up, the inserter is able to determine factors such as the number of pages for a particular mail piece, whether any additional physical inserts are required (such as leaflets)and whether or not a piece should be out sorted for special human handling.

Thus the inserter is able to determine what should go in each envelope. Through further downstream cameras and sensors, it is also able to determine the integrity of a particular piece.

But this is not where Customer communications management ends. The provision of a document archive means that after a document has been created by the document composition engine, it can be made available to a company call centre or website. Call centre users benefit from being able to engage a customer by seeing the document that the customer has in his hand. This saves money in call centres speeding up call centre client query resolution times and meaning that call centres can handle more customers with fewer staff.

The delivery of documents via electronic channels is also seen as favourable, giving consumers a choice of document receipt method that suits their lifestyles. Combined with electronic payment, this may accelerate cash collection and thus improve a company’s cash flow position.

Relevance of communication is seen as key in overcrowded, competitive markets where service differentiation can be difficult. Documents that add value to the customer relationship add to differentiation and for many service oriented businesses and be a major factor in improving customer retention and acquisition.

Chief Marketing Officers are adopting Customer Communications Management because it heralds a world of new opportunity and a new way in which to develop customer relationships.