The Press, April 2006

Legendary circus promoter P.T. Barnum once remarked that "without promotion something terrible happens . . . nothing!". Promotion is the most discussed part of marketing, the P that gets all the hype. But what is promotion and how hard is it to successfully promote your product?

Promotion, like selling, is about persuading people to buy your product. The difference is that with promotion you are using indirect methods (advertising, PR, direct mail etc) to convince consumers to choose your brand.

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 trade show to end all trade shows. 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.

Take the efforts of the New Zealand's biggest promoters. According to AC Neilson Media, companies in the food industry (mainly supermarkets) spent the equivalent of $98 on advertising per person aged over 15 in 2005, or a staggering $305 million in total. Telecom alone spent $24 per person and The Warehouse $19. These investments represent hundreds of millions of dollars and literally tens of thousands of individual TV, radio and print advertisements, as well as billboards and letterdrops. The effort behind creating a household brand name is immense.

There is little wonder this level of investment is required, given the explosion in consumer choice in recent years. In the 1970s only 5 carmakers made SUVs, that number is now 35. There were five major sports shoe brands, now there are 285 brands. There were 17 brands of pain relievers, now we have 141 to choose from. It is no different in business to business markets - as manufacturing costs drop, technology improves and countries like China become more competitive, customer choice has widened.

Of course multi-million advertising budgets don't have much relevance to most businesses. Our resources, and our financial targets, are much more modest. But you can't expect to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars building a new product, and then persuade people to buy with a few hundred.

So how do you create promotional intensity on a limited budget?

The first and most critical step is to select a priority market or markets. That's because promoting to everyone is as good as promoting to no-one. Without a Telecom size budget, effective promotion is impossible without focus. The more focused you are on a market, the more intense your promotional campaign can be.

For example, imagine you are selling a new type of LCD computer screen. It's both a competitive market and a product that could be sold to wide range of people. After some research you might discover that the screen's attributes make it particularly suitable for viewing x-rays in hospitals. The complexity and cost of targeting this discreet market is far less. And once you have established a strong market share, you can use this success to move into a new niche.

When promoting remember that you are the customer's enemy. They are comfortable in their existing world, and will do anything to avoid having to change. Persuading them to select your product over their existing choice, even if that is doing nothing, is always a challenge.

Penetrating that barrier is helped by having a compelling 'story' around your product. A story that is focused on the customer's needs not just the features of your product. Not simply the LCD screen's resolution or high grade plastic housing, but the fact that it will give clinicians more confidence in their diagnosis because it is clearer than any other product.

With a market chosen and a story defined, the job of building a promotional programme can begin, almost. That doesn't mean jumping to advertisements or online marketing. They are solutions. Defining the problem first is crucial.

An effective promotional campaign must be built on a strong understanding of what you are trying to achieve. Is it raising brand awareness, generating leads, deepening customer loyalty etc. What's the scale of the problem - how many people are you targeting, what market share do you need, how many sales calls per month are required to get there? What sort of mediums are most suitable for this audience - online or offline, direct or indirect?

Having answered these questions you are ready to promote. The key to success is building a plan and implementing it faithfully, with good measures in place. Ask yourself each week, how many potential customers have I touched this week with my advertising, trade shows, direct marketing, telemarketing.

Promotions can be a circus. The real magic of promoting your product successfully is not what advertising or website or PR or whatever will work. It is focusing your efforts on a distinct market with a clear understanding of what problem you are trying to solve.

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