03 November 2021
What is a promotion strategy?
Apart from the products themselves, promotion is the most visible manifestation of the marketing mix, and is the efforts undertaken by a firm to create demand.
Promotion is more commonly known as advertising, but also encompasses a wide range of activities to inform people about products, services, or any other message. Promotion includes (for example) public relations, digital marketing (paid and unpaid), exhibiting at trade shows, sponsorship, electronic direct mail, and also includes direct selling by the company principal or sales people.
However, any vehicle for conveying an advertising/sales/marketing message to a target audience is promotion. This might include less common techniques like sky writing, "stunt marketing", flying a sign written blimp, public speaking, and networking. The list is endless.
All of these activities can be expensive (even if only absorbing employee time) and can vary in their effectiveness for certain products and services, and target audiences. Choices need to be made, hence the need for a promotion strategy.
The Promotion Strategy is developed through evaluating the many options for communicating with your target market and identifying the message that you want them to receive.
Like all strategies in business, a promotion strategy is not a long winded discourse but a succinct statement that guides the development of the promotional plan (which is usually a more detailed document). A strategy makes it clear what choices have been made regarding the best method for promoting the firm's products and services. This clarity is important because generally speaking, promotion is costly and choices must be made to ensure the best potential results for the available spend.
The Promotions Mix
As mentioned above, there are many options for communicating with your target market, but all fit within one of the following broad categories...
- Digital Marketing (paid and unpaid)
- Personal selling (also called direct selling)
- Sales promotion
- Public relations
- Direct marketing
Awareness - the fundamental truth of promotion
People who are in the market to purchase products (i.e. they need or want them) won't consider what you have to offer unless they know it exists.
This seems obvious doesn't it?
But, in the quest to conserve money - it is very easy for decision makers to overlook this fundamental truth.
The most damaging trend in business today - is the quest for proving that promotional spend will produce a return on investment. That is, business executives are so worried that their decisions about where to spend their promotional dollar might not be optimal, they would rather spend nothing at all, even though doing nothing is more than likely worse. While this can be debated there are two main reasons for this trend...
- The rise of online advertising that promises improved analytics that claim to provide measurable outcomes.
- The change in advertising agency remuneration from media commissions to charging purely for head-hours.
The last point is an interesting one. Agencies are no longer incentivized to push clients to increase their advertising budgets.
So, the first decision when developing a promotional strategy is often as simple as deciding to do something, because one time honored and proven promotional strategy is to simply outspend the competition.
The three levels of communication
Achieving awareness of the product or service is the critical first step. However, having climbed the first step, thought needs to be given to building out the message.
The 'marketing concept' is that to achieve the firm's objectives, the needs and wants of consumers should be anticipated and satisfied more effectively than competitors.
To achieve this, you must have a thorough understanding of your target audience, what choices they have, and how to get inside their head to develop a preference for your product or service.
The promotion strategy seeks to define the best communication methods to "get inside their head."
The communication has THREE levels of connection...
- The logical level: the messages you communicate to your target audience appeal to them on a logical level. Thus, you present information about product features and benefits, and or provide good reasons for them to consider purchase.
- The emotional level: the messages you communicate with them appeal to their emotions, you "tug at their heart strings." Such communication is appealing to their personal values.
- The personal identity level: the messages you communicate to them appeal to their identity. They want to buy your product or service because it defines who they are.
Communicating at the logical level is the least difficult and the most common. It's transactional in nature.
Appealing to emotions requires a bit more science and craft, and requires having a deeper understanding of the who the target market is.
The most powerful promotion strategies work at the personal identity level and requires more than just understanding the customer, you need real insight because people don't easily reveal what really motivates and drives them for two reasons, they don't want you to know, and they don't really understand it themselves.
The truly great communicators in public relations, political campaign development, and the advertising industry have a natural talent for understanding what makes people tick and crafting communications that resonate at a deeply personal level
While it is true that crafting powerful and compelling communications is a talent, the foundation is good process. Market research is the first step. You must find out what people are thinking and to do that you need to talk to them.
The lost art of brand building
Branding is a somewhat esoteric concept, and not everyone in business "gets it".
A detailed explanation of branding can be found here.
To build a brand, the first task is to achieve brand awareness and the second is to achieve brand understanding. The greater percentage of the target audience who recognize the brand and understand what it means (positioning, point of difference, competitive advantage, features and benefits etc.) increases the likelihood they will seek out the product but also will be favorably predisposed to the product when it appears in future promotion, is presented by a sales person, and even when evaluating a tender.
Promotion is the primary tool for building a brand. However, efforts to measure the effectiveness of promotion designed to build the brand is difficult, which often means promotion purely for the purpose of brand building is less common than it used to be.
The evidence for the value of having a strong, clear, well known brand is all around us. Business people are familiar with the world's great brands and mostly recognize their value, but somehow don't see the value of investing in their own brands.
There is a famous story (and I don't know how true it is) of the CEO of Coca-Cola flying across America sitting next to another equally ranked business executive. They got into a conversation about the value of advertising. The business executive asked the Coke CEO "Everyone knows Coca-Cola, it's one of the best known brands in the world. Why do you guys spend so much on advertising?"
The Coke CEO replied "when you are cruising at 35,000 feet - why switch off the engines?"
The rise of digital lead generation
The modern trend is toward lead generation, and digital marketing is the perfect medium.
Lead generation is promotional activity designed to generate an enquiry. It is achieved through crafting an appealing offer that prompts the target market to take immediate action - to generate an enquiry to (at best) place an order, second to ask for further information, and at worst to simply trade their contact details for the privilege of downloading a piece of product information. Contact details can be stored to be used for future direct marketing that attempts to convert the lead into a sale.
Before the internet became a thing, lead generation was called "direct response advertising." And the promised benefit was the ability to immediately measure effectiveness so that future promotional spend could be directed to the advertising mediums and advertising creative that generated the lowest cost-per-lead.
Buying eye-balls - the simplest way to think about promotion
So, if building awareness is fundamental to the promotional strategy - how is this best achieved?
I like to think of it as "buying eye-balls" meaning that money spent on promotion is about making sure the largest number of the right people see your advertisement, at least several times. Almost all advertising and promotional methods are costed on the basis of the number of people who will see your advertisement.
Communicating the right message - don't overthink it
Having bought eye-balls through some advertising medium the next thing to consider is the message. Put simply, as a result of reading your advertisement you must think in advance, what is the most important concept, idea, or fact that you wish your target audience to retain? This message must be more than "I must buy this product or service" it must answer the consumer's question - why?
While it's tempting to stuff as much information into the primary advertising piece as possible, try not to. These days we have websites, so you don't need to. Advertising can be built with two situations in mind 1) generating a website visit 2) still delivering the main message if they don't.
To achieve this, you must have a thorough understanding of who your ideal customer is, what choices they have, and how to get inside their head to develop a preference for your product or service.
At the very least you want your customers to buy your product or service on a logical level.
At best you want them to be emotionally attached.
The ultimate: the message resonates with them because it defines who they are.
More often than not, efforts to produce advertisements are impaired by a common narcissistic illusion - we all think the target market are eagerly awaiting the outcome of our tireless efforts to produce the perfect advertisement and will sit down with a cup of coffee and consider our final carefully crafted product and read every word, detect the carefully adjusted grammar, study every image, admire the careful layout, and thoughtfully draw a well considered conclusion.
Truth is, the target audience have a hundred reasons not to. The readerverse is a crowded space.
The first job of every advertising asset is to grab and hold attention - you only get one chance.
Hit 'em between the eyes with a message or image that has the most resonance, don't bury it in amongst a lot of faff.