Marketing Tips to Maximize Your Selling Message
In the twenty-five years that I have been assisting a broad range of technology companies with their marketing communications campaigns, I can safely say that there are several fundamental marketing communications rules and strategies that apply, regardless of the industry or business.
Businesses – particularly technology companies in general and manufacturers specifically – face the daunting challenges every day – narrow windows of opportunity in which to introduce new products, fierce competition, as well as the need to establish and protect intellectual assets. How do you address all these issues in a logical, cost-effective way? By selecting the right marketing tools and demanding a return-on-investment (ROI)from them.
Selecting the right marketing tools
I have occasionally had clients pose questions similar to this: “Which works better – banner advertising or direct marketing?” To a casual listener that seems like a logical question. But think about it for a moment. That’s like asking “which works better, a hammer or a saw?” There is no correct answer to a question like that because they’re different tools. Whether it’s media or hand tools — each has unique features and functions and can be effective when used correctly.
To take our metaphor one step further, does a properly stocked toolbox contain only one tool? Of course not. Neither should a marketing program. To rely solely upon, say, direct mail or telemarketing, would be as foolish as filling your toolbox with wrenches and then heading out to replace your roof. Instead, you need to properly assess what it is you’re trying to accomplish, and then fill your toolbox accordingly. The smart marketer, like the smart craftsman, fills his or her toolbox with a wide variety of tools to make sure the proper one is available to get the job done right. For example, if your new product or service is designed for a vertical market with only a few prospects, the broad reach of a general advertising campaign might not be an effective use of your marketing money. Instead, a highly focused direct marketing campaign using targeted direct mail, email, industry-specific web advertising, or telemarketing might be just the tool, enabling a tightly focused, cost-effective campaign to be developed with little or no waste.
On the other hand, if brand development is important and you’ve got a horizontal market to reach, targeted direct marketing is not only ineffective, it’s too costly. Instead, you will achieve much greater impact with a well-conceived, broader advertising campaign using the appropriate industry print and online publications to reach the largest appropriate audience, maximizing impact while minimizing expense. This also enables you to take advantage of something called affinity – the favored status readers bestow upon publications (on and offline) they like and respect. Affinity for a publication rubs off on the companies that advertise in it, helping them gain potential customer approval as well. Ideally, you want to be able to put all your tools to work – if your budget and marketing goals warrant it, use print advertising to build broader brand awareness, targeted email and direct mail to focus specific product pitches to key decision-makers, and PR to build credibility.
Of course, these are dangerous generalizations; each situation is unique and requires specific, careful planning. But the premise still holds – use the right tool for the right job. So, when you’re out of the discovery and approval stages and it’s time to say “we’re ready to go to market”, carefully evaluate your marketing goals and message and select the medium or media that will deliver that message to your target audience as effectively as possible.
Getting a return on your marketing investment
Now that you have established your focused target and selected some tools to reach that target audience effectively, how do you maximize your ROI? Start by integrating your efforts.
Many companies are often organized along vertical business units, each self-contained unit operating independently of the others. As result, marketing departments often unknowingly duplicate efforts, spending separate budgets to reach the same audience. This dichotomy of effort extends into the acquisition and use of marketing data. Business units will go to great lengths to gather information about their target markets, including purchasing cycles, spending trends, and contact information, only to keep it to themselves. Consequently, other business units end up spending valuable time and money to duplicate the very same data, oblivious to the fact that the data already exists within their company. As a result, critical time is lost “reinventing the wheel”, potentially costing the company both profits and market share.
After all the time and money spent by the marketing department to plan a strategy, it is remarkable how little thought often goes into constructing the message. Time and again, you see technology marketing messages filled with technical data, product features and, of course, legal language. In reality, very little “selling” is actually taking place. Instead, marketers concentrate on providing accurate product information, but don’t take the time and effort to put the product in context for the audience. As a result, marketing messages can be mind-numbing exercises in fine-print reading (this is especially true in legally-required medical and pharmaceutical advertising copy) as the marketer hopes the audience will work its way through the lengthy message and eventually convince themselves that they need the product.
For general technology companies, this faulty methodology is the result of something called “inside out thinking” – the mistaken understanding that the marketplace will immediately buy your product once it learns about it simply because your company is a “world leader” in the industry, and therefore, all of its products are, by extension, worthy of purchase. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact of the matter is people make purchasing decisions – whether it’s for a pair of shoes or test and measurement instrumentation – based on “pain”; that is, something that is causing them a problem. People do not like to be in pain, so they will buy whatever is necessary to make pain go away. Good marketers understand that if they let the audience know they understand the audience’s pain and have the remedy to eliminate it, the audience will buy the product. By addressing your potential customer’s pain, you do more than just sell a product or service. You establish credibility by letting them know you understand them and their challenges. You set your company and its products or services apart from the competition, giving the potential customer a reason to buy what you’re selling, not just information about it. You’re actively selling, not just presenting data and hoping the potential customers will sell themselves on what you have to offer. Likewise, self-congratulatory, boastful, company-focused messaging (“Number One in the Industry”, “World Leader in Fiberoptics”, and other empty, over-used phrases) serves no useful purpose and simply distracts from the real issues at hand.
Once you’ve decided to address “pain” as a marketing strategy, your job is just starting. Remember, you must communicate clearly. Words are valuable, so spend them wisely. Carefully structure your message for maximum affect. In advertising, sales materials, and news releases be sure to use benefit-oriented headlines that deliver a pain-oriented solution. Use subheadlines to develop the message further and deliver the benefit promised in the headline. Finally, use clear, concise, interesting text to explain your message more fully and close the sale.
Reach and frequency
Once you’ve settled upon an effective, pain-oriented marketing message, give it the resources and time necessary for it to work. The two magic words are reach and frequency. “Reach” is how many potential customers see or hear your message and “frequency” is how often. If you engage one without the other, you are crippling the effectiveness of your marketing communications program. All the reach in the world will do you no good if the audience only hears your message once. Endless repetition of your message is useless if you’re only reaching a handful of potential customers.
In advertising, that means selecting a program that enables you to purchase the amount of space (or time) needed to communicate with clarity and effectiveness as many times as possible. In practical application, that means don’t plan on beautiful, full page, four-color print ads or flashy animated web ads if you can only afford to run them once. Instead, plan an effective campaign of, say, half a dozen black-and-white fractional page print ads that enables the audience to see them several times; or multiple, cost-effective skyscraper web ads instead of one or two pop-ups or floaters. This helps build recognition and top-of-mind recall so that when they’re ready to make a purchasing decision, your company and its products or services will be foremost in their minds.
Clear, concise, and compelling
In short, the foundation of any good marketing communications plan is messaging that is clear, concise, and compelling, delivered with the most reach and frequency you can afford. Simple and direct, a carefully thought-out and constructed marketing message will enable you to reap the benefits denied companies with confusing, tired, and unfocused messages. It will help you to gain the upper hand in marketing and maintain it, forcing your competition to play catch-up and respond to your plan instead of fully developing one of their own.
Much of this sounds like common sense and it is. Yet it is remarkable how many companies ignore these simple, effective tools and their proper use. They do so at their own peril.