How Your Company’s Lifecycle Impacts Your Marketing Communications

Marketing communications is an area that’s rapidly affected by advances in technology — not only in the way companies create marketing material but also how they distribute it.

Like email did in the late 1990s, social media has exploded in popularity among marketers. Online video grows by leaps and bounds. And mobile marketing is escalating so quickly that companies are scrambling to ensure their marcom is mobile friendly.

Marketing communications can be sliced into two segments:

  • Pull marketing (also called inbound marketing). Potential customers find your product or service at their choosing. Communication channels for this type of marketing include: search engines, online forums, blogs and social media.
  • Push marketing (outbound marketing). You directly contact potential customers at the time of your choosing to promote — or push — your product or service to their attention. Communication channels include: email bulletins, sales letters and catalogs.

But how do you know which of these marketing channels to focus on? There are a variety of factors that influence this decision, including demographics, firmographics, purchase history and customer lifecycle. All of these aspects will come into play at some point, depending on the markets you serve.But one dynamic that doesn’t get as much attention as it should is the lifecycle of your company?

In the startup stage, getting customers is an urgent activity. You can’t pay your bills and your employees for long without sufficient customers. Because of its expediency, push marketing is often a focal point at this stage because you may not be able to get enough customers with pull marketing to sustain your business in the short term.

This doesn’t mean you ignore implementing pull marketing during this phase, but you clearly have a need to acquire customers relatively quickly. SEO may take awhile before traffic increases. And direct selling is frowned upon in social media, as the emphasis in this arena is relationship building and customer engagement.

Here are three tips on startup stage marketing:

1) Don’t wait until after your company opens its door to start marketing. Make sure you have your website, marketing collateral and advertising finalized and ready to go so you can hit the ground running.

2) Ask yourself “Can I generate enough customers in the short term by using pull marketing alone?” If not, what push channels would be most appropriate for your target audience?

3) What methods have you implemented to measure the success of your marketing communications? If you can’t measure the response, how will you know if you’re getting the most out of your marketing dollars?

How to Build a Compelling Marketing Communications Folder

What do you give your prospects after they’ve expressed an interest in your products or services? Most small business owners simply pass out a single sales brochure. It’s much more effective to present a complete folder of information that works to further build trust and confidence. This article discusses the inserts I recommend you include in your marketing folder.

Insert #1: The Compelling Story

Every small business owner should be able to tell a compelling story about their passions and why they started their business. After all, how can you expect to create passion in your customers if you’re not able to convey your own business passion?

The Compelling Story is just that – a short 1-page info sheet on just why you created your business. The story must be personal, engaging, and fun to read. If you can make an emotional connection with the reader, you’ll quickly build trust and confidence with your prospects.

Below are a few points to help you craft the perfect compelling story.

– Be personal – Talk about the people you’ve touched in your business

– If possible, appeal to the emotions

– Make your story fun to read

– Tell your story with passion

– Show your human side – talk about mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learned

Your Compelling Story is the perfect start to your marketing communications folder.

Insert #2: The Competition

The purpose of this insert is to summarize why people should buy from you as opposed to your competition. Summarize all the advantages of doing business with your company. Communicate your unique approach, the value customers get when they do business with you, and why your products and services are the best in your field.

Again, make this a single sided sheet and pick just three or four points to communicate.

Insert #3: The Problem Solver

How are you are able to solve the business problems of your customers? This insert should tell the whole story.

Here’s what I suggest you include in this single-page insert.

– Define the main problems of your target market

– Describe how your product or service solves those problems

– Describe the steps needed to solve the problem

Insert #4: Product and Service Summary

In this insert, summarize your various product/ services and list the benefits of each.

Make sure you discuss the benefits, not the features. This is an important distinction. Too many companies spend their time covering product features instead of focusing on the benefits to the customer.

Insert #5: The Testimonial Page

This is the page that summarizes your best customer testimonials. Here are a few ideas for collecting customer testimonials.

1. Many customers may feel they don’t have the time to write a testimonial. For customers with an established relationship, write one up on their behalf and present it to them for their approval.

2. After completing a successful transaction with a customer, ask them for a quick testimonial. Have them write a few sentences down on a piece of paper. It will only take a minute and they will rarely refuse if you have provided value.

3. To create more powerful copy, ask your customers to write the testimonial as if they were recommending you to a friend.

Insert #6: The Informational Article

Write a short article on a topic that is important to your customer base. Include a web URL where they can view or download the entire article at no charge. By providing free and useful information, you will build on the trust and confidence you have already established.

So there you have it – all the main components of a strong marketing communications folder. You can purchase a pocket folder with your logo and tag line printed on the front from your local print shop or a service such as VistaPrint. I recommend purchasing folders that have slots on one of the inside pockets for your business card.

Any time you have someone that expresses an interest in your products and services, mail or give them a copy of your folder. It’s a powerful marketing communication strategy that will build trust, interest, and repeat business.

Marketing and Marketing Communications Challenges For the Midsized Retailer

The consumer started to spend a little more in the first quarter of 2010 and, according to Bloomberg data, Wall Street analysts have upped their earnings estimates for more than 100 U.S. retail stocks. Good news, especially coming from Wall Street.

But, what if you’re not a Big Box store or boutique retailer? Let’s say you have about twenty doors and, while your on-line sales may be increasing, as a midsized retailer the “bricks and mortar” versus “e-commerce” investment strategy still presents a challenge to you.

Consider also the 27 percent increase in coupon redemption, according to Nielsen the first time in 17 years that consumers used more coupons than in the year before. You know you can’t continue to discount yourself into sustainable profitability, so to drive profitable revenue in the short and long term – isn’t it time to re-evaluate how you market yourself and what marketing communications tactics to employ?

Learn The New Marketing Environment
Before you start making any changes, step back and determine what your customers and employees think about your product and service offerings. You probably think you know everything about your existing and potential customers, but other than price, are you really sure you know what’s important to them?

And what about your employees? Fortune magazine’s “Most Admired Companies” issue points out, based on research done by the Hay Group, that these companies actually believe that employees are their most valued asset. They are your true brand advocates and probably know a lot about what may be holding you back from further growth.

For instance, in your retail environment, have you trained your staff effectively to deliver value to your customers? Have you provided them with the tools to create an engaging one-on-one experience? Consider leveraging your staff or bringing in a “local expert” for an evening event and creating co-promotion with a brand that can bring you both new customers.

And a similar evaluation needs to be done for your e-commerce business. What does your website say about you? What do you know about these customers and their needs and interest? How are they different from your in-store purchasers? Are your emails or social media tactics inspiring them to purchase?

Forrester, the tech research firm, believes we are now living in the era of “Splinternet” and must move with caution through the new world of consumer data mining, applications and internet standards. Mobile advertising and Facebook professionals moving to LinkedIn, for example, are just some of the most recent media selection challenges.

Find marketing consultants who can help you answer these questions with clarity, and then help you communicate with your constituents. Look before you leap.

Be Media Neutral
Assuming you have enough employee advocates on the floor and your retail environment is inviting and tells your story and your website is “smokin”, how do you determine the best mix between new and traditional media? Don’t be seduced by media efficiency. Media efficiency must be coupled with media effectiveness.

All of this starts, again, with knowing your customer. For instance, age is one key factor. According to a January, 2010 study by SSRS:

  • Only 20 percent of adults aged 18 – 49 read a print version of a newspaper every day, while 42 percent of adults aged 50+ do;
  • Further, while 34 percents of adults 18 – 49 prefer to get their news online, less than half of that number aged 50+ want online news.

And there’s the medium itself to consider. While total spending for U.S. advertising declined last year by 9 percent to $117 billion, Spanish language television increased by 32 percent, and cable television increased by 15 percent. Perhaps these marketers know a lot about their customers and how to reach them.

Also consider direct to customer events. Webinars are extremely useful and efficient (and soon you’ll start hearing a lot of great stuff about this summer’s launch of the Home Dec Show, a turnkey 24/7 virtual marketplace). But be sure to think outside the box for alternative ways of face to face selling, such as pop up stores or tying in with events, where a customer can see and touch the product (and gauge the sincerity of the person selling it).

With so much competition and convenience just a click away, retailers must deliver experience-based and interactive retailing to differentiate themselves. Depending on the customer segment, know what type of information they want and how they want it delivered. And make sure it connects to your web-based communication and sales efforts. Don’t underestimate the power of customer interaction to deliver profit to your bottom line. Seize the opportunity to create a continuum, not an “either or” scenario.

Find Established Marketing Communications Consultants
As it stands now, the marketing and marketing communications environment is complex. Most assuredly, media fragmentation will continue and exacerbate the decision making process even more. There is much to determine and evaluate, especially for a midsized retailer. Finding the right people whom you can trust to understand this environment and how to invest in it may be the hardest part.

Look for strategic and creative partners with demonstrated ability across retail businesses who aren’t “selling” a one size fits all solution or marketing approach. New and traditional media can work well together but you must find media neutral consultants who can master the challenges of efficiency and effectiveness.

And, fresh eyes may help you see more clearly.