There is a common misconception about marketing: that it works as a ‘bolt-on’ if sales are a little slack whereby you can ‘do’ a bit of marketing to generate some new business.
That is one way to do marketing, but it will contribute little to developing your business over the longer term if its application is limited solely to lead generation exercises.
As with all business investment, there should be a rigorous evaluation procedure before committing to any expenditure. And yes, marketing should be thought of as an investment. This means that the potential returns need to be carefully analysed and the marketing programme should be developed with a view to maximising those returns over time. Would you spend £5,000 on computer equipment without first understanding the payback? Marketing should be given the same scrutiny.
Before starting on a marketing campaign you need to ask all sorts of questions about the business, many of which might at first appear irrelevant. However, only when there is a thorough understanding of the business can there be sufficient context to produce an effective campaign.
The starting point is establishing the overall vision and underpinning values of the company together with its specific objectives over the shorter term. This then forms the basis of integrated marketing, the objective of which is to maximise marketing Return On Investment (ROI) by being consistent in three ways:
1. Consistent with the values and image of the company;
2. Consistent with other marketing-related activities e.g. brochures, premises design etc.;
3. Applied consistently over time.
All companies have an image. Many businesses decide they want to update their image by, for example, redesigning their logo or repositioning their products. But the identity is actually owned by their customers who ascribe the business with a certain set of characteristics.
So the priority is to understand how customers view your company and ensure that this is in line with your own perceptions and values. If your values are based around providing a friendly, open and honest service but your customers actually find you hard to deal with as they think your procedures are too rigid, there is clearly a mismatch.
This needs to be resolved if you are to avoid your marketing becoming an expense rather than an investment. If your marketing is at variance with people’s expectations from your business, they are likely to be considerably less receptive to your communications.
Planning really is the key to successful integrated marketing. All the different elements need to be thought through and developed to work together in harmony: advertising, brochures, promotions, direct mail, telesales, pricing policy, discounts, PR, websites, email, packaging, design, customer service etc. etc.
This is where understanding the values becomes so important (and most business owners take this for granted, so they are not written down – they need to be). Integrated marketing starts with how you answer the phone; having an appropriate identity for your business which is reflected in stationery, premises signage, branding etc.; the quality and style of your printed materials; and how you deal with customer complaints.
All these elements should reinforce the message of what the company stands for. When this happens, advertising works. It works because it is consistent with the customer’s expectations and experiences of your company.
You also need to consider how you will handle response once your campaign breaks. This is where there has been a backlash against offshore call centres. Too often people phone in and find that no-one knows about the offer. The result: the advertising has actually damaged the brand. Do not be complacent, though. Similar things have happened in the UK, even without using call centres.
An essential part of integrated marketing, therefore, is internal communications: making sure that everyone in the business knows what is happening and how they are expected to respond.
This also has implications beyond reception and customer service. Was production involved in the early discussions to make sure that they are geared up to meet expected demand? Did you check with buying that they could get supplies of the bigger tubes needed for your 50% extra free offer?
Finally, once you have put all that effort into developing an effective integrated marketing campaign, get the most out of it by applying it consistently over time. Think of new and innovative ways of reaching your customers and prospects, but always keep it relevant both to their needs and to their previous experiences of your marketing.