Business Insights

Business Insights

Beginners Guide To Marketing Communication Tools

Marketing communication is the means by which a business engages customers and prospects, as distinct from marketing and communication more generally. The secret to a successful marketing communications strategy is simple and twofold: it's about choosing the right communication tools and sending a consistent message with them. Any agency will take your hard earned marketing budget and build compelling creative promotional materials for you; but if they’re not working with the right tools or channels, their efforts will be wasted. Prospective customers won't even see your message - let alone respond to it.

Brands of all sizes must meet consumers where they are. So how do you choose the right comms channels for your business?

What are they?

Channels are the media by which you get your message across; direct mail, telephones, print media, posters, email, social media and so on. Some channels split down further; different social media platforms have different user bases and different styles of communication, to the point where they’re essentially different channels. For the business owner, this offers a plethora of choice, which can at times be bewildering.

Why should I be concerned?

Firstly; no customer engagement is based on one interaction in one place. A successful marketing strategy has multiple ways of reaching potential clients and customers, communicating with and engaging them again and again, keeping your brand top of mind and building relationships. Secondly; a brand may lack a consistent message. If your social media presence says you sell the cheapest working laptops around, and your direct mail says you sell premium laptops, you’re contradicting yourself - you look confused, incompetent, or outright deceitful. There’s a balance to strike between sending a message that’s consistent across all your channels, and one tailored to suit the audience that uses each particular channel. Thirdly; many businesses are throwing money away on marketing channels that don’t deliver ROI. There’s no point going to every exhibition in your industry just because you enjoy them; if you can have those conversations and get those returns from cheaper, regular digital marketing (as an example) that’s where you should focus investment. Measuring ROI from any chosen channel must be a priority from the offset. Finally; no communication channel works forever. Right now, you may be getting the best performance for your pound from email marketing, but when that starts to tail off - and it will - you need your second best channel built up, ready to take the strain. Long term, future-proof marketing strategy relies on this variance – and managing the balance between your communication channels, including those used by your sales force.

Comms channels for small and mid-size businesses

Most businesses can’t afford to throw money at every channel. There are three ways to choose the right comms channels for a limited marketing budget:
  • Don’t get lost in novelties: Channels are often sold on the basis of features - “look at this, look at that, look at all the things you can do” - but the truth is, no one channel is going to do everything you need. It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles the service has - what matters is who uses it, and whether they’re buying what you’re selling.
  • Know your customer segments and personas: Who are you trying to sell to, and where do they spend their time? Does ‘Red Ed’ read the same stuff, or use the same services, as ‘Mondeo man Mike’? Your message needs to go to where your target market exists. There’s no point in buying a million impressions on Facebook if your B2B clients use LinkedIn; it’s like trying to sell a Ferrari in your local pub.
  • Check the ROI for each channel: If your direct mail earns you more per mailshot than your telemarketing, it doesn’t matter if the telemarketing is cheaper. Effective communications strategies focus on getting your money’s worth, not cutting costs.

B2B / B2C - which channels work best?

B2B brands thrive on offering valuable content to professionals, and establishing themselves as thought leaders. Their marketing is less about their product or service, and more about proving they know their onions, delivering materials like white papers and extended think-pieces to a specific community. Previously this meant using direct mail, trade journals and industry exhibitions. Today, the same approach also holds in social media. LinkedIn is top priority because it’s where decision makers and senior influencers make connections; of LinkedIn’s 500 million users, 101 million have purchasing power within their business. In close second is Twitter, where people go for immediate news on a ‘moment’, topic or crisis situation. 120 million Twitter users log in every month; another 500 million people visit without logging in. Meanwhile, B2C marketing should focus on offering added value; materials that address a customer’s needs without them necessarily having to buy anything, which they will recommend and review and share. Shorter blog posts, video tutorials or demonstrations and testimonials are the order of the day here. In terms of raw numbers, Facebook’s 1.94 billion users put it at the head of the pack for B2C messaging. However, content marketing often thrives on YouTube - the sheer volume of people searching for videos about a problem (“how to” video searches grow 70% year on year) makes YouTube the second largest search engine in the world.

How long does a channel need to show results?

PPC and traditional media advertising tend to show returns early on - if they’re going to take off, you’ll know within days. Inbound marketing channels - blogs and white papers promoted via social media - are slower. They’re about building awareness and loyalty and inducing leads indirectly, and it’ll take a while for the content to build up, the shares to accumulate, and the message to spread. The thing to remember, however, is that the number of likes, shares and comments isn’t the ROI you’re looking for - you’ll know your channel’s working when your reporting confirms your customers have seen that channel, and been influenced by it.

What communication tools are right for me?

At the risk of sounding evasive, only you know. You know where your existing customers come from, and you know what you’re spending and where right now. A good marketing director will base their advice on this data. There are some universal points we can make though.
  • Focus on using a couple of channels well; not lots of channels, badly. Spreading your message too thinly will cause that message to become inconsistent or invisible. Monitoring many different channels takes time – and a failure to respond to customer comments or enquiries sends the wrong message. Instead, start working on a limited number of channels in a tightly controlled way, and build up your efforts based on the results of your tests.
  • It’s dangerous to avoid using digital channels, including social media. On the latter, there’s simply too much at stake. If you don’t control your brand’s social presence, customer conversations online will for you.
  • An effective communications strategy will employ multiple touch points, multiple channels and multiple targets, all expressing the same message in different ways. The only element your business needs one of is a message: constant, consistent and focused.

Still not sure how your channels are serving you? Take our Marketing 360 healthcheck to find out.   Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Written by Ged Leigh

Ged Leigh is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years’ experience working in Private Equity backed and family owned SME companies including technical textiles, construction, engineering, recycling, waste management and paper.

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