NZTE Export News, October 2010

$26 million is the sum beer giant Heineken is spending on their Rugby World Cup 2011 sponsorship, and a similar amount leveraging it, according to the SportsProMedia blog.

That’s a lot of bottles of beer. Would you have the same confidence in promotional spending in your export markets?

What would you do if your board authorised a $50,000 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’. That means understanding what customer need your product fulfils, selecting the most appropriate markets in which to operate, and articulating a compelling story about what value your product delivers.

The other fundamental is an understanding of the role of promotion in your marketing. Promotion is about communicating with your prospective customers. That doesn’t mean simply pumping out marketing messages to an unsuspecting market.

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 promotional problem

How do you define your communication problems and develop effective 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, repeat 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.

Three keys: repeat, repeat, repeat

It’s easy to underestimate how hard it is to get through to the people you want to buy your product. A good rule of thumb is that no matter how hard you think it might be, it is probably exponentially more difficult.

So no matter how clever your method of communication, and how powerful your message, you are still competing with thousands of other stories being told.

But it’s worse than that.

Even if you get through to the poor embattled consumer, they are only likely to take real notice if the timing is right.

So not only are your prospective customers bombarded with so many messages they typically tune most of them out, if you do somehow get through there is only a small chance they are actually in buying mode.

That makes a ‘single-threaded’ approach to marketing so senseless. Expecting a single advertisement, promotional mailout or tradeshow exhibit to yield any real results is naive. People will blame a one-off advertisement for not working, when they were dropping the equivalent of a small pebble in a large ocean and expecting the world to cry ‘Tsunami’.

However hard you think it might be to promote your product effectively, it is infinitely harder. Some people make the mistake of thinking they can magically hit a home run with a promotional tactic – the clever ‘viral’ marketing campaign, a stunning piece of publicity, the tradeshow to end all tradeshows. Of course, like most things, there is no magical solution. The reality is that promotion is a hard, relentless task that needs to be done with focus and dedication.

Successfully getting through to a potential customer is about boring repetition. Not boring to them, because they are not taking any notice most of the time, but boring to you. Repeating your message in a consistent and compelling way across as many appropriate mediums as often as you can.

Fine advice for the likes of Heineken, with deep pockets and an army of marketers, but how can someone with a more modest promotional budget achieve this?

The answer is focus. All companies have limited resources and these resources need to be 100% focused on a specific market to achieve the maximum gain. The tighter that focus the greater intensity you can achieve with your marketing activity, the more likely you are to be able to break through the noise and strike someone interested in buying.

The final task before unleashing your promotional creativity, or that of an 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 (tradeshows, seminars)?

NZTE has useful information to help you evaluate different promotional tactics, including specific guides on online marketing and tradeshows.

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.

So how can you get through the noise and reach those people who might be ready to buy? Some key steps:

1. Define your market as tightly as possible. Of course it has to be big enough to deliver good returns, but the more defined the greater the intensity you can achieve.

2. Where and how can you touch your customers? What mediums and methods will work most effectively?

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Build a programme of activities over 6-12 months and consistently implement them.

Part of what constitutes great marketing is being a bore, but only to yourself. Repeat your message until you are completely tired of it. By that time a few prospective customers may have actually noticed you.

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