Planning marketing communications strategies - Marketing Management

Strategic management of marketing communications requires a systematic and ordered approach. A number of approaches that fit these criteria have been developed. Although these approaches vary in their precise detail, there is sufficient commonality between them to propose a generalized framework that is integrated with other elements of marketing strategy. This framework. Each of the above stages is now discussed:

1 Target audience, marketing strategies and mix elements

Unsurprisingly, effective marketing communications starts with selection of the target audience and delineation of broad strategies and marketing mix elements designed to achieve objectives in these target markets. We are primarily concerned with communication aimed at customers, but as we have seen, communications may be aimed at any one or a combination of several target audiences. We have also seen that the specific promotional elements of the marketing mix need to be part of, and consistent with, the communication elements of remaining marketing mix elements. Until the target audience is delineated, it is impossible to proceed in an effective way with remaining elements of the marketing communications planning process.

An example of identifying the target audience for marketing communications is the fact that a considerable amount of women’s lingerie is purchased by men. These purchases are bought as gifts usually by men for women. Because of this, if you look at the marketing communications efforts of some of the lingerie marketers a lot of it is slanted at this important male target audience. This is reflected in the fact that the media selected for advertising is male magazines, and advertising copy and visual content is geared very much to the male psyche.

Steps in planning communication strategies

Steps in planning communication strategies

2 Behavioural characteristics of target audience

It is not sufficient to simply delineate target audiences: the marketing communicator must also understand the target audience as well as the buying decision process. The importance of understanding this process. In the context of communication decisions, the stage at which the target audience is in the buying decision process provides important information for planning communication.

In the case of the purchase of a new car, communication will stimulate the start of the buying process by encouraging problem or need recognition. In addition, the marketer must understand where the customer will search for information about the new car and what information they are looking for, and also who is involved in the purchase process and what the key behavioural and other influences on this decision process might be. If the customer does purchase the marketer will need to know how the customer feels about the purchase and take steps to reassure them that they have made the right decision so that they can reduce post-purchase anxiety.

Major car manufacturers take active steps to reduce post-purchase anxiety on the part of customers. For most of us, purchasing a new car is one of the most substantial financial outlays we make. Because of cost and the wide range of alternatives we have to choose from, it is understandable that having taken delivery of our new vehicle we begin to wonder if we made the right choice. Did we get the best possible deal? Is the colour right? Should I have bought a different make or model? To allay these anxieties car marketers use a number of communication tools. A simple but effective one is a follow-up phone call from the dealer two or three days after delivery of a new vehicle to check if the customer is happy and that there are no problems. Another is to send out details of the owners’ club perhaps with an edition of an owners’ magazine containing stories about satisfied buyers of a similar vehicle.

As mentioned, in addition to understanding how the target market buys and the stage of the buying process they have reached, it is important to understand who is involved in the purchase process. In we saw that we can usefully distinguish between different roles in the buying process e.g. if we are launching a new brand of breakfast cereal, it is important to distinguish between ‘influencers’, ‘deciders’, ‘purchasers’ and ‘users’. All these roles might be embodied in the one target group, but as we have seen, both in consumer and organizational markets, these roles may be filled by a range of individuals.

Sometimes it is important to establish existing preferences and attitudes of the target audience as we are concerned with image, so it might be important to establish the target audience’s current image of the company and its products.

3 Establishment of information needs

Analysis of the target audience helps the marketing communicator to assess information needs of customers, e.g. analysis of search and alternative stages of the buying process should help establish where the target market looks for information, the degree of reliance on word-of-mouth versus marketer-dominated sources of information and the type of information sought.

4 Determining communication objectives and tasks

Each step in planning a communications strategy helps contribute to the establishment of quantified communication objectives. In the communication process the marketer must determine what effect the communication is intended to achieve, but the problem is that the list of possible communications objectives is endless. Marketing communication objectives are best thought of in the context of what are termed ‘audience response repertoires’. These are similar to the stage or step models of buyer behaviour, in that they posit that the buyer passes through a series of stages or steps en route to making purchase decisions. A variety of such audience response repertoires have been developed. Two of the earliest and best known are Strong’s AIDA model,1 Lavidge and Steiner’s Hierarchy of effects model2 and Colley’s DAGMAR model.3 Later, Jones4 suggested that marketing communications in general, but advertising in particular, has a much weaker effect on consumer behavior that earlier models such as AIDA suggested. One model that reflects his view of a weaker effect for advertising is the ATR model, which stands for the steps of Awareness, Trial and Reinforcement. This model suggests that advertising works by first creating awareness, which may lead to tentative trial of the advertised product by the customer. Having trialled the product, the customer can then be reinforced or reassured about the purchase through further advertising. These four influential models of how advertising might work.

These sequential models of the step-by-step process can be used to help determine appropriate communication objectives, although they need to be interpreted and applied with care; customers need not necessarily always pass through all stages of the various models in the manner prescribed. Factors such as nature of purchase, previous experience and time pressure affect the nature and speed of a consumer’s progress through the various stages. By using audience response models, the marketing communicator is able to set communication objectives in terms of what is required to move the target audience through the various steps in the process e.g. in the AIDA model, if the target audience is at the early stage of the buying process the primary objective of communication will be to bring the company and its products to the attention of customers. At later stages the objective of marketing communications may be to produce action. We examine these stages of hierarchy models of audience response later when we discuss advertising.

Examples of audience response repertoires

Examples of audience response repertoires

As with all objectives, it is important to couch these in quantitative terms whenever possible. This makes the final stage of measurement and control easier. It also allows preliminary cost estimates to be made regarding research required to meet the objectives, thereby facilitating budget decisions for communication. In setting objectives for marketing communication, it is important to remember that a consumer can rarely be moved through all response stages by a single promotional campaign. Because of this, like corporate objectives, communication objectives may need to be both long term and short term.

For many years the British public have been exposed to government-sponsored campaigns aimed at persuading drivers not to take alcoholic drinks and drive, aimed of course at safety. More recent campaigns have highlighted the effects of taking drugs and driving. In recent years, most of the money spent on these campaigns has gone on television advertising around the Christmas period for drink driving and throughout the year for taking drugs and driving. Increasingly, the campaigns have been designed to shock viewers by using graphic images of the possible results of drinking and driving, including death and injury, social approbation or imprisonment. Unfortunately, many people are still not deterred and continue to drink and drive and take drugs and drive. Does this mean that the advertising is not working and that the government would be better spending this money in other ways? You will no doubt have your own views on this, but the advertiser, in this case a government department, has to appreciate that often advertising works slowly.

5 Determining the communications budget

Having decided communication objectives we are in a position to determine the budget required to meet those objectives. A budgeting method that is often used is to take a percentage of sales, either current or projected. This represents a simple way of setting budgets for communication. However, the problem is that communication budgets will be high when sales are high and low when sales are low, which is not logical.

Another approach is to set the budget at the same level as that of the competition, or at least on a pro rata basis using market share. The problem here is that this assumes that competitors have similar objectives and strategies, and they are budgeting effectively in the first place. Neither of course might be the case.

Setting clear and quantified objectives for communication allows us to determine what tasks need to be done to achieve these objectives and allows these to be costed. This method is referred to as the ‘objective and task’ approach.

6 Determining the promotional mix: allocation of tasks

This stage of communications planning requires decisions to be made on allocation of communication tasks, and relates the budget to the variety of promotional tools available to a company. Communication tools are embodied in all elements of the marketing mix. However, in the promotional area of the mix, marketers distinguish between a number of promotional tools (termed promo-tools) and collectively these elements are referred to as the communications mix that encompasses the following:

  1. Advertising: paid for non-personal promotion of ideas, goods or services through media of print, broadcasting, TV, outer packaging and inserts, cinema, posters and leaflets, billboards, display signs, point-of-sale (POS) displays, the Internet, logos and symbols.
  2. Sales promotion: incentives that stimulate purchase of products and services by consumers or the trade e.g. coupons, samples, demonstrations, contests, trade allowances, premium offers, low-interest finance, entertainment, trade fairs and exhibitions and competitions.
  3. Public relations and publicity: promotion and protection of company image and products through press releases, ‘in-house’ company magazine, company reports and lobbying persons like Members of Parliament who might influence events.
  4. Sponsorship: where the company’s name is displayed in support of a particular event or cause.
  5. Personal selling: verbal sales presentations aimed at prospective purchasers to make sales, but also including sales meetings, incentive programmes and provision of samples.
  6. Direct marketing: post, telephone, e-mail, Internet and fax to communicate directly with potential customers, e.g. mail shots, fax, voice mail and telemarketing.
  7. Events marketing: sponsored activities intended to create brand interactions e.g. sports events, entertainment, cultural activities and festivals.
  8. Interactive marketing: On-line activities that connect with customers or prospects to improve image, raise awareness or generate sales e.g. e-mail, TV shopping, intranet and Internet websites.
  9. Word-of-mouth communications: Oral, written or electronic communications relating to experiences of purchasing and using particular products or services, an example being recommendations from friends to dine at a particular restaurant.

Each of the communications tools has advantages and disadvantages which, together with the precise nature of the communication tasks, means the marketing decision maker should be able broadly to determine the most appropriate mix, e.g. advertising, sales promotion and publicity are usually the most cost-effective tools at the buyer awareness stage, more so than ‘cold calls’ from sales representatives. Advertising produces comprehension. Buyer conviction is influenced by personal selling and supplemented by advertising. Placing an order is usually, but not always, a function of the sales call with assistance from sales promotion. Additional factors influencing this decision include:

  • company objectives and resources;
  • the stage in the product life cycle;
  • competitor considerations;
  • type or product market.

At the extremes of fast-moving consumer goods versus capital and industrial goods, the promotional mix differs with emphasis switching from a non-personal, advertising-dominated promotional mix for fast-moving consumer goods to one dominated by personal selling in capital and industrial goods. This is unsurprising as organizational buying involves purchasing large volumes and technical products. Organizations are less susceptible to ‘glitzy’ advertising and want to negotiate on a personal face-to-face basis, but this does not mean that advertising should be discounted. We know, for instance, that in industrial markets, advertising helps substantially to augment the effectiveness of personal selling by increasing awareness of a company and its products, thereby reducing the difficulty and costs of selling ‘cold’ to customers. It is not simply a choice between advertising and personal selling or a combination of these. There is a wide range of effective promotional tools to choose from, and more proactive marketers are constantly searching for improved ways to promote products and services.

In this constant search for new and effective promotional tools we have seen the development of more direct ways of marketers communicating with their target audience. So rapid and far reaching have been these forms of promotion that the direct marketing element of the promotional mix is as important as the tradition elements of advertising, sales promotion, PR and personal selling. Direct marketing includes a number of dynamic and innovative tools of marketing communication and is set to continue to grow in importance as an element of the promotional mix. We shall, therefore, be considering this relative newcomer to the communications. In common with the other broad categories of promotion, direct marketing includes the promotional tools of direct mail, telemarketing and Internet or e-marketing.

7 Implementing the promotional mix

Having determined how communication tasks are to be allocated between different elements of the promotional mix, the next step is to develop detailed action programmes for each promotional tool being used. This entails the development of advertising, sales promotion, personal selling, direct marketing and publicity programmes. These need to be co-ordinated one with another and with other elements of the marketing mix. Often, advertising, sales promotion, direct marketing and publicity programmes will be developed and implemented with an outside agency, so careful selection and briefing of an agency are essential.

Planning and implementing each area of the promotional mix requires a detailed understanding of issues and steps involved and we investigate these later. Management of personal selling and direct marketing.

8 Measurement, control and feedback

The last stage of effective communication management is concerned with the measurement of how effective the communication has been against pre-determined objectives and standards. Evaluating effectiveness is difficult, but with such substantial expenditure close control is important. According to how effective the communication programme has been, some readjustment may be necessary. Measurement and control should not simply assess the extent to which communication objectives have been met, but should also provide reasons for variances like advertising expenditure not producing sales that had been forecasted. This information can then be used to adjust the communications programme.

we examine in more detail the strategic management of each of the five major promotional tools – advertising, sales promotion, publicity and PR, personal selling and direct marketing.

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