The Press, July 2004

The Euro 2004 soccer championships may have been a triumph for Greece, but it was less satisfying for some of the companies promoting themselves at the tournament. A Marketing Week magazine survey concluded that of the eight main sponsors, only McDonalds and Coca Cola got bang for their buck. For example, main sponsor T-mobile was associated with Euro 2004 by only 3% of survey respondents. With a $24 million price tag per sponsorship, that's pretty expensive wasted promotion.

How often have you seen a promotion of your own fail? Or spent money on advertisements or brochures and had no idea whether they'd had any effect?

What would you do if your board authorised a $10, 000 promotional budget tomorrow. Take an advertisement in a trade magazine, produce a brochure or case study, run a sales promotion, do some sponsorship, a combination of these? How would you decide what tactics to use and how to use them?

The basics first

You can't use promotional tactics effectively until you have a marketing foundation. Understanding what customer need your product fulfils, selecting the most appropriate markets in which to operate, articulating a compelling story about what value your product delivers and so on. Money spent on promotions before these building blocks are in place is like betting on England in the soccer, enjoyable for a while but destined for failure most of the time.

The other fundamental is an understanding of the role of promotion in your marketing. Promotion is about communicating with your customers. Communication can be defined as shared understanding, a two way, mutually beneficial process, not simply one of bombarding customers with your messages. It may sound a bit touchy-feely, but it is no different to Stephen Covey's simple rule of effective personal communication - you have two ears and one mouth which should be used in that proportion.

Accepting that you are trying to create shared understanding means you must think seriously about the receiver of your communication. Your advertisement or brochure is not simply designed to drive people to an offer on a website or call an 0800 line, it should offer something of value to your customers in its own right.

A good way to think about promotion is to see it as a solution. Like any solution it is little use without a good understanding of the problem it has been designed to solve.

Defining the problem

How do you define your communication problems and develop receiver focussed solutions?

The first step is the logical one - identifying your audience and their main characteristics. For example, if your main audience is finance managers, then it will be important to use factual, evidence-based approaches. If it is human resource managers, then you need to think of more people-based, emotional style of communications.

Next is establishing what they know and perceive of your product. They could be anywhere on a scale from knowing absolutely nothing to being an established, regular customer. Identifying this defines the communications task at hand - whether you are trying to simply build awareness, call a customer to action or reinforcing the purchase of a loyal customer.

That's your side of the equation. You also need to give equal weight to your audience's needs from the communication. If your task is building awareness of your product with the human resource manager, their need may be to gain an understanding of the payroll systems market so they can conduct a good system selection process. Knowing this will have significant implications for the design of your promotions.

You are almost ready to call the ad agency. But first it is important to identify the messages that you want to convey with the promotions. For the finance manager, you'll need develop messages that communicate what value your product offers to them in a way they understand and relate to.

The final task before unleashing the creativity of you or your agency is to look at what category of promotional tactics suit your market, given all of the thinking you have done. Are online or offline tactics most appropriate, or a combination? Should they be largely personal (direct mail, site visits) or largely public (advertising, web), or somewhere in between (trade shows, seminars)?

After your promotion has been implemented comes the most crucial part of the process - evaluation. What real effect did the communication have? It is too easy to simply send promotion out there and convince yourself it was a success. Whether it is regular customer research, or more crude measurements such as unique visits to a website, visits to a retail outlet, calls to your customer service staff, even sales numbers, promotion without measurement is pointless.

You've now built a great framework for planning how to appropriately spend that $10,000 the board's given you for promotion. It will also work as a great filter for assessing those promotional opportunities that come along every other day. It might seem like a fair bit of effort, but it will pay off with the effectiveness of every promotional dollar you spend.

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