Marketing Communication


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Marketing communications (marcom) include customer-facing materials such as brochures, press releases, Web sites, and trade show presentations. The proximity of marcom planning to the customer makes it one of the most important activities that a company undertakes. Thoughtfully written marcom plans:

* Keep your company speaking with one voice across a vast number of products, regions, and customer interactions.
* Enable diverse teams of people to create integrated communications vehicles.
* Help your messages rise above the din of the marketplace and consistently resonate with their target audiences.
* Give you better results for your expenditures of time and money.

First you study, then you decide

Marcom plans are the confluence of substantial research and shrewd decision-making. Build effectiveness by thoroughly understanding your:

* Target audience profiles Who are your existing and potential customers? What is the best way to communicate with them?
* Buying, selling, and communications processes How do your customers prefer to buy? How are you set up to sell? What communications best facilitate buying and selling?

Armed with a solid understanding of the terrain, you then need to make a number of decisions:

* Objectives What do you want to happen as a result of your marcom activities? What customer behaviors do you hope to inspire?
* Messages What do you want customers to know?
* Vehicles Which communication vehicles best convey your messages?
* Budget and schedule How much do these vehicles cost to develop? What is your budget? When should the vehicles be released?

You also need to decide the scope of the plan. Marcom plans can be focused at the product level, the product line level, or the company level (for example, company or brand image) — or any combination of the three. The higher the focus, the less specific the elements of the plan. See the following table for more detail.

Focus of the marcom plan
Target audience profiling

Know your customer applies to virtually every marketing activity, and it's doubly true for marcom planning. First, learn about your target audience's specific demographics and psychographics, and then take the time to understand:

* How customers prefer to receive information about your type of offerings.

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* How customers use this information during the buying process.

Buying, selling, and communications processes

The primary role of marketing communications is to maximize sales by aligning your selling process with your customer's buying process.

* Your customer's buying process is the steps that they follow when making a purchase.
* Your selling process is the steps that your sales force goes through when making a sale.
* Your communication process creates the customer mindset that you are trying to achieve during each stage of the buying and selling processes.

Effective marketing communication begins with a thorough understanding of these processes. The following chart maps the communication process to typical buying and selling processes.

Process stages

To move a customer from identifying a need to making a purchase, your communications must first make them aware of your offering, then build credibility, and so on. Identifying and understanding the different stages of these processes makes it possible for you to more effectively craft marketing messages and select communications vehicles.

Remember, these are typical processes. Different customers (governments, businesses, consumers) have different buying processes, and your selling process should vary depending on your business model.
Objectives

Marcom plans should build on your marketing strategy plan. However, many companies have no formal statement of high-level marketing strategy, so the marcom plan must cover more ground. This means creating a number of marcom objectives that specify what you want customers to do after experiencing your marketing communications. For example, should they visit your Web site? Call your salesperson? Consider you a top provider in your industry?

It's also important to decide how you measure success. The more quantifiable the metrics — a 10% increase in market share or the generation of 100 new leads — the better.
Messaging

Marketing messages are touchstones that focus and unify your marketing vehicles. Remember, marketing messages:

* About individual products can focus on specific features and benefits.
* About a product line are typically limited to highlighting similarities, differences, and relative positioning among products.
* About your company image typically address overall branding.
* Must be consistent and compatible with each other and your company branding.
* Must reflect the stage of the communications process that you are addressing. Creating awareness requires different messages than creating preference.

Vehicle selection

Your choice of communication vehicle depends primarily on which stage of the communication process you want to influence.

Communication process stages

Secondarily, the vehicles that you choose depend on the focus of your marcom plan.

Focus of the marcom plan, filled in

Vehicles can often address more than one stage in the communication process but typically have a specific strength within a certain stage.
Budget and schedule

After you've identified the appropriate mix of communication vehicles, determine the costs of your plan, compare them to your budget, and adjust accordingly. The final step is to create a tactical implementation calendar that outlines when each vehicle is released and who is responsible for getting it done.
Tips to the wise

Here are some final points to consider when you're preparing an effective marcom plan:

* Ideally, you should create a plan that addresses each step in the communication process. However, limited budgets typically require prioritization.
* It's often best to prioritize your weaker areas. For example, don't bother building awareness in a market in which yours is already the preferred product.
* As a general rule, focus on the first half of the communication process for your newer products, and on the second half for established products.


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