Small And Midsized Company Marketing And Marketing Communications – A Lesson From Large Agencies

Over the past few years, rapidly developing technologies have changed the way marketers think about marketing and marketing communications strategies, plans and tactics. However, somewhat quietly but perhaps more importantly, a significant change has occurred with the world’s largest communications agencies – the dramatic growth of consulting companies at the expense of traditional advertising agencies.

Management and accounting consulting companies with new services are now ranking sixth through tenth among the world’s biggest communications companies. The specialized divisions of Accenture Interactive, PwC Digital Services, Deloitte Digital, Cognizant Interactive and IBMix had total global revenue of over $20 billion in 2017, with an eye-popping 32 percent growth in US revenue versus a year ago.

While traditional advertising industry giants WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic and Dentsu are ranked as the top five, with global revenue of nearly $62 billion, US revenue barely increased at 0.3 percent (Advertising Age).

Why is this change happening and what can small and midsized marketers learn from it?

Consulting Companies Focus On ROI

There are many reasons for the growth of consulting companies – in B2B, B2C and nonprofit marketing and marketing communications areas – but the top reasons are:

  1. Consulting companies already have deep ties, experience and credibility helping organizations improve their profitability, because of a sharp focus on ROI;
  2. Their existing familiarity with digital technologies, along with the financial resources to acquire specialized digital companies for expansion;
  3. Maintaining a data-based strategy with clients and prospects – not creative alone – which means they are focused on understanding customer wants and needs, as well as customer experiences at all pre- and post- customer purchase points;
  4. A focus on marketing and marketing communications effectiveness and not just efficiency, resulting in a very big difference to a brand’s profitability.

In short, a history and vision of focusing on and improving a brand’s profitability and its ROI. Keeping an eye on the bottom line – cost per customer, not just media cpm efficiency.

ROI Focused Marketing And Marketing Communications Consultants

As a small of midsized marketer, what can be learned from this dramatic shift of larger marketers? With only a small (sometimes inexperienced) staff, limited financial resources and time constraints, what should be considered?

Start with established marketing and marketing communications consultants who are clearly focused on a brand’s profitability and ROI, and not just “likes” or “clicks”. They should have significant experience across industries and brands, both for profit and nonprofit, and have a broad understanding of customer, prospect (and employee) motivations to purchase and repurchase, regardless of the business environment.

But, above all, they must be media neutral and not selling “one size fits all” solutions. As Tom Bradley, former head of marketing at Nestle said, “The best source of marketing communications leverage is the quality of the message… not the media vehicle, new or traditional, that does or does not deliver.” And that also means you must be sure that your consultants have the ability to cultivate and manage the creative process.

Selecting A Consultant

Unsure of how to select a consultant, much less what type of professional to look for? If your business is floundering and in serious need of overall repair, along with financing, you probably would be better served by either a management or accounting consultant.

If, however, your primary need is to establish or improve a weak marketing or marketing communications program for the short and long term your selection should be apparent. You should be looking for rigorous and objective counsel on the entire scope of traditional marketing and marketing communications opportunities available to you (traditional vs. new media; conventional vs. digital; etc.).

Beyond the qualities of the consultants previously mentioned, be sure to look for:

  1. Someone who is disciplined, apolitical, down to earth, and willing to be part of your team; consultants who will promote candor across all levels, who will listen and explain what needs to be done to everyone’s satisfaction; teaching, not lecturing, is very important’;
  2. Professionals with the ability to develop successful strategies, plans and executions with your team or, if necessary, who can provide outside specialists to improve part or all of the program;
  3. People who have strong convictions to use research and measure not only what has been done but also what is proposed to be done; measurement is key to evaluating success or the need to modify a plan;
  4. A flexible organization that can bring in marketing and marketing communications specialists when and as needed so that overhead isn’t an on-going expense.

Most small and midsized companies find themselves with not enough time, skill or financial resources to develop and execute a profitable marketing and marketing communications program. These challenges are growing exponentially, and consultants can be of great value in navigating this complex environment and adding value to your brand.

Hopefully, these ideas will give you food for thought, but as Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Developing A New Marketing Communications Plan For Small And Midsized Companies

As you begin, or refine, your marketing and marketing communications planning for the coming year, you’re probably a little uneasy about whether you’re maximizing your strategy, budget, plan, executions and measurement. Whether you’re a B2C, B2B or nonprofit marketer, it might help to know you’re not alone. It’s always a challenge to develop these plans, but especially now.

In fact, 93 percent of Chief Marketing Officers say they’re under more pressure to deliver significant ROI, while only eight percent say they can determine ROI for their social media efforts.

Marketing And Marketing Communications Challenges
Our continued unsettled economic and political landscape and changing demographic patterns, coupled with the explosion of new communications tactics, along with a plain lack of trust between buyers and sellers, has led to the increasing levels of uncertainty that we all feel. In developing new plans and strategies, this translates into a host of considerations:

  • Expenditures for major media (as led by television, yes television) and marketing services (as led by sales promotion) in the U.S. are projected to total an all-time high of $406 billion in 2015. That’s a staggering $1,262 per person (Zenith Optimedia)! Beyond the dollars, that’s a lot of clutter and competition.
  • Conversely, median household income declined 8.7 percent between 1999 and 2013 to $51,939 (Census Bureau Current Population Survey). During this time, most buyers have learned how to spend their hard earned dollars more cautiously.
  • The two largest and most important age cohorts are very different. Millennials are more willing to buy lesser known brands, don’t see ownership per se as an aspiration, and are cash strapped. On the other hand, the brand loyal Boomers will account for about 70 percent of U.S. disposable income in 2017 (Quirk’s Market Research).
  • No one expected the efficiency and simplicity of emails to reach today’s volume, as businesses now spend nearly one-third of their work week managing them (McKeney & Company). Maybe declaring an email holiday is in order.

And, if you’re unsure or apprehensive about next year, perhaps your customers and prospects are too.

Improving Marketing And Marketing Communications ROI
So what can be done to develop a better overall program? I believe there are important steps you should consider for improving ROI.

1. You really need to know what your customers and prospects want and need, how they perceive your product or service, and how your brand stacks up to completion. Avoid corporate myths and mere opinion, and employ market research to focus your planning.

2. Be sure to understand the full demographic scope of your customers and prospects today and how they will change in the future. Consider the continuing dramatic growth of the Asian and Hispanic populations and include them in your planning.

3. Make sure your employees, reps and distributors completely understand, believe and can articulate your brand promise. Encouraging them to be dedicated brand ambassadors can dramatically increase your brand’s awareness and positive reputation.

4. Go out of your way to be media neutral. With so many new tactics to explore, make sure that, when you compare traditional and new media, you know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. For example, a recent Gallup study among 18,000 consumers reported that 62 percent said social media had “no influence at all on their buying decision”.

5. Sharpen and integrate your messaging across media through a marketing communications audit. Before committing your already stretched revenues, conduct an audit to help determine the strengths and weaknesses of your program as a whole, as well as how each individual communications tactic and message does or does not meet your objectives.

Done properly, these actions will help you develop a more knowledgeable, coordinated, focused and profitable roadmap for next year’s journey. But how do you actually begin that journey?

Marketing Communications Consultants Add Value
No one doubts that smart, dedicated people have been involved in developing your current marketing communications strategy, budget and plan. But, if you’re like most small and midsized companies, your people are probably stretched to the limit, and/or simply may not possess the background to oversee this process in the most knowledgeable way.

Because of this many companies have partnered with established, senior level consultants, to help develop, refine and, if appropriate, implement the program. If you consider this option, make sure the consultant has extensive experiences across disciplines, as well as a variety of industries and brands, so he or she won’t be trapped by the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality. You want an apolitical team, with a willingness to “tell it like it is”. Fresh eyes can be a major asset to your profitable growth.

In today’s challenging environment, a focus on upfront planning can go a long way toward improving your marketing communications ROI.

Small and Midsized Company 2016 Marketing Communications Forecasts

By now, you’ve probably seen the forecasts referring to 2016 as an “OK” year, with US GDP growth of about 2.6 percent, unemployment at 4.8 percent, wage growth of 2.7 percent, and increased volatility in financial and political arenas.

Why would any B2B, B2C or nonprofit marketer feel comfortable with this outlook? In fact, the December Chief Executive Magazine’s “Confidence Index” for the year ahead is at its lowest since June, 2014.

Marketing Communications Forecasts

With so many macro strategic and tactical issues on the horizon, it’s difficult to know where to start. But corporate and nonprofit marketers will still have to make decisions about their businesses, so here are my top five forecasts for you to consider as they relate to your marketing communications needs in the coming year.

1. Current client-agency relationships are at a very low level, and there will be an increase in the use of outside marketing communications consultants and groups to help small and midsized organizations.

Over time, client’s lack of trust in their agencies, combined with the huge overhead garnered by the larger agencies, has resulted in a weakening of the bond between clients and agencies. As an example, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recently hired two consulting firms to investigate allegations of undisclosed rebates in digital media flowing to agencies. Much to the chagrin of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the ANA is working without their involvement.

Is it any wonder there was/is $30 billion under review in 2015? Transparency is the new black.

2. Content marketing will become even more important, as marketers learn to use market research and data analysis to deliver more meaningful information to customers and prospects. Further, as the number of people in the US blocking ads rose to 45 million in the second quarter of 2015 (up 48 percent from a year earlier), the economic viability of digital media is threatened. Taken together, this offers a unique opportunity to provide customers, prospects and donors with better information once the marketer understand what they really want to know. Look before you leap.

3. How marketers gather, analyze and integrate data about customers and prospects will help determine how well they achieve marketing and profitable sales success. By 2017, 69 percent of marketers say they expect data to drive most of their decisions (Gartner).

Everyone agrees there is an overwhelming amount of data. That’s the good news. The challenge is knowing how to interpret it and being able to communicate the implications correctly and effectively. Without this skill set, the entire marketing communications ROI is just another fancy name.

4. In 2016, with political advertising dominating media, many small and midsized companies and nonprofits will be priced out, finding it difficult to secure and/or afford many media and marketing tactical services. Next year, Advertising Age estimates that media will account for 54 percent of spending, while other marketing services will account for 46 percent.

Specifically, direct marketing is projected to account for one-third of all spending, followed by television at 23 percent, digital at 15 percent, plus newspapers and sponsorships, each at six percent. More than ever, being flexible and media neutral should be the first priority.

5. Despite the seemingly daily appearance of new online marketing tactics, human connections will, in fact, become more important. The explosion of digital tactics has created a unique opportunity to efficiently build awareness and initiate a dialogue. However, it’s also left behind a lot of clutter in its wake.

If you want to close a sale, you may have to resort to the “old” method of face to face relationships. In fact, nearly eight out of ten B2B and B2C marketers use in-person events for just that reason. Importantly, employees who understand the category and believe in the product can provide the quality, sincerity and emotional connection that are missing in most digital dialogues. Your own employees can not only be significant brand ambassadors but can also be an important source of customer feedback. Don’t be afraid to use them.

There are many other areas of prognostication worthy of discussion – including mobile, native advertising, baby boomers vs. millennials, internal communications, ROI measurement, videos, etc., etc. – but I believe the forecasts discussed above will have a significant impact not just on 2016 but the years ahead. The question then becomes what to do about them.

Marketing Communications Consultants Add Value

With all of the changes in the years ahead, consumers, buyers and donors will be forced to become more knowledgeable and more demanding, and will become even more cautious about how to spend their money. The rapid changes in technology have created an “always on” media environment. And a recent study by Forrester Research reports that over one-third of marketers currently feel overwhelmed by change.

I believe the 2016 will be the year of people, not technology or media or brands or companies. In almost all organizations, but especially in small and midsized ones, people are probably stretched to the limit and/or simply do not possess the background or expertise to handle the marketing communications challenges of 2016.

Because of this, an increasing number of for profit and nonprofit organizations have partnered with established senior level consultants to help develop, refine and, if appropriate, implement ROI focused programs. Look for people with broad industry and brand experience, across organizations, large and small. Candor should flourish. Look to make your future better than your past.

Explaining Customer Communications Management Technology For Marketing Communications Professionals

Customer Communications Management is a term highlighted by research companies such as Gartner Group, Forrester Research and Madison Advisors to define a convergent set of Information Technology solutions that together provide marketing communication professionals the ability to advance the way that they communicate with their customers.

Advocates of Customer Communications Management and its definition include Gartner Group, Forrester Research and Madison Advisors as well as a host of vendor organisations such as Pitney Bowes Group 1 Software, HP Exstream Software, Thunderhead, Xenos and EMC Document Sciences.

Initial Customer Communications Management concepts were focused upon the utilisation of company transactional documents. These documents such as bank statements, statement of account, invoices and other customer transactional documents were viewed as an ideal location in which to promote company products to customers.

The rationale behind this was cited in analyst research by Info Trends that, “transactional documents are opened and read by more than 90% of consumers. Because the average consumer is bombarded with advertising, e-mail, direct mail and other forms of solicitation each day, TransPromo can help you cut through the clutter and stand out.”

Not only are transactional documents more likely to be opened and observed than other types of document, they are also more likely to be studied for longer than say a direct mail piece. Thus, a company has an opportunity to communicate and promote its message to the customer.

The technology that supports customer communications management also allows sophistication in the content of the messages. Customer communications management technology may consist of the following components (of which you’ll find plenty of information on this site):

1. Data Extraction, Transform & Load software.
2. Data Management, Analysis and location intelligence software.
3. Data Hygiene database software.
4. Document composition software.
5. Electronic document archive software and perhaps payment processing functionality.
6. Print Stream Engineering / Post Processing Software.
7. Mailing compliance database software.
8. Printer Management Software.
9. High and medium volume production printers.
10. Envelope inserter machines such as those manufactured by Kern, Bowe or Pitney Bowes.
11. Email Marketing Software.
12. SMS Communication Software.
13. Mobile Media based content distribution software.
14. Entering the frame more recently social media distribution software.
15. Document Production Reporting Software

There are a number of key factors concerning the way in which the software assists the marketing communications professional.

The data extraction software presents marketers and business with an opportunity to combine data from multiple systems to enable a customer analysis. Through this customer analysis process it is possible for marketers to evaluate the marketing mix and position individual products to the customer in respect of relevance to the customer or the results of purchase propensity model.

The end result of this process will be the creation of a data model, data acquisition and decision rules that enable a document composition engine to follow its own set of document application rules to construct individual documents on the basis of data items contained within an individuals data record.

Thus the concept of one-to-one marketing is born.

It is theoretically possible at least that for a run of 100,000 statements, no statement will contain the same set of offers. Thus, clothing for women would not be marketed to men whilst ‘male gadgets’ would not be marketed to women.

But Customer Communications Management is not just about making offers to customers. It also provides companies with the opportunity to improve the clarity of their communications. Rather than producing line driven data in which it is difficult for a customer to extrapolate trends and a deepening of understanding in respect of his or her relationship with the supplying company, Customer Communications Management provides the opportunity for a company to deliver visual analysis through clear graphics and highlighted content.

The Document Composition engine is responsible for interpreting data and following a set of rules to create a set of documents that can either be printed or distributed electronically. The Document Composition engine usually produces either a print stream or, XML data.

Print streams are languages that printers use to instruct the print process. They are known as PDL’s or Page Description Language. Common print stream types include AFP, Xerox Metacode, VIPP, PCL and Postscript. There are numerous others but, in production printing environments these are probably the most common.

Sometimes the Document Composition Engine will output XML. The advantage of XML is that it may be repurposed either to print or to various electronic formats. Thus, XML provides a standard of interoperability between various computer software systems.

As documents move from the virtual data environment into becoming something physical, the may first need post processing. Post processing can be utilised to prepare a print job for production and distribution. This may include tasks such as the application of barcodes to deliver individual mail piece instructions to the inserters and to vary these in terms of the actual inserter being used. For example, one manufacturer’s inserter may require different barcode instructions to complete the same task than another.

Post processing does not only cover production preparation. One of the key cost considerations in Customer Communications Management is the cost of mailing. Various postal operators throughout the world offer discount schemes if a volume mail producer pre-sorts mail before despatch. As this process saves the postal operator considerable effort and cost, a discount is passed to the mail producer. Where mailing volumes are high, this discount figure can be significant to the mail producer where for example the Royal Mail in the UK will offer 18% discount to customers who pre-sort their mail into 120 ‘pots’.

Post processing may not suit all mail sortation needs however and for organisations who produce many smaller jobs, a Mail Sortation machine, situated as the very last element of the production process may be more suitable. Many smaller jobs can be aggregated through the day and then bundled together for a physical mail sortation process.

Sometimes, Post Processing may be an integral part of the document composition process and this may be more efficient from a production point of view because rather than creating a two step document creation and processing process, it can be delivered in a single step and as part of the major document application. This may save production time.

Print Management software controls the routing and distribution of print jobs to either a single production printer or a fleet of production printers. Print management software does not just provide routing as a benefit though, it also provides a mechanism for assured delivery (ensuring that all pages get printed) through communication and feedback from print devices and also provides management information that is useful for Document Production Managers.

Production printers in themselves have been a key driver in the development of Customer Communications Management as a concept. The advent of high speed, 90 page per minute and faster economic colour production printers in recent years has driven the usefulness and power of Customer Communications Management meaning that a company can produce ‘print shop’ quality documents ‘on the fly’ utilising data that may be infinitely variable as in one-to-one customer communications documents.

The final step of the process and the final major utiliser of data derived upstream in the inserting / mail finishing process. This is where paper documents are combined with envelopes and sealed. The inserter uses camera technology to read a barcode that provides a Piece ID, often combined with a data file produced by either the document composition application or the post processing engine.

By obtaining the Piece ID and performing a data file look-up, the inserter is able to determine factors such as the number of pages for a particular mail piece, whether any additional physical inserts are required (such as leaflets)and whether or not a piece should be out sorted for special human handling.

Thus the inserter is able to determine what should go in each envelope. Through further downstream cameras and sensors, it is also able to determine the integrity of a particular piece.

But this is not where Customer communications management ends. The provision of a document archive means that after a document has been created by the document composition engine, it can be made available to a company call centre or website. Call centre users benefit from being able to engage a customer by seeing the document that the customer has in his hand. This saves money in call centres speeding up call centre client query resolution times and meaning that call centres can handle more customers with fewer staff.

The delivery of documents via electronic channels is also seen as favourable, giving consumers a choice of document receipt method that suits their lifestyles. Combined with electronic payment, this may accelerate cash collection and thus improve a company’s cash flow position.

Relevance of communication is seen as key in overcrowded, competitive markets where service differentiation can be difficult. Documents that add value to the customer relationship add to differentiation and for many service oriented businesses and be a major factor in improving customer retention and acquisition.

Chief Marketing Officers are adopting Customer Communications Management because it heralds a world of new opportunity and a new way in which to develop customer relationships.