Marketing options are wide and varied, offering more opportunities than ever before for companies to connect with their customers. Everything is on the Internet, and this has dramatically changed the landscape for business. Even small companies in Arizona are selling internationally, observes Matt Silverman, vice president and managing director of R&R Partners’ Phoenix office. “Their product is interesting, and now discoverable by people anywhere in the world,” he says. The Internet provides companies today — both big and small — a platform they may have only dreamed of a short time ago. As Scott Harkey, president of Owens Harkey Advertising, puts it succinctly, “The global economy is an enormous upside for companies.”
But as much as it’s a global economy, all marketing is local, emphasizes Tim Riester, principal and CEO of advertising agency Riester. “In 2015, even brands with thousands of locations in the world will be focused on generating customer traffic at the local store level.” Advanced technology in data collection such as location services and geo-targeting is proving to pair well with the popularity of mobile devices, and businesses now are able to identify potential customers near their store and invite them in with relevant and immediate offers.
It’s no surprise that search engines and the rise of mobile technology play into everyone’s marketing decisions. However, although the Web gives business more tools, some things haven’t changed at all. Strategy is still key, and the starting point for strategy? “Know your brand,” insists Rosaria Cain, CEO and media director of Knoodle.
Emphasizing the importance of strategy as the foundation of any marketing plan, Beau Lane, CEO of LaneTerralever, explains, “It’s easy to create marketing materials, but the magic comes if you have strong strategy behind that, that’s focused on the objectives you have and targeted to customers you’re trying to attract.”
What’s key is the brand knowing who it is and what it stands for, and aligning with consumers who are looking for that. Marketing now is less about talking at people and more about engaging with them — having a brand experience the consumer can feel and touch at every touch point, not just through advertising but through every interaction with the organization. Such an immersive experience “is the basis for starting to build a friendship,” says Kristen Bloomquist, executive VP and general manager of the Phoenix office of Cramer-Krasselt, favoring the concept of “friendship” in marketing because “friends talk about you to other friends; they share about you; and they’re loyal, they want to come back for more.”
Know Yourself, Your Brand and Your Competition
A company must first understand itself in order to develop a strategic plan. What does it stand for now? What it will stand for in five years? Ten years? “And,” Harkey adds, “what are benchmarks for those goals?”
This understanding must exist at all levels of the company, not just the owner or top executive. Riester suggests the company publish a brand guideline for its employees. “Having an onboarding curriculum for new employees is critical to ensure they understand what you stand for and how to represent your brand to your customers,” he says.
It’s also important that a company know its competition, its unique position in its market or industry, and its positioning stage. The old adage, “You can’t be all things to all people” is still sound. A furniture company, for instance, might find there are other businesses dealing with high-end products, and if it can’t compete there, it can be the low-end, high-volume provider. “Walmart has done well with this,” Harkey points out.
Of course, how a business does its marketing depends on the size and scale of the business. What it comes down to is needing to look at who the company is and who it is trying to reach from the consumer segment.
Know Your Audience
A business also needs to understand its target audience — so it can better target its marketing messages and dollars. Differentiators include age, location, their mindset in purchasing a specific product, what they like to read, how often they’re online and how they get their information. A business needs take the time to consider how the customer reacts to what it is saying. “Find an angle that interests them, not just that interests you,” Cain says. The plan should be built on how customers get their information and how they like to be approached.
The point is to understand what motivates the desired customer to take a positive action — and why. Notes Silverman, “The more you understand your audience, the more you can narrow the communication channels you use.”
Businesses need both qualitative and quantitative data, and there is an abundance of resources available to them — from social listening tools to affordable databases they can use for surveys. This information can be acquired through focus groups and research projects. Pointing out it’s easier and quicker than ever before to add certainty to message creation and media channel selection, Riester says, “Focus your marketing on moments in the customer’s path to purchase, and the lifetime value of your customers will increase.”
The Millennial Generation is seen by many in the marketing profession as the most important generation for marketers, offering the greatest opportunity for customer growth. For this demographic, social and environmental awareness is a pillar. “The younger generations are interested in companies’ social and environmental awareness, and this will influence their buying habits,” Silverman says, citing the success of Starbucks and online shoe retailer TOMS.
They are also, however, the most well-informed and skeptical consumer in history. They don’t want to be “marketed to,” and they are media-savvy enough to recognize where that is happening. Instead, businesses should aim to be entertaining or educational — and keep in mind the danger of making a claim that is not entirely true, because they will go online and research the claim. “If you’re not truthful, they’ll destroy you on social media,” Riester says. “But if you have purpose beyond commercialism that appeals to them, they will spread it throughout their community and become loyal users.”
The skepticism manifests in another way that impacts a brand’s perception. While it is true in general that customers have tremendous access to information — from peers and social networks to online content and blogs — the Millennial and Digital Native generations, in particular, value opinions that come from outside the company itself.
Businesses can create messaging customized to specific audiences; even the Millennial Generation can by hyper-segmented. To do this, businesses need to understand the nuances for each culture. Arizona is a different market from New Jersey, for instance. “People want to feel special, like that message was specifically for them,” Harkey says, citing Shea Homes’ marketing its Trilogy developments to Canadians differently from its messaging to people from Chicago or New York.
There is also a definite shift toward multiculturalism. In the Phoenix designated market area, for instance, a look at the total market reveals that 27 percent of the adult population is Hispanic; 40 percent of the population overall. But differences are more than just language. Even acculturated Hispanics look at companies differently if they believe the companies understand them, Bloomquist notes.
As beneficial as it is to break down the demographic makeup of a market, Bloomquist, acknowledges that not every business has money to spend against different segments — so it is also valuable to look at the total market.
Consumers want an experience with the brand, so brands that can find ways to engage with them socially or online or through a mobile app “are giving the brand meaning in ways that are more than just being talked at.”
Evaluate Media Options
Marketing decisions are made based on how to bring the message to life from a brand standpoint as to where and what and how consumers can engage with it. This goal, however, remains a moving target.
Technology and strategies change all the time. The good news is, marketers have more methods to reach customers. On the other hand, Silverman says, “The bad news is, the customer is inundated with more and more messages, and therefore it’s harder to break through the clutter.”
The tool kit available to all companies includes print, email, social and website strategy, digital engagement and customer experience. With these, companies looking to elevate awareness and drive sales need to understand traditional and digital marketing. Most companies can’t afford to do all, so as it considers its audience, goals and budget, the company needs to determine which communication channel is most efficient in reaching the targeted audience.
But the medium is not the message. “Content requires good communication, good copy writing, good design — the classic elements of marketing,” Lane states.
Then comes the tactical strategy — how to put messaging in place.
Thanks to social media and content marketing, social awareness platforms and marketing have given underdog brands a chance. Smaller brands have built their culture on this; Harkey points out that bigger brands, like Coca Cola, are now getting into it.
Social is a medium that is becoming its own network of opportunity, each channel with its own following. Cain characterizes Facebook as having become the “old guard,” Instagram a provider of visual storytelling, Twitter now a real-time news source and information-gathering tool, and Pinterest more like a magazine than the other sites. Snapchat may be up and coming, but its usefulness is not yet clear, she says, noting it has not been monetized yet.
Advertising used to be top-down — the company would tell about the product and the consumer would decide if she wants to buy it. With social media, it’s a 360-degree relationship: People review the product and talk about it online, and people rate the product. “If you make a mistake or do something great, people will talk about it,” Silverman explains. “If a customer doesn’t like something, she will tell you — and tell friends on platforms that can be read by millions of people.” In fact, customers and consumers have strong ownership of “their” brand, so understanding how to deal with that is what’s happening today in marketing.
This reality has forced companies to take a new approach as to how they communicate and act. So, says Cain, “If you don’t do it right, don’t do it.”
Part of doing it right is staffing for social customer service — because customers are now choosing social media channels for customer comments, questions and complaints. Says Riester, “Consider social media the new telephone room for your customer service department.” By responding quickly, online, businesses will convey respect to their customers, reinforcing the brand engagement that encourages them to more frequently purchase that company’s products or services.
Riester predicts 2015 will see new beta-tested tools to help marketers connect with consumers, such as location services for retailers to connect with people within proximity of their store and offer them coupons and a quick link for directions. And not only has the efficacy of digital expanded from reach to engagement, it can also enable the marketer to test the ROI of the method used.
But businesses need other ways to push people into the online arena. Traditional media remains important. Says Riester, “When any social media account is connected to a traditional offline campaign, it works better than just digital alone.”
Email is a traditional medium that’s alive and well. But people are inundated with emails, so the key is how to get their attention; how to write messages to engage them. Email is one piece of a full strategy, one of its pluses being the ability it affords a business to organize its brand advocates — people whose continued presence in a company’s email program indicates they already like the brand.
Print is also a valuable traditional medium. Print, in fact, is a proven tool for establishing credibility, Harkey notes. It’s something an individual can hold, he observes, adding, “It says you’re a trusted resource.”
Another tool for credibility is events. An event has a more personal touch and enables the business to get more across to the consumer about the brand. “People don’t buy things per logic,” Harkey notes. “They buy emotionally, and back it up with all the logic.”
Experiential, or event, marketing has become more important. An example Cain cites is the lounge at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport that Fulton Homes provided a few years ago to connect with the many Canadians — potential homebuyers — who passed through that entry point to Arizona. And Riester relates that when Hormel introduces a new product or line extension, “the most successful way to generate a trial is in a grocery store with a tasting crew, plus coupons to use then and there.” He anticipates that 2015 will see marketing include unique ways to work an event to connect customers back with social media after event.
And, of course, there’s television, generally considered the fastest awareness-building medium. “But on its own,” Lane notes, “it doesn’t build consumer engagement or brand experience with your brand.”
Another trend that’s huge is brands acting more like publishers, now that social media and blogging afford the opportunity for businesses to have distribution and publish content. A business owner can use sites like LinkedIn to promote himself as a thought leader, and even create his own network. Noting the ease of making videos with a smartphone and uploading them to YouTube, Cain says, “The expense barriers are gone.”
Whatever marketing tools are selected, businesses must integrate their branding consistently across all the media channels. This is true today more than ever before, although perhaps also more complicated, given the proliferation of media options and the fragmentation of customer audiences. The ability of people to research online, see the product and engage with a business through social media has changed the game. Engagement — an ongoing conversation with customer base, onsite and online — and the brand need to work together, and this involves tone of voice and type of message as well as facts. “Many companies struggle with consistency in communication,” Silverman says, reflecting this may be because businesses have many different departments.
Other challenges are short attention spans, smaller screens and limited time. So the marketing needs to be simple, direct and defined in what the business is looking to communicate.
Along with the messaging having to be consistent, it has to be frequent. “People are exposed to 3,000 promotional messages a day,” Harkey says. Ten years ago, that number was 1,000; in five years, it’s predicted to be 5,000. “People are bombarded, so if you’re not succinct to that culture and individual, you’re just one of that 3,000 communications.” The old rule was having to hit the consumer three times a day; now, it has to be six or seven times for the consumer to even know that company or brand exists.
The frequency need notwithstanding, the deluge of content marketing from brands has created a tremendous clutter. Businesses should focus their efforts on giving customers only timely, relevant content that helps them in their daily lives. “Create content your customers will actually use,” Riester says. “They will reward your brand with both their attention and their wallet.”
There may be insights to specific demographics that cross over to other segments of the market. By determining where those intersections are, a business can develop a single strategy that crosses different segments, and bring it to life in the way that is most relevant to the audiences. Bloomquist gives the MGM Grand Hotel as an example, explaining the brand positioning is, “We offer unparalleled entertainment experiences for our guest,” with the campaign being, “MGM is the entertainment authority.” Noting that “entertainment” means something different to an upscale, seasoned couple and to a family, she says, “So executions are brought to life differently under that campaign and that brand strategy.”
An emerging trend is businesses inserting a local reference, such as the name of the city, into their message. “It gets you to listen a little more,” Harkey notes.
Also important is getting reports on the marketing efforts, so the business can understand what is working and can cut out what isn’t. Businesses need to be willing to admit mistakes and change quickly, an action possible now thanks to the Internet. As Harkey puts it, “Fail quickly and be willing to optimize.” However great a business may think its post is on social media, if there’s no engagement — that is, if it hasn’t engendered comments — then it’s a failure and not something to be continued. With an email campaign, a bad open rate probably signifies a bad headline.
Businesses need to be focused on their goals, and the marketing strategy follows from that. “You have to understand what you’re trying to achieve so you can measure if you’re successful,” Silverman says. But having too many goals can be a problem; Silverman suggests focusing on the top three.
Authenticity is also key. This includes being honest when things don’t go well — businesses can explain why to their base — as well as celebrating victories together.
Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
In today’s world, there are more opportunities to interact with the customer — and track results, how they’re reacting and behaving.
It’s also easier than ever to research a market, with numerous research tools a business can tap for information. SurveyMonkey is one Cain cites as a resource available at a reasonable rate. Whether a business uses social media, online surveys or old-fashioned focus groups, it is critical that it constantly monitor its consumers and how their attitudes are changing. “You have to be able to respond to comments, especially negative ones, and take action,” Cain explains. “People will remember not just a bad review but that you ignored it.”
Businesses can use free Web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, and campaign tracking tools in programs like AdWords to quantify success and calculate ROI in real time while they are implementing their marketing program.
But businesses also need to be smart about where they ascribe credit. A common mistake is putting too much emphasis on the last piece. For instance, a customer may have contacted the business through its website, but did she discover the business on social media, or did the business’s salespeople drive that awareness? Or maybe a print ad broke the awareness, and people then went to Google. “Are you giving too much credit to the end of the sales funnel?” asks Harkey.
The fact that smartphones and tablets have become the favored tools for Internet searches over desktop computers imposes a new urgency on businesses: having their digital and email marketing programs designed to adapt to the visitor’s device. Technology now enables a site to automatically sense the screen size of the device being used and adjust to it. Underscoring the reason for making this a top priority, Riester says, “If customers can’t interact well with the website, they may abort and go to a competitor.” Building for a mobile audience isn’t necessarily new, as some companies have tried to keep up with technology by creating an “mdot” site for iPhone and Android users. But Google, Yahoo and the other Internet servers see this as a different company — so, on algorithms that rank businesses in searches, businesses lose credit for this percentage of traffic.
Business also must understand that the consumer, today, has more control than ever before; companies can’t control what’s being said about them like they used to be able to do. Part of the marketing planning process, then, should include considering where, what and how to control its consumer engagement, and where not try — and then let consumers have conversations that are amplified out in the market through their own voices.
Although technology changes, the fundamentals don’t. Businesses need to make a good product, understand their audience, be authentic and transparent with their customers, and have incredibly good customer service. “All this was true 50 years ago,” Silverman sums up. “The added complexity now is, we have all these added ways to communicate with them, and they have ways to do research and make judgments without meeting you. Therefore, the competition is greater.”