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.

Maximising the Marketing Communications Budget

Probably the hardest task that every senior marketing manager regularly faces is planning to maximise budget efficiency. Nowhere is this more challenging than when deciding on where to spend the marketing communications budget.

The exponential growth of new media covers every aspect of life from the second your (digital of course) radio alarm goes off in the morning through all the traditional offline media you’re exposed to over the course of the day. Once we go online and explore the huge demands on the budget related to email marketing, search engine optimisation, pay per click, web design and a plethora of other online marketing opportunities, the budget dilemma seems to become impossible. Various studies indicate the average person living in a developed country is exposed to anywhere between 3000 and 7000 differing advertising messages per day. If you’re targeting that person, then how do you choose the one or two messages that are going to grab their attention and generate the right response? Even for highly experienced marketers these are not easy decisions. Some will claim to take a highly scientific approach but in this article we will treat the budgeting exercise as a combination of art and science.

The answers can be found in a few key areas: The size of your brand and business, the nature of your target market, the relative size of your competitors, the level of experience you have gained from previous marketing activity and your personal predisposition to believe in a particular approach. I’ve packaged that into

Ten golden rules for planning an integrated advertising campaign:

1 Repetition builds awareness builds response

Don’t spread your budget too thin. It’s better to repeat your message three or four times to the same person in the same media than to spread your message to a wider audience that may only see it once or twice

2 Online marketing is fashionable but that doesn’t make it right for your business

If you know you can build your business by increasing your web visits then online expenditure makes sense. But if your business model is not dependent on your website be careful about throwing all your money online

3 The smaller your budget the more benefit Public Relations can provide

Public Relations takes time and effort but the results can be amazing and the monthly fee often equates to just one advertisement

4 The bigger your business the more important brand building

As a massive generalisation, small businesses need to focus on building response and every penny they spend on marketing is looking for a short-term return. In the long run it’s the budgets that invest in brand building that win but there’s no point in worrying about that when your budget is small.

5 Direct Mail and e-shots are the starting point for most small businesses

You can directly compare costs with return.

6 No more than 50% of your budget online

OK that’s not really a golden rule as some businesses can prosper never appearing outside the virtual world. But it’s rare to find a target market that is not responsive to offline communications and on average over 50% of ‘commercial’ web visits are driven by traditional media.

7 Information Is Power

Quite simply the more you understand your target market and their media consumption the better you can plan campaigns that connect with them. Also if something has worked before it will probably work again, but not in quite the same way. So learn from your successes as well as your mistakes.

8 Don’t swim with the big fish

If you’re a small fish then swim upstream or downstream of the big ones Taken from Adam Morgan’s book ‘Eating the Big Fish’ this rule simply says that challenger brands need to do things differently to the competition

9 Sponsorship is for laughs

If you have many millions of pounds or dollars to spend then sponsor a premiership football club. If your budget is smaller avoid spending too much money on simple brand awareness and make sure your brand values, unique selling points and call to action are built into your marketing communications

10 Integrated communications are impressive

Even better than repeating your message to one person in the same medium is getting that message across to that person through different marketing communications. A direct mail piece, an e-shot, a press ad combined with a PR article come together to make your budget look much bigger than it is

Finally, there’s an 11th rule too! If you can’t afford it then that rules it out. It seems obvious but a lot of highly experienced marketers make the mistake of wanting to try media they perceive to be prestigious such as National TV that soak up more than 50% of their budget and leave a lot of the more hard working, cost effective, demand driving media unaffordable.

To summarise, it’s art and science coming together, there are no definite right answers but there are a lot of obviously bad ones. If in doubt get an integrated marketing agencyto help you decide. Specialist agencies will always try to get as much of your budget as they can. An integrated agency might want almost your entire budget but it will work with you to maximise its effectiveness!

Key Messages – A Key in Marketing Communications

If you’ve started up a business or are looking to revamp one there are a million things you need to do. When it comes to your marketing communications, however, there’s one task that should be one of the first on your list, and that’s the development of key messages.

Key messages are often called unique selling propositions and key points of difference and the reason your business needs them is simple: To highlight to potential customers why they should be using your business.

So how do you start to develop your key messages?

One of the first things you should do is to think about the image you want to portray to your target audience. How do you want clients to view your business? Do you want to be known for discounted prices, for excellent service, for fast delivery, for high quality products, etc. etc.? There are way too many possibilities to include in this article but it’s a good idea to list everything that is relevant to you and your business.

When you are developing your image list – and indeed your messages – it’s important you be honest. If the image and key messages you develop is not matched by your business, the products or services you sell and your staff, customers will notice. And they’ll most likely share their insights with family, friends and social media connections.

After you’ve made your list of the how you want customers to perceive your business, developing your key messages is relatively simple. If you want your accommodation business to be portrayed as one that provides great service, a message might be: “Our staff will bend over backwards to make your stay a comfortable and memorable one”. If you’re a retail store that sells cheap products, a message might be: “We have discounts on your discounts!”

When you’re developing your key messages remember these short bits of information will form a significant part of your communications with clients. So, be anything but boring. Consider your target customer and write messages that are engaging, interesting and informative.

Once you have developed your key messages, use them: In brochures, on your website, on business stationery and any other marketing communications you produce. In fact, you can also use them when greeting customers and in networking opportunities.