Have you noticed the orange and black tee shirts and jerseys lately? Baseball season is over for us in Charm City, but the spirit seems to be living on. If you had to pick now and award a prize for the best marketing effort of 2012, you’d have to give it the O’s. But it wasn’t because they were so masterful at communications – you actually have to applaud them for their effort in previous years when the franchise suffered losing seasons. No, they get the award because they put a “better product out on the field”. This, once again, reinforces the importance of a strong product proposition as the impetus for all your marketing efforts.
Sizzle can only sell for so long. At some point the quality of the steak makes a huge difference in customer satisfaction and re-purchase behavior. This does not imply that anybody ever walks into work and tries to develop an inferior product, but what happens over time is that products lose their functional value because change is constant. And today, more than yesterday, much more rapid. Products and services lose their relevance far quicker today, because of technology, shifting demographics and complicated interlinking marketplaces. And, we know, change at the product level is hard and expensive. But, keeping a competitive advantage is mandatory for any organization to move forward. Regrettably, there is no way to future proof your product and services, you have to look for insights to the market and be nimble in adapting.
We are seeing symptoms of this in education. Younger consumers are questioning the value of a quality education, because they don’t see the benefits. Parents, who usually foot the bill, are questioning the return on investment. And, on the other side of the ledger, schools are trying desperately to find a lower cost delivery mechanism. Much of what we see in education is a ramp up of strategic planning and an upgrade in communication planning and execution. But at the heart of it, is the realization that in 5 to 10 years, the product – “education” – is going to have to be “better” than it is now.
We see it in health care. The rise of “minute clinics” shows that the pent-up demand for “just in time” health care by consumers is an appealing proposition. We see it in financial services with the increase in people managing their investments without the help of professionals. Just about every category is seeing a dramatic shift in how consumers want to interact with them and how they want services and products delivered.
It’s up to the marketing department to be vigilant and make sure that the products and services are meeting current and future customer needs. At Procter & Gamble, one of their goals is to have “another horse in the barn” well before the current brand (or “horse”) sees any decline in sales and appeal. I won’t get on a soapbox and tell you how much technology has affected all of us. You know that by now. The issue is making sure that you don’t get so lost worrying about the sizzle that you forget about the steak.
Integration is an old concept and still one of the most reliable strategies for any organization that is serious about its communication efforts. The basic concept is very simple. The most effective way to influence your audiences is through multiple media channels or apertures. Because different channels are more effective in delivering various aspects of your message, multiple, coordinated media initiatives allow you to deliver a more complete and impactful message.
Back in the day, integration focused on three communication elements: broadcast, print and media relations. TV was, and is still, the most effective media in delivering a message and integration was really about making sure that an organization didn’t lop all their communication dollars into TV. The planning tool used was reach and frequency and most well-run communication programs had reach and frequency goals. That’s why all media measurement was distilled to GRP’s (gross rating points). Media relations generated additional oomph to the message either through an event (publicity) or thought leadership visibility (op-ed submissions, news bureau efforts and by-lined articles).
Today achieving an effective integrated communication program has gotten significantly more difficult. Asides from the proliferation of new media driven by digital technology, the manner in which consumers, including business customers, consume information has changed as well. Traditional media, especially print and radio which used to be workhorses of many media campaigns, have lost much of their power, and the continual segmentation of media consumption makes it harder to build awareness for products and services around large audiences. A look at ratings for popular TV shows 20 years ago versus today shows the difference in ability of even the most powerful media to deliver large audiences.
So, the leveling in the various media’s ability to deliver your message effectively has put an even greater premium on a properly balanced and integrated communication campaign. Most communication veterans know this, but the problem is that many of the efforts to integrate are retrofitted. What we mean is that many media plans incorporate a primary communication driver that an organization is comfortable with and then back-fill by swapping out one traditional media channel for a new media channel. We underlined “is comfortable with,” because organizations, like individual self-directed investors, keep using the same media channels because they have a history with it and have a historical framework to evaluate its performance–just as many investors held on to GM for 20-30 years even as the share price kept sliding and were loath to pick up shares of Apple.
So, what to do?
- Chart your prospect’s buying cycle. There are 43 discreet steps to figuring out whether or not to eat at McDonalds. You may not think your prospects go through so many steps to decide whether they want to be your customer, but if you go and identify every step in your customer’s buying cycle, you’ll come up with more than you realize. After you map the cycle, you’ll see that there are several messaging opportunities – points of contact – and no one message convinces a prospect to become a customer; it is the accumulation of information over a period of time that eventually puts you into your prospect’s consideration set.
- Find the best media for delivering your message at those points of contact. As you come up with your influence opportunities, your next step is to determine what medium is best to carrying the message to your prospect at that point of contact. What’s critical here is determining whether your communication is about building relationships or building transactions. If your goal is to “own” a customer and maintain a relationship with them, your communication toolbox needs to have more personal, direct communication vehicles. If your goal is to churn traffic and build transactions, then you need to find media that drives the largest audiences to your store, web site or customer representatives. And, in the case of both models, you have to be strongest where it most matters. Think of it this way, in real estate the adage is “location, location, location” – same thing in building your media plan – determine what is the equivalent to your “location, location, location” and build your media plan accordingly.
- Build your plan around both reach and frequency. Many communication plans fail because not enough people see the messages (a reach problem) and then there are others that aren’t seen enough times (a frequency problem). Every sector has a rule a thumb – in consumer packaged goods, you tie your reach and frequency to your desired market share and the number of times a consumer will buy your product. For example, for ground coffee, the goal might be a 30 reach (or to reach 30% of the market of ground coffee purchasers) with 2 frequency (because that’s the number of time the average ground coffee buyer buys a can of coffee over a month). You can figure out what yours is – the information is there in the purchase cycle analysis you conducted in step one and your share goals.
- Calculate your cost per customer and use it as metric for balancing your communication portfolio. Regardless of your business; everyone can come up with a calculation. The easiest way is to take your total communication costs and divide by the number of your customers or unit sales. That should give you a baseline number to start with. Then, the next step is to figure out how to make that metric – cost per customer or cost per unit – more efficient. You may find that by investing in more reach media, you drive more customers and lower your frequency media or visa versa. The point is let the market help you determine your optimal communication mix.
These four simple steps will help move you down the path of an effective integrated communication program. Don’t be tantalized by all the new buzz about social media and ignore traditional, and don’t be so stuck in the 20th century that you don’t realize the value of new media. Regardless of your perspective, you’ll need to use many forms of media in the right proportion.