Businesses don’t become successful by chance. They do diligent research in order to create effective marketing campaigns. This allows them to break into new markets, establish a presence, and become a go-to source for customers.
An effective promotional campaign driven by a rock-solid marketing communications strategy helps make this connection. However, it takes some planning to get started. You’ll need to reflect on your brand and its goals, your optimal customers and their habits, and the current trends in your industry. You’ll also need to remain flexible enough to adjust your strategy as you go based on what works and what doesn’t.
The Make-Up of Marketing Communications
So what does marketing communications entail, exactly? The simple answer is anything and everything you do to bring the message about your products or services to the world. The point of marketing is to generate awareness surrounding your brand and turn that attention into sales. In order to do this effectively, you’ll need a well-thought-out strategy that includes these three elements:
- What you want to convey to your followers, customers, and supporters. Examples are a new product launch or a limited-time sale.
- How you plan to deliver this message. This may include direct email marketing, social media platforms, TV commercials, or print ads.
- Who you identify as the people most likely to be interested in your brand. You may want to target school teachers in New York or married couples aged 35 to 50.
These three elements make up the skeleton of your marketing plan, and they also influence one another within your strategy. If you know exactly who you want to reach, how you want to reach them, and what you want to say, then you’re in good shape.
If you had a hard time answering these questions, it’s not a problem. Just keep them in mind as you read on and learn how to create your own marketing communications strategy.
6 Steps to an Effective Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Strategy
As you create your annual or bi-annual integrated marketing communications strategy (IMC), you should keep the previous principles in mind. With a few simple steps, you can make sure your IMC strategy is as effective as possible. From understanding your target audience to choosing your marketing communications mix, the following steps can help your business succeed.
1. Learn About Your Target Audience
You cannot create a marketing plan unless you know about who you are marketing your products to. Take some time to understand your target audience and what they want. Once you know more about your audience, you can tailor your marketing plan to target those clients. At the start of your IMC plan, you should clarify the characteristics and interests of your audience.
Some businesses struggle to understand what their audience wants. Thankfully, there is an easy way to find out. All you have to do is ask your audience what they need. You can give your existing customers interviews and surveys to find out your customers’ common needs and why they choose to buy from you.
By learning about why customers shop with you and what they need, you can tailor your marketing message. You can create targeted messages that your clients will actually relate to. As a result, you will be able to attract more customers.
Your IMC plan should start with an outside-in approach. This means you start by analyzing your clients to figure out what they want before you create new marketing strategies. Spend time understanding the changing needs of your clients. Even if you primarily conduct business-to-business (B2B) marketing, you should still spend time researching your clients’ needs. If you try to use an inside-out approach, you could waste time and money on an ineffective marketing plan.
2. Determine Your Company’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
As you build your marketing communications strategy, you need to consider your company’s USP. The USP is the thing that sets you apart. It is the reason why customers choose to shop at your business. All of your marketing messages and branding techniques should reflect your USP.
Once you clarify your USP, you need to communicate it. You need consistent brand messaging. When you have a clear, recognizable USP, it is also easier to create attractive pitches for the media.
Now, you need to look at your strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats (SWOT). A SWOT analysis will help you understand your target audience. In addition, this analysis will help you determine what your USP is.
Why do customers decide to buy from you instead of your competitors? What makes a customer go to your competitors instead? To find out the answers to these questions, you can ask your current customers about their purchase intentions and what goes into their decision-making process.
3. Choose Your Marketing Communications Mix
Now that you have clarified your target audience and your USP, it is time to consider your marketing communications mix. This mix consists of the different channels you will use to reach your customers. Depending on your business, you may want to use some of the following channels.
- Online advertising through options like Facebook and AdWords.
- Annual sales promotions.
- Direct marketing.
- Content marketing.
- Offline advertising options like billboards, television and newspapers.
- Personal selling.
At a global corporation, you will find entire teams that focus on each one of these activities. Obviously, you may not be able to devote as many resources to each activity if you run a small business. You may only be able to include a couple of these marketing channels within your marketing mix. If you are operating on a limited budget, the cheapest way to achieve results is through public relations.
4. Determine Your Branding
Branding is important for your overall marketing strategy. To create a brand, you need to have a consistent look across all of your marketing materials. These materials may include things like your apps, direct marketing campaigns, business cards, social platforms, website and advertising campaigns.
Your brand image is more than just a marketing tool. It is the core identity of your business. In essence, your brand is the heart of your company as well as the face you present to the world. All of your marketing communications should work to build your brand image.
5. Plan Your Success Metrics
How do you know when your company has achieved success? Before you put your marketing communications strategy into action, you should determine what success looks like for your company. Depending on your business, you may set goals for some of the following things.
- The number of conversions you get from leads.
- The number of website visits you get from social media shares.
- The number of sales you get from public relations.
- The number of mentions your company receives from news sources and blogs.
- The number of backlinks your website gets.
- The number of website visits you get for each article.
Choosing your success metrics is an important part of your marketing plan. Once you know what you want to achieve, you can create steps toward reaching your goals. For your marketing strategy to be effective, you have to pick metrics that will actually deliver value for your business. A company could pick a metric like the number of mentions of a blog, but this metric would not be useful if the company is mentioned by the wrong news sources. Similarly, social media likes are an ineffective metric. Instead, you should try to achieve more leads or website visits from your social platforms.
6. Put Your Plan Into Action
Now that you have developed your marketing strategy, you are ready to go. All you need to do is put your plan into action. Then, you can measure your success metrics to see if your plan is achieving its goals.
Creating a Strategy That Works
So you know the steps for an effective integrated marketing communications strategy, and now it’s time to learn the hard part: how to create one that actually works. Large corporations and established businesses have entire departments dedicated to market research, strategy, and implementation, and even then it still takes a trial-and-error process to develop the perfect campaign. A solid plan helps marketers stay organized and informed as they adjust their strategy as needed.
Recognize Your Audience
While you probably want to reach as many people as possible with your message, you should focus your marketing efforts on people who are already looking for what you have to offer. Consider what your company does and who it can help the most, and then find which groups of people best fit that profile. Those people will be the most receptive to a campaign.
Another way to determine who comprises your target audience is to look at the sales you’ve already made. What types of people already buy your products? Consider what those customers have in common—aside from buying your products—to find out what drives them to you. Find out what platforms these people use and determine the best way to reach them. Also, don’t be afraid to look into who is buying from your competition and why they’ve made that choice.
Demographics vs. Psychographics
The group of people most likely to be interested in your company is typically referred to as your target demographic. However, it also pays to look at psychographics, which are slightly different.
Demographics are factors like
- Marital Status
Psychographics relate to:
- Beliefs and Values
You can use both demographics and psychographics to narrow your focus and identify a core group of target buyers.
Choose the Right Marketing Channels
If you have a good idea of who you’re marketing to, deciding exactly how to market becomes a whole lot easier. Young people are receptive to social media marketing through apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. Retired people and young children are more likely to catch daytime television ads. Decide which marketing channels to use based on the tendencies of your target audience. Knowing which channels they use most will help you get the greatest amount of exposure in the most relevant markets.
Once you’ve found an appropriate channel, consider what would be the most effective way of using it. Marketers are finding new ways to promote brands every day. Your campaign might include some combination of offline advertising, video or email marketing, or even sponsorships and product placement.
Find Relevant Influencers
A little boost from the outside can go a long way, and online influencers can provide it. When someone else shares your promotional materials, you get exposure to their network. If you develop a partnership with the right influencers, you can fast-track your company into bigger markets and create ongoing relationships.
Anyone with a big enough following can be considered an online influencer. Since everything they post publicly on social media will be viewed by a large audience, this creates an opportunity for advertising. Sometimes this is even more effective than expensive TV spots because all of the influencer’s followers have something in common already—they follow the influencer’s account.
Search for influencers who may be interested in your product or service and would be willing to get your name out there. It doesn’t hurt to reach out to huge celebrities, but they’re less likely to share their spotlight. You may also consider contacting established brands that are relevant to your niche and offering some incentive to work together.
Highlight Your USP
What is it about your brand that makes it more appealing? That’s the first question a potential customer will ask themselves to decide if they’re interested. Do you offer lower rates, or do you provide a more luxurious experience than your competitors? What are the characteristics of your brand that make your existing customers stay loyal? How can you use them to bring more customers on board?
Your unique selling proposition is what makes your brand stand out. You offer something that your competitors don’t, and as a result, customers should choose you. Your USP might be the way you cater to a specific niche, the attitude and values your brand promotes, or even a flashy spokesperson that keeps your name fresh in people’s minds. Conducting surveys of existing customers can help you determine your USP.
In a strong marketing communications strategy, you’ll leverage this USP to build up your customer base.
Stick to Your Brand Identity
Brand identity goes hand in hand with your USP. Your brand identity is the personality of your company—it’s what you believe in, how you operate, and the way you interact with the world.
Visually, your brand identity consists of some combination of logo, icon, and recognizable color scheme. All of your marketing materials should include the visual elements associated with your brand, from website and app designs to business cards and memos.
Take McDonald’s, for example—the Golden Arches have been famously successful. People around the globe immediately recognize the simple shape and color palette as McDonald’s brand staples. When you visit the McDonald’s website, use their app, or walk into their stores, you’ll find the same colors and iconography across the board. This is the kind of consistency that people expect from brands they trust.
Objectively Measure Results
The importance of marketing communications is clear, but it’s up to you to determine whether or not your strategy is working. To do this, you’ll need to find a way to measure your results objectively.
If your goal is to promote a new product through social media marketing, for example, you know what you’re expecting to see: more sales. Likes, shares, and retweets are nice for building engagement and spreading brand awareness, but the endgame is to move more product or establish more customers.
On the other hand, more engagement and interaction might be just what you’re after. If that’s the case, then those likes, shares, and retweets are indeed measurable interactions that you can count toward the success of your marketing campaign.
Whatever it is you measure, you should make sure it’s directly related to the ultimate goal of your strategy.
Tailoring Your Strategy to Your Company’s Needs
The phrase “one size fits all” seems less and less applicable in today’s day and age. You won’t find any infallible approaches that apply to everyone’s market communications strategies. Every business has its own corporate perks package, goals, needs, and resources, so each one needs its own plan. Now that you know what a marketing communications strategy is and how it works, you can make one with the characteristics that are right for your company.
Stay Within Your Budget
Although there are many ways you can market for free, chances are you’ll need to put some money into your efforts. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money, but it’s important to stick to a budget.
Planning is critical, and the better your research is, the more effective your efforts will be. You don’t want to sink too much money into a channel that your target audience doesn’t use, and you certainly don’t want to waste time, energy, or money marketing to a group of uninterested people. Better research and planning means a more efficient use of your resources.
Motivate Your Employees
Your plan looks great on paper, but it’s up to the whole team to buy into it and ultimately carry it out. Since happy employees are generally more energized and eager to produce, it’s in the company’s best interest to keep workers in high spirits.
Think about how you can incentivize your team to roll out your marketing strategy as effectively as possible. Perks keep employees around, encourage productivity, and improve morale. Employee benefits are so much more than a line item HR throws at you. They can mean a lot. Even simple rewards can motivate workers to keep pushing forward.
Understand Your Niche
Niches range from ultra-exclusive to broadly inclusive. Regardless of your niche’s size and scope, it pays to get familiar with it.
Maintaining an active presence in channels your niche uses makes you more recognizable, helping you score valuable connections in the industry. Participate in Facebook groups and Reddit threads, practice ethical and effective vendor management, send reps to events and lean on event incentives; and converse with other experts in the industry. Some niches are particularly exclusive, so you’ll have to work your way in before you can roll out your strategy.
To Sum Up
A good marketing communications strategy involves identifying the most efficient channels to get the most effective message to the most receptive audience. Before you create your campaign, decide what factors you’ll use to measure its success so you can make improvements on the fly.
You can maximize your strategy’s effectiveness by reaching out to relevant influencers, emphasizing what makes your brand unique, and maintaining a cohesive brand identity. But as long as you do your research and know your niche, you should now be able to create a marketing communications strategy to drive your brand’s success forward.