A simple guide to marketing, strategic business planning, advertising and promotion and sales lead generation, for small UK businesses especially. With tips and techniques for advertising and PR, for non-marketing managers, and for marketing and advertising professionals too; this is marketing and advertising made simple. Also some easy tips on website design, internet advertising and marketing.
While much of this marketing theory page was written a while ago generally the principles apply just the same, if fact many of these basic pointers are good reminders of some of the simple things that are easy to overlook in these modern distracting times.
Incidentally, where references are made to the UK there will commonly be equivalent methods and processes and suppliers that are applicable in other countries.
N.B. Spelling: mainly for search reasons, UK-English and US-English spellings of organisation/organization are used on this page. Aside from this, the preferred UK-English spellings are generally used. Change the spellings for your own situation if using these materials in teaching and training notes.
a fundamental aspect of modern marketing
First, here’s something that is fast becoming the most fundamental aspects of marketing to get right, especially if you want to build a truly sustainable high quality organisation (of any size) in the modern age:
Ensure the ethics and philosophy of your organisation are good and sound. This might seem a bit tangential to marketing and business, and rather difficult to measure, nevertheless…
Price is no longer the king, if it ever was. Value no longer rules, if ever it did. Quality of service and product is not the deciding factor.
Today what truly matters is ethical and philosophical quality – from the bottom to the top – in every respect – across every dimension of the organisation.
Modern consumers, business buyers, staff and suppliers too, are today more interested than ever before in corporate integrity, which is defined by the organisation’s ethics and philosophy.
Good sound ethics and philosophy enable and encourage people to make ‘right and good‘ decisions, and to do right and good things. It’s about humanity and morality; care and compassion; being good and fair.
Profit is okay, but not greed; reward is fine, but not avarice; trade is obviously essential, but exploitation is not.
Psychological Contract theory is helpful towards understanding and developing fair balanced philosophy, especially in meeting the complex needs of staff, customers and the organization.
People naturally identify and align with these philosophical values. The best staff, suppliers, and customers naturally gravitate towards organisations with strong philosophical qualities.
Putting a good clear ethical philosophy in place, and communicating it wide and far lets people know that your organisation always strives to do the the right thing. It’s powerful because it appeals to people’s deepest feelings. Corporate integrity, based on right and good ethical philosophy, transcends all else.
And so, strong ethics and good philosophy are the fundamentals on which all good organisations and businesses are now built.
People might not ask or talk about this much: the terminology is after all not fashionable ‘marketing-speak’, nor does it correlate obviously to financial performance, but be assured; everyone is becoming more aware of the deeper responsibilities of corporations and businesses in relation to humanity, and morality, the natural world, the weak and the poor, and the future of the planet.
Witness the antagonism growing towards certain multi-nationals. People don’t rail against successful corporations – they rail against corporations which put profit ahead of people; growth ahead of of society and communities; technology and production ahead of the natural world; market domination ahead of compassion for humankind. None of this is right and good, and these organisations are on borrowed time.
People increasingly prefer to buy from, deal with, and work for, ethical, right-mindedorganisations. And whether an organisation is ethical and right-minded is becoming increasingly transparent for all to see.
So be one.
Aside from which – when you get your philosophy right, everything else naturally anchors to it. Strategies, processes, attitudes, relationships, trading arrangements, all sorts of difficult decisions – even directors salaries and share options dare we suggest.
And it need not be complicated. The ultimate corporate reference point is: “Is it right and good?… How does this (idea, initiative, decision, etc) stack up against our ethical philosophy?”
Organisations are complex things, and they become more and more complicated every day. A good ethical philosophy provides everyone with a natural, reliable reference point, for the tiniest detail up to the biggest strategic decision.
So as you start to write your marketing plan, be it for a new start-up, a huge corporation, or a little department within one, make sure you put a ‘right and good’ ethical philosophy in place before you do anything else, and watch everything grow from there.
marketing and advertising – differences and definitions
marketing planning process – how marketing fits into overall business planning – andmarketing/business planning hierarchy
marketing is more than selling and advertising – other issues to consider
branding, advertising and promotion – simple and important guidelines
types of advertising media – different methods and their uses.
direct marketing, advertising, and the law – notably the UK Data Protection Act and Preference Services for telemarketing, fax, mail, etc.
advertising tips and ‘tricks of the trade’ – secrets of effective printed advertising and maximizing advertising response.
PR – make the most of public relations – use press releases for free advertising and publicity.
newsletters – for staff and customers.
website and internet marketing tips – simple tips for internet websites and online marketing.
surveys and questionnaires – process for designing and organizing employee surveys and customer surveys
training/information event new business/enquiry generation method – a proven effective process for gaining new business
See also (on other pages):
business planning – includes free strategic planning templates, samples and examples
sales and selling – methods, processes, theory, techniques – help for developing selling propositions and sales strategies
business networking – how to – tips, methods, ideas
marketing vs advertising – differences and definitions
Marketing and advertising are commonly confused. This confusion is compounded because meanings of both continue to evolve.
Below are definitions of marketing, followed by definitions advertising, and the differences between marketing and advertising.
Firstly it’s important to note that:
The increasingly broad nature of the marketing definitions reflects the increasing dimensions by which organizations engage with their markets. It is truly fascinating and highly significant to see how the definitions of marketing have changed over time.
Marketing was traditionally simply ‘selling products’ (as if at a traditional old-style farmer’s market). The term derives from this meaning. This meaning developed so that marketing became an extension of selling – a means by which to identify, design, and communicate or ‘target’ offerings to customers.
Nowadays however, we know that customers make decisions to buy many products/services by referring to vastly more and wider factors than simply product/service features, quality, availability, and price.
Nowadays the meaning of marketing is extremely sophisticated. A good modern definition of marketing must acknowledge that we buy things in far more complex ways than we did fifty years ago, even ten years ago. The internet and social media are major factors in this. Above all, marketing is a reflection of ‘the market’, and how the market buys and behaves, which especially entails people and society – much broader considerations than purely product and price. As the market evolves in sophistication, so does the way in which we understand what marketing actually is and what it means to conduct marketing well.
Here are three examples of how the scope and definition of marketing reaches much farther than ever before:
Organizational constitution – many customers will not buy from a supplier whose ownership is considered to be unethical, greedy, or overly profit-driven, whereas many customers positively seek out suppliers considered to have more ethical convictions and ethos, such as mutuals and cooperatives, or social enterprises. These issues are therefore now unavoidably part of marketing, and where marketing fails to consider or influence these matters, then marketing activity is potentially less able and effective.
Organizational probity – (probity means honesty, uprightness – it’s from the Latin word probus, meaning good) – this includes issues such as environmental and social responsibility, and ‘Fairtrade’, etc. See the ‘4P Purpose-Probity model’. Where marketing fails to involve, address and influence these fundamentals of organizational values, then marketing is to an extent (dependent on the service/market sector) disabled.
The psychological contract – the relationship between organization and staff directly affects market image and customer service/relationships. Marketing has for decades extended its reach to staff (traditionally, for example ‘internal marketing’ via newsletters and staff briefings, etc) but nowadays this ‘internal’ facet is immensely more significant. Organizational integrity and related failings are now much more transparent. Employer/employee relationships are now seen very obviously to influence quality and ethics of conduct and service (for example, scandals featuring News International privacy criminality, insurance industry miss-selling, and banking/investment risk). As such it is difficult to exclude considerations such as the psychological contract from the marketing responsibility.
definitions of marketing
Here are some definitions of marketing, oldest first, starting with the 1922 OED (Oxford English Dictionary). The increasingly broad nature of these marketing definitions reflects the increasing dimensions by which organizations engage with their markets, and consequently how the meaning of marketing has grown.
“The action of selling, i.e., to bring or send to market…” and also, “Produce [verb meaning] to be sold in the market.” (1922 OED – Oxford English Dictionary, paraphrased)
“The action or business of promoting and selling products and services, including market research and advertising”. (1998-2005 revised, modern-day Oxford English Dictionary)
“Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” (The UK Chartered Institute of Marketing, CIM, official definition 2012.)
“Marketing encompasses and includes all organizational activities which involve or affect the relationship between a supplier/provider organization and its audience and stakeholders.” (Businessballs.com, A Chapman, 2012)
definition of advertising and advertisement
We now see more clearly that advertising is quite different to, and actually within, marketing:
“The activity or profession of producing advertisements for commercial products or services.” (2005 Oxford English Dictionary)
Advertisement is defined as: “A notice or announcement in a public medium promoting a product, service or event, or publicizing a job vacancy.” (2005 Oxford English Dictionary)
“Communicating by print or electronic or other media to a customer/audience/market about a product/service/organization so as to improve the desire for or view of the product/service/organization.” (Businessballs.com, A Chapman, 2012)
(Extending usefully as:) “…Advertising seeks, in measurable, cost-effective, controllable ways, to generate enquiries or sales and/or to raise awareness/perceptions of a supplier/provider/organization, by presenting motivating communications to an appropriate audience.” (Businessballs.com, A Chapman, 2012)
Marketing and advertising are different.
Marketing is an extremely broad area that includes advertising, not vice-versa.
Marketing also includes PR, online presence/activities, customer service, selling/sales admin (methods and structure/strategy), branding, exhibitions, sponsorship, new product development, merchandising, surveys and market research, political lobbying, and even extends to ethos, culture, training, and organizational constitutional issues, since all this affects the image and trading style of an organization or product/service provider.
Advertising is far more specific than marketing; advertising is a function of marketing, and basically encompasses methods of communication with audience designed to produce sales enquiries, and/or improve awareness/perceptions of product/brand/organization. Advertising refers to printed and electronic media that is presented one way or another to market or audience, including packaging, point of sale, brochures and sales literature. Advertising increasingly extends to ‘advertorial’ in traditional and online media, which combines provision of objective helpful information and more subjective advertising/endorsement. Advertising (when properly executed) is the statistically driven and measurable implementation of marketing strategy, via carefully selected communications methods, targeted at predetermined audiences.
Advertising is one of several instruments/means by which marketing operates.
We might also regard advertising as one means of tactical implementation of the strategic aims of marketing.
marketing and business planning – and fundamental organizational philosophy, purpose, values, and ethics
a modern planning framework for a business or organization
First it’s helpful to revisit, check or define the foundations of your business or organization. What are your fundamental aims and values? What is your ultimate purpose?
Is your underpinning philosophy congruent (consistent) with your planned business activities, operations and aims? (See the leadership page for explanation of how underpinning purpose and philosophy are so important for leadership, as well as for strategy and marketing.)
Below is a simple template for checking that you have the foundations and building blocks in place. If not, then decide (as far as you can, because it’s generally the CEO’s call) what they should be, because all good marketing plans need to have solid foundations first.
As regards the fundamental philosophical aspects see the sections on ethical organizations and corporate responsibility and the Psychological Contract. These concepts are deeper than tools and processes and mission statements – having a sound philosophy and ethical position determines and protects the spirit and integrity of your organization.
When it comes to defining more detailed aspects of mission and strategy, of course there’s degree of ‘chicken and egg’ here: How can you know your Mission until you validate it with your potential customers? How can you establish objectives and goals without consulting and involving your staff? These later stages obviously need to be put in place and refined when you are in position to do so without guessing or assuming, as the planning develops; even so, use the framework as a firm reminder to make sure you fill in the boxes when you are able – don’t leave these issues floating undecided, or defaulting back to X-Theory autocracy (which they generally do where a vacuum exists). If in doubt, always err on the side of what is good and right and proper, which is another good reason for having a sound ethical position: it always provides a reliable reference point. In the absence of everything else – tools, processes, clarity of responsibility (who does what), etc – having a sound and well understood philosophy and ethical position will always help people to make good decisions.
Build from the bottom upwards. Consult and involve people affected and involved wherever relevant. You will see many different versions and interpretations of this framework. The principles are similar although the words might change. A business or an organisation is built on values and philosophy. Increasingly in the modern age, customers and staff are not prepared to sustain commitment to organisations whose philosophy and values are misaligned with their own personal ideals. Ten years ago organisational planning paid very little regard to values and philosophy. Customers were satisfied with quality at the right price. Staff were satisfied with a decent wage and working conditions. Today things are different. Organisations of all sorts must now cater for a more enlightened workforce and market-place.
When considering these planning stages start from the bottom upwards. This will help to reinforce the point that planning is about building from the foundations upwards, and that the stronger the foundations, then the stronger the organisation will be.
hierarchy of marketing and business planning stages
Start at the foundations (point 1 below) and work upwards.
|8. Our Performance Indicators
||How do our Targets and Objectives translate into the essential measurable aspects of performance and activity? Are these expectations, standards, ‘Key Performance Indicators’ (KPI’s), ‘Service Level Agreements’ (SLA’s), etc., agreed with the recipients and people responsible for delivery?
|7. Our Targets and Objectives
||How are our strategies comprised? How are these responsibilities and activities allocated cross our functions and departments and teams? Who does what, where, when, how, for what cost and with what required effect and result? What are the timescales and measures for all the actions within our strategies, and who owns those responsibilities?
|6. Our Strategies
||How will we achieve our goal(s)? What needs to happen in order to achieve the things we plan? What are the effects on us and from where? Like planning a game of chess, what moves do we plan to make, why, and with what effects? How will we measure and monitor and communicate our performance? What are the criteria for measuring our performance and execution of our strategies?
|5. Our Goal (or several goals in large or divisionalised businesses)
||What is our principal goal? When do we plan to achieve it? How will we measure that we have achieved it? At what point will we have succeeded in what we set out to do? Goals can change of course, and new ones necessarily are developed as old ones are achieved – but at any time we need to know what our organisation’s main goal is, when we aim to achieve it, and how its achievement will be measured. And again all this needs to be agreed with our people – including our customers if we are very good indeed.
|4. Our Mission (or Missions if there are separate businesses within the whole)
||How do we describe what we aim to do and be and achieve? What is special about what we are and do compared to any other organisation or business unit? Do our people understand and agree with this? Do our customers agree that it’s what they want?
|3. Our Vision – dependent on values and philosophy.
||Where are we going? What difference will we make? How do we want to be remembered? In what ways will we change things for the better? Is this vision relevant and good and desired by the customers and staff and stakeholders? Is it realistic and achievable? Have we involved staff and customers in defining our vision? Is it written down and published and understood? The Vision is the stage of planning when the organisation states its relationship with its market-place, customers, or users. The Vision can also include references to staff, suppliers, ‘stakeholders’ and all others affected by the organisation.
|2. Our Values –enabled by and dependent on philosophy and leadership.
||Ethics, integrity, care and compassion, quality, standards of behaviour – whatever the values are – are they stated and understood and agreed by the staff? Do the values resonate with the customers and owners or stakeholders? Are they right and good, and things that we feel proud to be associated with? See the section on ethical organisations for help with this fundamental area of planning.
|1. Our Philosophy –fundamentally defined by the leadership.When things go wrong in an organisation people commonly point to causes, problems or mistakes closer to the point of delivery – or typically in operational management. Generally however, major operational or strategic failings can always be traced back to a questionable philosophy, or a philosophical purpose which is not fitting for the activities of the organisation.
||How does the organisation relate to the world? This is deeper than values. What is the organisation’s purpose? If it is exclusively to make money for the shareholders, or to make a few million for the management buyout team when the business is floated, perhaps have a little re-think. Customers and staff are not daft. They will not be comfortable buying into an organisation whose deepest foundation is greed and profit. Profit’s fine to an extent, but where does it fit in the wider scheme of things? Is it more important than taking care of our people and our customers and the world we live in? Does the organisation have a stated philosophy that might inspire people at a deeper level? Dare we aspire to build organisations of truly great worth and value to the world? The stronger our philosophy, the easier it is to build and run a great organisation. See the section on ethical organisations and the Psychological Contract for help with this fundamental area of planning.If you are an entrepreneur or leader, or anyone contributing to the planning process, think about what you want to leave behind you; what you’d want to be remembered for. This helps focus on philosophical issues, before attending to processes and profit.
Whatever your philosophy, ensure it is consistent with and appropriate for your organisational activities and aims. Your philosophical foundations must fit with what is built onto them, and vice-versa.
When you’ve satisfied yourself that the fundamental organisational framework is in place – and that you have gone as far as you can in creating a strong foundation – then you can begin your marketing planning.
Carry out your market research, including competitor activity.
Market information should include anything you need to know in order to formulate strategy and make business decisions. Information is available in the form of statistical economic and demographic data from libraries, research companies and professional associations (the Institute of Directors is excellent if you are a member). This is called secondary research and will require some interpretation or manipulation for your own purposes. Additionally you can carry out your own research through customer feed-back, surveys, questionnaires and focus groups (obtaining indicators to wider views through discussion among a few representative people in a controlled situation). This is called primary research, and is tailored to your precise needs. It requires less manipulation, but all types of research need careful analysis. Be careful when extrapolating or projecting. If the starting point is inaccurate the resulting analysis will not be reliable. The main elements you typically need to understand and quantify are:
- customer profile and mix
- product mix
- demographic issues and trends
- future regulatory and legal effects
- prices and values, and customer perceptions in these areas
- competitor activities
- competitor strengths and weaknesses
- customer service perceptions, priorities and needs
Primary research is recommended for local and niche services. Keep the subjects simple and the range narrow. Formulate questions that give clear yes or no indicators (ie avoid three and five options in multi-choices) always understand how you will analyse and measure the data produced. Try to convert data to numerical format and manipulate on a spreadsheet. Use focus groups for more detailed work. Be wary of using market research organisations as this can become extremely expensive. If you do the most important thing to do is get the brief right.
Establish your corporate aims.
Business strategy is partly dictated by what makes good business sense, and partly by the subjective, personal wishes of the owners. There is no point in developing and implementing a magnificent business growth plan if the owners wish the business to maintain its current scale.
State your business objectives – short, medium and long term.
Mindful of the trading environment (external factors) and the corporate aims (internal factors), there should be stated the business’s objectives. What is the business aiming to do over the next one, three and five years? These objectives must be quantified and prioritised wherever possible.
Define your ‘Mission Statement’.
All the best businesses have a ‘mission statement’. It announces clearly and succinctly to your staff, shareholders and customers what you are in business to do. Your mission statement may build upon a general ‘service charter’ relevant to your industry. The act of producing and announcing the Mission Statement is an excellent process for focusing attention on the business’s priorities, and particularly the emphasis on customer service. If your business is modern and good you will be able also to reference your organisational ‘Philosophy’ and set of organisational ‘Values’, both of which are really helpful in providing fundamental referencing or ‘anchoring’ points, by which to clarify aspects of what the organisation or business unit aims to do, what its purpose is, and how the organisation behaves and conducts itself.
Define your ‘Product/Service Offer(s)’.
You must define clearly what you are providing to your customers in terms of individual products, or more appropriately, services. You should have one for each main area of business activity, or sector that you serve. Under normal circumstances competitive advantage is increased the more you can offer things your competitors cannot. Develop your service offer to emphasise your strengths, which should normally relate to your business objectives, in turn being influenced by corporate aims and market research. The tricky bit is translating your view of these services into an offer that means something to your customer. The definition of your service offer must make sense to your customer in terms that are advantageous and beneficial to the customer, not what is technically good, or scientifically sound. Think about what your service, and the manner by which you deliver it, means to your customer. In the selling profession, this perspective is referred to as translating features into benefits. The easiest way to translate a feature into a benefit is to add the prompt ‘which means that…’. For example, if a strong feature of a business is that it has 24-hour opening , this feature would translate into something like:
“We’re open 24 hours (feature) which means that you can get what you need when you need it – day or night.”
Clearly this offers a significant benefit over competitors who only open 9 – 5.
Your service-offer should be an encapsulation of what you do best, that you want to do more of to meet your business objectives, stated in terms that will make your customers think ‘yes, that means something to me, and my life will be better if I have it.’
Write business plan – include costs, resources and ‘sales’ targets.
Your business plan, which deals with all aspects of the resource and management of the business, will include many decisions and factors fed in from the marketing process. It will state sales and profitability targets by activity. There may also be references to image and reputation, and to public relations. All of these issues require some investment and effort if they are to result in a desired effect, particularly any relating to increasing numbers of customers and revenue growth. You would normally describe and provide financial justification for the means of achieving these things, together with customer satisfaction improvement, in a marketing plan.
Quantify what you need from the market.
Before attending to the detail of how to achieve your marketing aims you need to quantify clearly what they are. How many new customers? Limit of customer losses? Sales values from each sector? Profit margins per service, product, sector? Percentage increase in total sales revenues? Market share required? Improvement in customer satisfaction? Reduction in customer complaints? Response times? Communication times?
Write your marketing plan.
Your marketing plan is actually a statement, supported by relevant financial data, of how you are going to develop your business.
“What you are going to sell to whom, when and how you are going to sell it, and how much you will sell it for.”
In most types of businesses it is also essential that you include measurable aims concerning customer service and satisfaction.
The marketing plan will have costs that relate to a marketing budget in the business plan. The marketing plan will also have revenue and gross margin/profitability targets that relate to the turnover and profitability in the business plan. The marketing plan will also detail quite specifically those activities, suppliers and staff issues critical to achieving the marketing aims.
Being able to refer to aspects of organisational Philosophy and Values is very helpful in formulating the detail of a marketing plan.
Back to marketing index.
marketing is more than selling and advertising
Marketing provides the means by which the organisation or business projects itself to its audience, and also how it behaves and interacts in its market. It is essential therefore that the organisation’s philosophy and values are referenced and reinforced by every aspect of marketing. In practical terms here are some of the areas and implications:
There are staffing and training implications especially in selling and marketing, because people are such a crucial aspect.
Your people are unlikely to have all the skills they need to help you implement a marketing plan. You may not have all the people that you need so you have to consider justifying and obtaining extra. Customer service is acutely sensitive to staffing and training. Are all your people aware of what your aims are? Do they know what their responsibilities are? How will you measure their performance? Many of these issues feed back into the business plan under human resources and training, where budgets need to be available to support the investment in these areas. People are the most important part of your organisation, and the success of your marketing activity will stand or fall dependent on how committed and capable your people are in performing their responsibilities. Invest in your people’s development, and ensure that they understand and agree with where the organisation is aiming to go. If they do not, then you might want to reconsider where you are going.
Create a Customer Service Charter.
You should formulate a detailed Customer Service Charter, extending both your mission statement and your service offer, so as to inform staff and customers what your standards are. These standards can cover quite detailed aspects of your service, such as how many times the telephone will be permitted to ring until the caller is gets an answer. Other issues might include for example: How many days between receipt and response for written correspondence. These expectations must also be developed into agreed standards of performance for certain customers or customer groups – often called Service Level Agreements (SLA’s). Increasingly, customers are interested to know more about the organisations’ values and philosophy, which until recent times never featured in customer service charters or customer decision-making criteria. They do now.
Establish a complaints procedure and timescales for each stage.
This charter sets customer expectations, so be sure you can meet them. Customers get disappointed particularly when their expectations are not met, and when so many standards can be set at arbitrary levels, think of each one as a promise that you should keep.
Remember an important rule about customer service: It’s not so much the failure to meet standards that causes major dissatisfaction among customers – everyone can make a mistake – the most upset is due to not being told in advance, not receiving any apology, not getting any explanation why, and not hearing what’s going to be done to put things right.
Establish systems to measure customer service and staff performance.
These standards need to be absolutely measurable. You must keep measuring your performance against them, and preferably publishing the results, internally and externally.
Customer complaints handling is a key element.
Measuring customer complaints is crucial because they are a service provider’s barometer. You need to have a scheme which encourages, not discourages, customers to complain. Some surveys have found that nine out of ten people do not complain to the provider when they feel dissatisfied. But every one of them will tell at least a couple of their friends or relations. It is imperative that you capture these complaints in order to:
- Put at ease and give explanation or reassurance to the person complaining.
- Reduce the chances of them complaining to someone else.
- Monitor exactly how many dissatisfied customers you have and what the causes are, and that’s even more important if you’re failing to deliver your mission statement or service offer!
- Take appropriate corrective action to prevent a recurrence.
Most organisations now have complaints ‘escalation’ procedures, whereby very dissatisfied customers can be handled by more senior staff. This principle needs extending as far as possible, especially to ensure that strategic intelligent complaints and constructive feedback (all immensely useful) are handled by someone in the organisation who has suitable strategic appreciation and authority to recognise and act appropriately.
Many organisations waste their most useful complaints and feedback by killing it dead at the initial customer service outer wall. Complaints and feedback are gold-dust. Encourage it and use it wisely.
There are implications for ICT, premises, and reporting systems.
Also relating to your business plan are the issues of Information and Communications Technology – are your computers and communications systems capable of giving you the information and analysis you need? What type of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is most appropriate for your needs?
Premises – Have you got too little or too much space? Is it all being used to its best effect? Is the reception area designed well? What do your customers and personal callers think of the decor and the layout? If car-parking is difficult do you make any effort to warn people coming for the first time? Who needs to be based in an office and who is best based at home? These are complex issues which need addressing – don’t just assume that things are okay as they are.
Reporting systems – It is said that if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it, and where finance and business performance is concerned that’s certainly true. If there’s an aspect of your service or performance that is important can you measure it?
How do you report on it and interpret the results? Who needs to know? Who needs to capture the data? When you get a new customer (for an ongoing transaction) do you ask how they heard of you and why they chose to give you a try?
Communications and ongoing customer feedback are essential.
Having an open dialogue with your customers is vital. There’s a double benefit to your business in ensuring this happens:
- You nip problems in the bud and stay aware of how you’re performing.
- Your customers feel better about the service you provide as a result of the communications, or from the fact that the channel is open even if they don’t use it – it’s human nature.
Try to devise a standard feedback form. It can double as a promotional tool as well if it’s made available on a wider scale. The form can carry details of your mission statement, service offer and your customer service charter.
Back to marketing index.
branding, advertising and promotion
Here are some guidelines on branding, and for planning and managing advertising and promotion activities for small businesses. The principles transfer to very large businesses. In fact many very large organisations forget or ignore these basic rules, as you will see from the featured case-study example.
Branding refers to naming a business or product or service. A brand will typically also have a logo or design, or several, associated with it.
Businessballs is a brand. So is Cadbury (a company brand, although now a division of a bigger one), and so is Milky Way (a Cadbury product brand). So is Google (so big a brand and a part of life it’s become a verb, ‘to google’). So is Manchester United (upon which a vast merchandise business has been built). And so increasingly is your local school, hospital, and council. Brands are everywhere.
If your name is John Smith and you start a landscape gardening business called John Smith Landscape Gardening, then John Smith Landscape Gardening is a brand too.
Branding is potentially a complex subject because it extends to intellectual property and copyright, trademarks, etc., for which, if you are embarking on any significant business activity, you should seek qualified legal advice. When doing so contain your ambitions and considerations (and your legal fee exposure) so that they are appropriate for your situation.
There is much though that you can decide for yourself, and certainly a lot you can do to protect and grow your brand so that it becomes a real asset to you, rather than just a name.
General guidance about business and product names, your rights to use them, and ways of protecting them, are provided (for the UK) via the UK Intellectual Property Office website. Many of these principles apply internationally, although you should check your local laws for regions beyond the UK and especially beyond Europe.
Aside from the legal technicalities certain basic points should be considered concerning branding:
- Brand names must be meaningful and memorable in a positive relevant sense. Ideally your customers should associate your brand(s) with your business, your quality, and perhaps some other aspects of your trading philosophy and style.
- Choose your brand names carefully. Product and business brand names carry meanings. Meanings can be different among different types of people. If possible test possible brand names with target customers to see what the market thinks, rather than relying only on your gut instinct on your friends’ opinions.
- If your business is serious, and certainly if it is international – you must seek advice about the international meaning of branding words and the rights and protections implications of those words.
- As a general rule, but not a consistent point of law, you are usually much safer in terms of avoiding risk of breaching someone else’s rights to a brand name if you use a generic (properly descriptive) word or phrase to brand your business or product, than if you use a made-up name, or any word which does not properly describe your business or product.
- For example – if you open a pet shop in Newtown and you call it (give it the brand name of) ‘Newtown Pet Shop’ then probably this will not breach any existing protected rights belonging to someone else in the pet business. If instead you want to call (brand) your pet shop ‘Petz’ or ‘Furry Friends’ then there is a strong likelihood that someone else might already have protected such a brand name, which could give problems for you in the future, especially if your business becomes big and successful, or you wish to sell it one day, or if the rights-owner happens to be particularly aggressive in protecting their rights.
- It takes many years to build trust and reputation in branded names (of businesses, services, and products) so making frequent changes to business names and brand names is not a good idea, and in some cases even making a single change can produce surprisingly powerful problems. See the case-study example of ineffective branding and organization name changing below.
- If you must change a brand name, and there are times when this is necessary, you should plan (unless there are strong reasons for ceasing the previous brand) a transition which customers and the wider market-place understand. An obvious solution is to phase the change by merging the old and new brand names. The UK Nationwide Building Society is a good example of this when it joined with the Anglia Building Society. For several years the new company was then branded the Nationwide Anglia, only dropping the Anglia when the market fully recognised the change. Commonly executives and agency folk managing a new brand name project tend to overlook the sensitivities of customers who know and trust the old brand, and this is especially risky to customer loyalty and business continuity wherever a brand with a strong reputation is replaced.
- Beware of creative agencies giving you advice that’s more in their interests than yours and your customers. Brands and advertising are primarily communications with customers, they are not works of art or the personal statement of a designer. The creative aspect of a brand (particularly design or logo) must be of good quality, but the creative element is not an end in itself. Often the best solution is the simplest one, because customers understand it. Always ask youself – “Will people understand this (brand or brand image/communication)? Will it be meaningful to my target audience, and does it truly fit with what I’m trying to do in my business?”
branding and name-change – case-study example – how not to do it
For very many years the UK government department responsible for business was called the DTI – Department for Trade and Industry.
The DTI was formed in 1970. It was a merger of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Technology.
The name DTI was effectively a brand. It was a government department, but in all other respects it was a massive branded organization, offering various services to businesses, and to regions and countries also.
The DTI had a logo, a website. It had staff, a massive target audience (of billions globally), customers (effectively, tens of millions), a huge marketing and advertising spend, including national TV campaigns, posters, informations brochures, and every other aspect of branding which normally operates in the corporate world.
The organization name ‘the DTI’, was an obvious and recognised abbreviation of ‘Trade’ and ‘Industry’, and this described very clearly what the department was responsible for.
Not surprisingly, the DTI name developed extremely strong brand recognition and reputation, accumulated over 27 years, surviving at least two short-lived attempted name changes during that period (each reverting to DTI due to user critical reaction) – until the name (brand) was finally killed off in 2007.
For more than a generation, millions and millions of people recognised the DTI name and knew it was the British government’s department for business. Many people also knew the website – if not exact the exact website address, they knew it was ‘www.dti….(something or other)’.
Simply, tens of millions of people in the UK, and also around the world recognised the DTI as Britain’s government department for business.
For people in business, this is a very substantial advantage for any organization to have. In a corporations, this sort of brand ‘equity’ is added into balance sheets, and can be valued at many £millions.
Then in 2007 the government finally forced through a name change, and the DTI was replaced, with, wait for it…
The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform – BERR.
Twenty-seven years of brand equity and reputation gone, just like that.
BERR became instantly the most forgettable, least logical, and most stupid departmental brand in the entire history of government department naming and branding cock-ups.
No-one knew what it stood for, no-one could remember what it was called, and no-one could understand what it was supposed to be doing even when it was explained.
Even the term ‘business enterprise’ was a nonsense in itself. What is business if it’s not enterprise? What is enterprise if it’s not business?
And what is ‘regulatory reform’ in the context of business and enterprise? Hardly central to international trade. It was a bit like renaming Manchester United Football Club the Trafford Borough Playing Fields, Caterers and Toilets.
Not surprisingly BERR didn’t last long, and duly in 2009 the government changed the name again to BIS – (the department for) Business, Innovation and Skills. Let’s see how long this name lasts. I’ll give it a year or two at most.
It’s only taxpayers’ money, so the enormous costs and wastage caused by this recklessness and poorly executed strategy are not scrutinised like they would be in a big company.
You can perhaps begin to imagine the costs, losses and other fallout caused by changing such a well-established organizational name and presence, twice in two years.
The case-study does however provide a wonderful example of re-naming/re-branding gone wrong on a very grand scale.
available mix of advertising methods
Advertising is a complex business and an ever-changing science. New ideas and media uses are being devised all the time, and as the advertising industry switches emphasis from media to media, and as new technologies and lifestyle trends develop, so new advertising and promotional methods need assessing and comparing with traditional available methods as to which is more or less cost-effective for your given purposes. For example through the 1980s and 1990s there was a huge trend towards direct mail (junk mail), which seems to show no signs of abating – many very large consumer brands switched significant advertising spending into direct mail, often switching away from TV. TV on the other hand is increasingly attractive to small local businesses. Loyalty schemes demonstrated significant success rates through the 1990s through to present times. Internet advertising is arguably now more popular than radio advertising – the importance of websites and internet listings are very significant now for small local businesses just as much as larger corporations. ‘Viral marketing’ (exploiting electronic communications and the ‘word of mouth’ instinct) is an example of a new method of advertising that simply never existed until about the mid-1990s. Advertising methods change with lifestyle and technology developments – learn what’s available to you – learn what your competitors are doing. Read about advertising methods and developments and trends. Historically (1980s-90s) advertising agencies were commonly ‘multi-services’ agencies, and split their operations to handle the creative, production and media-buying processes. Nowadays however, multi-services agencies are far less common – the range of advertising methods is so vast that advertising agencies are now most commonly specialised in one or a small number of advertising services (types of advertising), because there’s so much to consider and to use. Whether you work with an advertising agency or not, learn about the methods that are available to you – keep up with developments so you can make informed decisions about where to put your advertising emphasis, and what ‘mix’ of methods to use.
choose methods according to cost, targeting and response
Any campaign can be broken down in terms of cost per thousand, and if you are seeking a direct response, it should be monitored according to cost per response and also cost per conversion. Advertising cost per thousand includes cost of origination (design), production (printing if relevant) and media (such as local radio, display advert, list procurement and postal fulfillment). Generally you will pay a higher cost per thousand for better targeted methods, but in return you should expect a higher response rate, so the cost per response can be lower than cheaper methods. Choose advertising and publicity methods that suit your targeting. Organisations selling advertising are able to provide a lot of information about their readership/audience, and you can look at other advertisers that repeatedly using various media to gauge how effectively it’s working for them, which will provide some clues as to how well it might work for you. Are they targeting the same audience as you? If so you it’s an idea to call them and ask if the particular advertising method is one they’s recommend or not.
Getting and building evidence of advertising effectiveness is a vital part of decision-making, and managing your advertising and marketing mix. Why guess if you can base decisions on experience and previous statistics and data? Sophisticated advertisers only commit to major programmes after accumulating response data from pilots and previous campaigns. They avoid guesswork, and so should you. Any large scale activity must first be tested and the response measured for quantity and profile.
design, production and the role of external agencies
Your advertising material helps to form your image, so make sure you are happy with the design, however modest the style and usage. Use typefaces and logos in a consistent way, and if you can get the help of a good designer early this will set the tone and rules for usage later, which will save time and money in the long term. You may already have a perfectly satisfactory ‘corporate identity’. If so, don’t feel pressurised to change for the sake of it. Brand loyalty and the names and identities associated with it takes years – generations in fact – to build. Don’t throw away perfectly good branding just because some idiot from an agency persuades you that a change is necessary. When making any change consider your real purpose and implications.
Consider and be warned by examples in recent times of large-scale corporate identity cock-ups, such as BT (trumpeting figure), the Post Office (calling itself Consignia), and British Airways (multi-national aircraft tail-fin designs) – all of these cost tens of millions of pounds, yet they all (according to most commentators) failed disastrously and resulted in expensive rebranding or reversion to the original identities.
The role of design and advertising agencies is however most commonly concerned with planning and implementing advertising or promotional ‘campaigns’ on a client’s behalf.
This advertising process starts with a ‘brief’ comprising: the purpose of the advertising, how much you will pay, and what you expect to get, including how you will measure whether it is successful or not. A written brief is critically important if you are using an outside agency. Advertising is notoriously subjective; creative agencies are often difficult to manage; so misunderstandings can easily creep in if your control is not tight enough. See also the tips for working with product designers because many of the principles are transferable to working with advertising agencies.
Here are some general rules for working with advertising and design agencies:
- Try to appoint people who come recommended and who have experience in your sector.
- Agree written briefs for all work, and certainly in the early phase of a relationship.
- Maintain a balance between what you want to say and how they want to say it.
- Don’t allow the message to get over-complicated.
Agencies charge like wounded bulls for correcting copy (text) once they’ve started the final artwork, so try to get all the details correct and as you want them before going to the reprographic stage (that’s when the designer or typesetter produces the artwork).
If you are a small business try to use an agency with the services you need under one roof (apart from printing which is traditionally separate), as they can tend to mark-up bought-in services quite heavily, eg., graphic design, photography. You’ll also find it easier to establish accountability if your agency is responsible for the whole job, rather than just a part of it.
Until you are satisfied with the agency’s print prices it’s a good idea to ask for an alternative print quotation, and check what mark-up the agency adds on.
In the case of list procurement (for mailings and telemarketing campaigns, etc), display advertising, or leaflet distribution through inserts or ‘Door-to-door’ delivery, check whether the agency is adding a mark-up (it’s likely), and if so that you are happy with this mark-up.
Ask the same question in the case of any other procured services or products, eg., promotional merchandise, exhibition space, etc.
advertise to build awareness and to generate response
Within the advertising purpose you should define whether you seek to create awareness or to generate a direct response. Effective marketing generally demands that each is employed, but on a limited budget you may be restricted to concentrating on one or the other, so think carefully about what will help most. Different media and methods are better suited to one or the other. Direct Mail is very good at generating a direct response, as are magazine and newspaper adverts, and inserts. Posters, TV, radio and press editorial are all much better at creating awareness and building credibility.
use language that your customers understand
In all of your advertising material take care to see things and hear things form your customers’ viewpoint. As a knowledgeable supplier there is always a tendency to write copy and present information from a technical and ‘product/service’ standpoint. Remember that your customers are people without good technical or detailed understanding of your products and services. You need to help them understand things in terms that really mean something to the reader – as it relates to their needs and priorities and challenges. Focus on what your propositions do for them, not what your propositions are in technical detail. You should spell things out, using clear simple language. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that complicated language will help build an image of professionalism and intelligence – people will just turn off. The mark of truly effective advertising and marketing is the ability to convey complex issues to the audience in a manner that is interesting, relevant, meaningful, and easy to digest very quickly.
Thomas Jefferson suggested that “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do” and this is a good maxim for writing good advertising material.
If you or the ‘copy-writer’ at your advertising agency cannot achieve this in your advertising and marketing communications then find someone who can, or you will be wasting a lot of your advertising effort and investment.
translate your product/service offer into meaningful customer benefits
Having decided through the processes described above to focus your message on a few key strengths of your business (your ‘service offer’ or ‘proposition’) you must now express these in terms of benefits to your customers. What does it all mean to them? Give them something to relate to, so that you explain more than simply what you do or provide – explain what your proposition means to your customers. How will it make their business more profitable, more streamlined, more ethical and sustainable, more socially responsible; how your proposition will improve the quality of their service to their own customers; how it will make their employees lives’ easier, better, less stressful – whatever you believe to be the strongest most relevant and meaningful customer outcomes.
advertising must be costed and linked to measurable response
Because advertising is such a complex science the only real way to be sure that something will work before you try it is to refer to previous indicators, and if you’ve no previous statistics or reliable data then run ‘pilot’ or trial first. Start measuring the effectiveness of your advertising from the very beginning. Keep detailed records of what you did, when, to whom, for how much, and what resulted. Admittedly the results of certain advertising can be quite difficult to measure, particularly where no direct response is sought, (where follow-up sample surveys might be the only way to gauge effects), but measure everything in whatever way you can. Starting a business and a completely new advertising campaign inevitably involves a bit of calculated guesswork, however, if you start measuring and recording results from the beginning then you’ll make your task much easier next time around.
Key indicators to be gauged are cost per thousand, cost per response, and percentage response.
A very basic method of measuring and recording advertising effectiveness and results is to ensure that every enquiry is greeted at some stage with the question, “How did you hear about us?” or “How did you find us?” Even very large ‘professional’ organisations commonly fail to instill this basic principle within their customer service processes, and yet it is so utterly important.
These days there is every opportunity to properly record and measure enquiries and advertising responses: Computer-based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems nowadays offer relatively easy and cost-effective ways of managing customer and enquiries information. Make sure you use one. Then you won’t need to guess as to what forms of advertising work best for you.
Remember also that advertising forms a part of your business plan, which is aimed at being profitable. If your advertising does not produce a gross profit in excess of its cost you need to know why. As a minimum, you certainly need to know whether it does or it doesn’t.
Back to marketing index.
types of advertising media and marketing methods
Prior to considering methods of advertising and marketing it is important to ensure that you understand and adhere to local country laws relating to data protection and customer rights concerning privacy and opt-out of various marketing methods. This especially relates to maintaining and using lists and people’s personal details, to the use of telemarketing, direct mail, texting, fax-marketing (very rarely used nowadays), and email. Generally private consumers enjoy more protection than business-to-business customers. See the notes about laws relating to direct marketing and advertising.
Small local businesses who target their local community often overlook some very simple easy and cost effective ways of advertising. These low-cost methods are not generally so suitable for big corporations with big budgets, but these ideas can be very effective (and very inexpensive) for small businesses and self-employed people targeting the local area with small advertising budgets.
Here is a quick list of these local advertising ideas, which with a little imagination and selective effort can be developed into a very effective local advertising campaign, providing a continuous pipeline of new business:
- Posters in windows and on notice boards, and in staff rooms of local businesses.
- A promotional stall at a local car-boot market or county show.
- A stall or leafleting presence at a local relevant gathering or event.
- Using leaflets or business cards in dispensers where local people sit and wait or queue or gather, for example: doctors, dentists, vets, church rooms, tourist information office, outpatients departments, library, nurseries, mini-cab offices, forces and services sites (e.g., police, ambulance, etc), launderettes, post offices, newsagents, hairdressers, takeaways, cafes and bars, hotels, pubs and restaurants, golf clubs clinics, leisure centres, etc.
- Reciprocal referral arrangements with other good local suppliers, especially those who serve your target audience with different products and services (which enables you to be more helpful to your own customers when they ask you to recommend other services).
- Regularly giving news and interesting pictures about your work to your local newspaper (see PRbelow), or perhaps even writing a regular column relating to your specialism in the local free newspaper or parish magazine.
- Offering existing customers an incentive (gift of some sort, or money off your next supply) for introducing a friend as a new customer for you.
- Door-to-door leaflet distribution through the postal service or other suitable service.
- Speaking at local networking/business events.
- Speaking or facilitating at the local school or college – for example with business education and preparing youngsters for the world of work (which gives you publicity and builds your reputation).
- Local trade directories – typically monthly publications distributed to the local community.
- Targeting special offers at local big employers, through their PR and/or HR/social activities.
While most of these methods are for small companies and local campaigns, a few can certainly be adapted and used effectively by big organizations with surprisingly good and cost-effective results.
Here are more advertising methods, generally for larger corporations, campaigns and target markets, in more detail:
websites, the internet, email, cd-rom’s, dvd’s, etc
Online and electronic media are fast becoming the most flexible and dynamic advertising methods of all. As people’s use of the internet increases, so does the internet’s potency as a vehicle for advertising and marketing too.
Electronic and online advertising media can be expensive and challenging to originate and implement initially, but unit costs tend to be low thereafter, and can be extremely cost-effective if sensibly researched and implemented.
As the internet extends progressively to mobile phones and hand-held devices (PDA’s – Personal Digital Assistants), the opportunity and necessity to make use of online and web-related marketing methods becomes increasingly irresistible.
The internet and email provide unprecedented opportunity for radically new methods of promotion and advertising, such as viral marketing, and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) of educational or informative articles, newsgroups, forums, affiliation and partnering arrangements, email newsletters and campaigns, and many other new ideas which appear more quickly than most of us can absorb.
Modern and emerging digital and web-related advertising marketing methods offer audience ‘reach’, precision of targeting, level of fine-tuning and control, measurement and analysis, and cost-effectiveness that conventional advertising media simply cannot match.
Aside from the more complex functionality of modern digital marketing methods, at a basic level, websites, CD ROM’s and DVD’s share much of the same origination and set-up, so it’s now very feasible and sensible to produce all sales literature and brochures, plus lots more besides, in user-friendly, inter-active digital format.
Conventional printed sales and marketing materials of all types (from newspapers and magazines, to brochures and business cards) are becoming obsolete as customers look to the internet (via phones, pc’s, laptops, PDA’s and in the future TV too) for quick, up-to-the-minute information about products, services and suppliers of all sorts.
And as more agencies, technology companies and digital media organisations develop their offerings and technology, so the costs and time of set-up, origination, production and implementation will reduce to levels that will move customers – in time almost completely – away from traditional (printed and other non-digital) media to modern electronic media, digital information, and online ‘engagement’ with suppliers of all sorts.
Internet listings, internet directories advertising, and ‘pay-per-click’ advertising offered by the major search engines, are now viable and relevant for very small ‘local’ businesses, and are all examples of this fundamental shift in marketing.
Take time to learn about and understand which of the new digital methods will work for you and how.
Most, if not all of the information you need is freely available on the internet – take time to look for it and learn – and ensure that your business explores and implements the many very cost-effective advertising methods available to you via internet media and the modern digital revolution.
press and public relations (PR)
The press release is the most under-rated form of advertising. Why? Because it’s free, and moreover press editorial is perceived by the audience to be true, whereas advertising of all almost all other types is seen as ‘oh no another advert’ and therefore implies uncertainty or scepticism. Getting your editorial printed for free is easier than you may think, and guidelines for using PR follow in more detail below. TV and radio news publicity works in much the same way, although more difficult to secure and control. Surveys and questionnaires provide perhaps the best opportunity for achieving valuable and effective publicity. See the guidelines about surveys and questionnaires below.
Creating an informative seminar and inviting your target audience is an excellent way to educate the market and promote your company and proposition. This method works especially well in the business-to-business market, and where educating customers is appropriate, for instance if marketing a new technology or service to architects and specifiers. It is possible to have certain types of seminars accredited for CPD (Continuous Professional Development) by professional institutes, which provides an extra incentive for prospective customers to attend.
Using telemarketing staff or a telemarketing agency is a proven method of marketing. If well-managed, telemarketing can be an extremely good and cost-effective method for generating sales enquiries, selling products and services and making appointments for sales staff. It is important to identify a good telemarketing agency, and to that ensure your aims, outline script, and communications process for enquiry generation follow-up, are all clearly established and understood, by the agency and your own staff. A good CRM computer system to manage lists, data, follow-up and outcomes, is normally essential for telemarketing is to be successful on any reasonable scale, and good telemarketing agencies will already be using such systems which hopefully will interface with your own systems.
Considerable care needs to be taken when defining and agreeing the telemarketing ‘brief’ with the telemarketing staff, department or agency. Good experienced telemarketing staff and managers understand what works and what doesn’t for given markets, types of propositions and products and services. Listen to their advice.
Generally telemarketing ‘scripts’ are not a good idea for high quality propositions, nor for professional business-to-business campaigns. A good telemarketing agency will work best by developing their own approach to meet the broad requirements of a project ‘brief’ and an outline of what you want to achieve, and how you want to achieve it.
Rigid scripts have the effect of limiting the natural style and capabilities of telemarketing staff, moreover customers generally find scripts, which quickly become robotic and characterless, very impersonal and insulting.
Refer to the legal implications (Data Protection Act and Preference Services) in the direct mail section.
Consumers and businesses are protected by certain rights relating to direct marketing techniques such as telemarketing, and you must ensure that your activities adhere to these rules.
Some of the principles and rules referenced here also apply to other types of direct marketing, including ‘door-to-door’ distribution and telemarketing methods.
Direct mail is the process of sending your material (by itself or in a shared mailing with other items) direct to the address of the potential customer by post. The elements which make up the direct mail process are basically:
- a mailing list of names and addresses (from your own data-base or names sourced elsewhere)
- the item(s) to be mailed, and envelopes or packaging, if applicable
- resource or facility to ‘stuff’ and address or label the envelopes/packaging (assuming you are putting the item in an envelope or packaging, which of course is not always the case)
- and postal charges, which depend (in the UK) now on the size and shape as well as the weight of the item being mailed.
The last two stages are often called ‘fulfilment’.
Direct Mail is generally used to generate a direct response from the recipient and will commonly incorporate a reply or response section within the mailed item.
Aside from the strength of your proposition, response rates vary according primarily to the quality of the list, notably:
- the reliability of the list data (new clean lists obviously perform better than old out-of-date lists)
- and how well ‘targeted’ the list is in terms of your offer (how relevant it is to the recipient).
Direct mail is not a precise science. See the direct mail story for example. There are many things that can go wrong, and even more things that are unknown and unimagined by the campaign manager. Like the rest of advertising, whether a direct mail campaign works well or poorly it’s often very difficult to discover what elements need to be changed and how: the proposition, the mailing list, the reliability of the fulfilment, the day and time of delivery, the response mechanism, something else? For large ongoing campaigns it is appropriate and cost-effective to conduct follow-up surveys of respondents and non-responders, but for smaller initiatives it’s rarely cost-effective to attempt detailed analysis other than to look for obvious indications of success or failure.
A direct mail campaign which produces more than a 2% response is normally considered very successful. Lower than 1% response is more usual. You then need to take into account the conversion rate (the conversion of responses into sales), assuming the campaign is designed to produce responses or enquiries and not sales directly. Aside from the quality of the responses, which is determined by the campaign, conversion rates also vary according to factors outside of and after the direct mail activities themselves, such as response handling, IT systems, sales follow-up, etc. It is therefore important to judge a direct mail campaign first on percentage and quality of response, and then separately to assess the overall results of the campaign including conversion statistics and sales values.
Inexperienced marketeers (and many experienced ones too) tend to over-estimate forecasted response rates for direct mail, so a planning tip is to be pessimistic (prudent, as accountants say), especially when calculating advertising viability and return on investment. When you first state your estimated response rate as part of the financial justification for the direct mail campaign, next reduce it by a factor of 10 (i.e., re-assess the campaign viability using on one-tenth of your initial response forecast). If the figures still show a positive return on investment then your campaign might well be successful. If not, then it’s sensible to re-think the whole thing.
Your own database of existing and past customers will typically produce a significantly higher response than that of a list sourced elsewhere. List prices vary enormously, from a few pounds up to several hundreds of pounds per 1,000 names and addresses, depending on volume, how specific the list is, and how selective your profiling criteria are. You can also choose whether to have the list on labels, or on a disk in a common spreadsheet or database format, the latter being most common now, and easy to import, if appropriate, into a CRM (customer relationship management) system.
These days for small businesses it’s very easy and cost-effective to do your own or outsource a mailmerge direct mail, campaign, using a word-processing program in conjunction with the list of names and addresses on a spreadsheet program. Large scale direct mail campaigns are normally best managed via a CRM (customer relationship management) system. Contact the Direct Marketing Association or country equivalent for more information about providers of lists and mailing services, etc.
The taking of advertising space in the editorial sections of magazines or newspapers, as opposed to the classified sections, which are a less expensive, and generally lower performing method. All significant publications will be pleased to provide you with their ‘Media Pack’, which gives full details of all the types of display advertising available, for how much, together with lots of information about their readership profile and circulation. If you are trying to generate a direct response from display advertising you may need to feature a coupon of some kind. Otherwise display advertising is concerned with image-building and creating awareness. As with other advertising methods, the use of Free-phone telephone numbers and Free-post addresses all increase response rates.
directories – local directories, Yellow Pages, Thomsons, etc
These sorts of directories remain very useful for local domestic, consumer and household products and services suppliers. A business telephone line normally gives free Yellow Pages and Thomson’s entries under a single classification in your local books. Display adverts or more entries are charged at rates that vary according to each book (there are around 100 Yellow Pages directories books covering the UK). Books are published annually, at different dates throughout the country. These directories can often be very effective for generating enquiries for consumer businesses, but are not appropriate for all types of business-to-business sectors. Ask yourself – where would my potential customers look for suppliers of my products and services?
Consider and seek out local smaller directories and trades booklets also. The increasing ease of publishing means that production of good quality small-scale local directories is now very easy for publishers and most towns now have at least one local directory or booklet listing local suppliers which is distributed to all households in the area.
directories – internet
Internet directories and specialist search engines are an increasingly effective way to advertise and market your services, because so many customers now use these listings to find suppliers. Many listings are free. Some work well, others don’t. Many listings are not free. Again some work well and others don’t. Ask other similar suppliers what works for them. Test the listings yourself to see how well they work and how commonly they feature in the main search engine listings such as Google.
To discover what website listings and directories you should appear on, search for your own products and services using Google. Include the town or area or other geographical descriptions in your search phrases – in as mny different ways as you think your customers would.
You need to be featured on the internet directories and listings websites which appear at the top of the Google results for the search terms that your customers will be using.
brochures, leaflets and printed material
Brochures and leaflets can be used for a variety of purposes, and can be distributed in different ways. A good printer can provide examples and costings, and the easiest way to learn what works and what doesn’t is to look at other people’s material. The aim of a brochure is foremost to generate new business through providing information in a way that appeals to the reader. The acronym AIDA (attention interest desire action) should be the basis of its design. Some brochures and leaflets are pleasing pieces of art, but they don’t achieve anything for the business, so avoid falling into this trap. If you work with a designer be sure to control any fanciful tendencies and keep the message and style to the point. Too much spent on a brochure can give the impression that your business is extravagant.
When producing leaflets and brochures think about the way that they are to be distributed. If it needs an envelope try to avoid using a non-standard envelope size, which will add cost unnecessarily. If the material is required as an insert is it acceptable to the publication? Is it to be available from a rack? Do you want people to retain the material? If so perhaps a business card or plastic credit-card-type attachment would help?
There are thousands of different types of paper. Letterheads are usually printed on to 90-100gsm (grams per square metre) cartridge, laid or bond. A 100gsm paper is adequate for single sided mono or colour printing. 130gsm is better for double- sided. 200gsm is minimum weight for a post card format. 250-300gsm is used for business cards. Heavier boards are usually measured in microns rather than gsm because density affects weight more at these gauges. Coated matt and gloss ‘art’ papers are used for higher quality effects, but add to cost. Various lamination processes add more quality and more cost.
The print process is actually a number of separate stages:
- reprographics (now a computerised process which produces camera-ready-artwork and the film from which the printing plates are made)
- plate-making or electronic equivalent (for low quantities, digital print processes now enable high quality printing direct from a computer)
- finishing (stapling, folding, etc if relevant)
Generally it is not possible to undo a stage and return to the previous one without re-originating at least the previous stage, so take care when signing off each stage. If your instructions to an agency or printer are not correct you will end up paying for the time they spend re-originating and amending, so think things through before you start the process.
Re-prints are generally cheaper than the first run because the reprographic work and plates do not need to be produced again. When you ask for a print quote ask at the same time for a price per thousand ‘run-on’ – you’ll be surprised how low this cost is in proportion to the main quote. This is due to the origination and set-up charges being already absorbed by the main run.
‘Full colour’ printing uses the colours black, red, yellow and blue, and requires a plate to be made for each colour. Mono printing is black on white and requires just one black plate. Each colour can be tinted (ie applied less than 100% solid) to varying degrees across the print area, so with good design even black and white printing can give a high quality effect. Conversely, a poor design can make full colour printing look cheap and nasty. If you want something classier than black and white, two colour printing can produce amazing results, without the cost of going to full colour.
As a rule, printing costs reduce dramatically with volume. Digital printing methods are appropriate for low volumes, and fast becoming viable for higher volumes. There are various printing processes, which are appropriate for different purposes and particularly volumes. Ensure that the process is appropriate for your application. As a rule colour is more expensive than mono (black and white), although digital printing is not so sensitive to colour/price differences.
loose and bound inserts
Inserts, in the form of leaflets, brochures, or other material, are provided by the advertiser to the publication, to be sent out with the magazine or newspaper. You have to produce the materials to be used as inserts which incurs printing costs, and then pay the publication a charge for insertion. There is a big effect from economies of scale. Charges vary according to weight of insert, how many inserts per publication, volume, the narrowness of the circulation profile, and how the publication is itself distributed. Response rates from inserts are almost always lower than direct mail, but inserts are a very flexible and cheap method of distributing an advert to a target audience. Bound-in inserts cost extra, require longer lead-times, and are favoured by some advertisers because they don’t fall out and consequently are seen by more of the total readership, which can be two or three times greater than the circulation.
‘door to door’ leaflets and advertising distribution
Large quantity leaflet drops to consumer households and business addresses, without the need for envelopes or normal postal charges, can usually be arranged through the postal services (the Post Office in the UK), so that your leaflet is delivered at the same time as the normal post, or at other times of the day if required. Demographic targeting, based on postcodes and population census data, is possible to a degree, and the cost is often inclusive in the distribution charges.
Other specialised household distributors provide similar services, sometimes incorporated within local newspaper deliveries.
Details can be obtained from various door-to-door distribution services providers, and the UK Direct Marketing Association.
posters sites (hoardings, taxi-cabs, buses, roadside fields)
For advertising considered as public information a variety of poster sites are free to the advertiser, so it makes sense to use these freely, supported by some record system so you keep them up-to-date and utilised. Other sites vary according to nature and cost, from large roadside hoardings to buses, taxis and sports grounds. Anywhere that people pass or gather in large numbers is a potential poster site, and as with printed media, audience profile information is usually available. New sites are being discovered and exploited all the time, such as supermarket trolleys and floors, table napkins, public conveniences, and the media extends now into continuous video at post offices and filling stations forecourts, etc.
local radio, TV, cinema and the internet
Other forms of targeted media advertising, and now TV and radio are increasingly used by smaller local businesses, although tight geographical targeting is obviously difficult. Cost of production can be a significant factor.
Producing your own information and managing e-commerce on the internet is now viable for even very small businesses. For consumer businesses, the on-line shopping boom began several years ago: If you are supplying consumer products that can be shipped easily through the post or a carrier and you are not yet selling via the internet I would urge you to catch up with your competitors and start doing so, because many of your competitors will already be doing it.
all business-to-business organisations should now have a web presence
If you are large organisation then you will likely already have had this in place for several years. If you are a small business you might imagine that having a presence on the internet is not important. It will be, if not already.
Particular styles and origination are required for a good website, and the medium is no longer passive, so you need to think about integrating promotion and advertising to attract people to your site. If you want technical information on the really esoteric stuff like search engine optimization (SEO), then an excellent free resource is at deadlock.com.
See the tips for creating effective websites.
guide books, hand-books and newsletters
Publishing your own information material is potentially very effective, and costs can be reduced by incorporating relevant supporting advertising from other organisations wishing to be associated with your services and to target your audience. Guidelines for Newsletters follow later. (Remember now that electronic media is able to extend the use and potential of newsletters far beyond traditional printed media.)
Alternatively you can advertise in a relevant guide book produced by another organisation. However, be careful to ascertain accurate details of circulation and profile if considering small or unproven publications.
open days and exhibitions
The advantage of personal contact is that you actually get to talk to your potential customers, which dramatically increases the chances of getting your message across. But there is a limit to how many people you can target and access using these methods. Costs of preparation and organisation can be big, and are rarely transparent at the outset so beware.
Events of this nature do nevertheless offer good possibilities for follow-up PR activity, which can contribute greatly to building a customer-friendly image.
word of mouth
Personal referral is unsurpassed as an advertising tool. It costs nothing and is the most believable type of ‘advertising of them all. Encouraging word of mouth referral is therefore a good reason for sustaining excellent customer service and relations. If your customers are thrilled by the service you give they’ll tell their friends.
You can encourage word of mouth referrals through the use of discount vouchers and coupons, loyalty and ‘friends and family’ schemes, introduce a friend incentives, and any other mechanism that encourages people to spread the word on your behalf.
networking and clubs
Using business networking methods to develop contacts and introductions is an especially cost-effective marketing method for consumer services and products, and more particularly for business-to-business services. A variety of networking opportunities exist in all sectors and regions, including trades associations, chambers of commerce and trade, networking websites, societies, clubs, breakfasts, lunches, events, and anywhere that potential customers and influencers gather, and the systems within which they communicate and socialise. Use your imagination. Always be prepared to speak to others enthusiastically about your business – the world is full of potential customers.
An increasing number of networking communities and services are now to be found on the internet too. Explore these opportunities, keeping in mind the particular target audiences most relevant to your aims.
direct marketing, advertising, and the law
In the UK there are strict laws protecting consumers, and to a different extent businesses, from aspects of direct marketing and other forms of advertising. Other countries generally have their own equivalent laws.
Consumers and to some degree businesses can ‘opt out’ of being subjected to various sorts of direct marketing activities. In the UK this system of opting out is managed via the processes and organisation of the ‘Preference Services’. When you use direct marketing – whatever the method – ensure you are acting within the law, and have consulted the relevant Preference Service rules (or local country equivalent).
Details of the UK ‘Preference’ services are available from the respective Preference Services agencies in the UK (for phone, fax, post and email), from other UK government information resources such as the BERR (Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform – was DTI, Department of Trade and Industry), and the Direct Marketing Association (and equivalents of all these in other countries as applicable).
Separately, the Data Protection Act in the UK contains implications for storing list data and using certain lists, notably for private consumers, and for the marketing of particular services (for example financial services), and there are similar laws dealing with this aspect in different countries, so check the law as applicable for your own situation before buying and using lists. More details (for the UK) about Data Protection rules are at the Information Commissioner’s Office. You should adhere to your local laws or guidelines concerning unsolicited direct marketing. In the UK these are explained by the Information Commissioner’s Office in terms of direct marketing by phone, electronic or postal methods. If you are not in the UK seek equivalent advice.
And aside from this, advertising is subject to scrutiny and action by the Advertising Standards Authority (UK), and of course all advertising and marketing is ultimately accountable to the various laws which seek to protect people and organisations from illicit or fraudulent trading.
For more information about good and acceptable practices in advertising (and by implication marketing too) refer to the UK Advertising Standards Authority, and the the European European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), which represents European national self-regulatory and representative organisations for the advertising industry in Europe.
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‘tricks of the trade’ – guidelines advertising
Remember ‘AIDA’ – Attention Interest Desire Action (see the sales section).
The Attention part is the banner or headline that makes an impressive benefit promise. Interestbuilds information in an interesting way, usually meaning that this must relate closely to the way that the reader thinks about the issues concerned. If you seek a response you must move then to createDesire, which relates benefits to the reader so that they will want them. Finally you must prompt anAction, which may be to call a telephone number or to complete and send of a reply coupon.Advertising that does not prompt action is a wasted opportunity.
Your main message must be the most prominent.
Do not be tempted to devote 50% of the space to a striking picture or a quote from Shakespeare. The biggest part of the advert must be your main benefit statement. This is the part that entices the reader to read on.
Offer a single impressive benefit, quickly and simply.
Research proves that where responses are required, the best adverts are those which offer an impressive, relevant benefit to the reader. This ‘promise’ should ideally contain the business brand name, take no longer to read than is normal for the media (direct mail is about 4 – 8 seconds, or about fifteen words) and be clearly the most striking part of the advert. This point cannot be stressed enough; you must keep it quick, simple and to the point. And the trend is for ever quicker points: David Lewis, an eminent consumer psychologist, says, “Copy is getting shorter, and a major factor behind this is that people these days suffer from acute shortages of both time and attention. Younger generations are extremely visually literate. They have been brought up on computer games, so they couldn’t deal with a lot of polished copy, even if they wanted to.” Think about the vocabulary and language you use; know your target audience: a simple test is to avoid any words or grammar that would not be found in the newspaper that the target group would read.
Your message must be quick and easy to absorb.
Use a clear layout, clear fonts and clear language. Do not distract the reader from the text by overlaying images or using fancy fonts. Use simple language, avoid complicated words, and keep enough space around the text to attract attention to it. Use simple traditional typestyles: serif fonts are quicker to read than sans serif. Use ten, eleven or twelve point-size for the main text; smaller or larger are actually more difficult to read and therefore less likely to be read. Look at newspapers and library books, which are almost always serif fonts of ten to twelve point size.
Avoid cluttering the advert with fancy images, colours and backgrounds. Make it easy to read.
For the same reason avoid italics, shadows, light colours reversed out of dark, weird and wonderful colours. None of these improve readability, they all reduce it. Use simple black (or dark coloured) text on a white (or light coloured) background. for maximum readability.
Involve the reader in your writing style – use the 2nd person: you, your, and yours.
Refer to the reader as ‘you’ and use the second person (‘you’, ‘your’ and ‘yours’ etc) in the description of what your business does for the customer to get them visualising their own personal involvement. Describe the service as it affects them in a way that they will easily relate to it.
Incorporate something new.
People respond better and are more easily attracted initially to a concept that is new or original. If they’ve heard or seen it all before it will be no surprise that they take no notice at all. People must believe there’s something in it for them right from the start.
Develop a proposition that is special or unique and emphasise this.
Why should people be interested if your proposition is no different to your competition? You must try to emphasise what makes your service special. Unless your code of practice prevents you from claiming superiority over your competitors, you should put as much emphasis as you can behind your USP (unique selling point), and either imply or state directly that you are the only company to offer these things. Again refer to the selling article about developing unique selling propositions.
Your proposition or offer must be credible and believable.
The Advertising Standards Authority or equivalent would prevent you from making overly extravagant claims anyway, but you should still attempt to make your offer seem perfectly credible. This is usually best accomplished by explaining ‘why’ and ‘how’ you are able to do the things you are offering, in support of your claims; you can also increase credibility by showing references or testimonial quotes from satisfied customers.
For example, if you claim particularly good customer service, this can be reinforced with an outline of your policy on seeking customer feed-back and carrying out satisfaction surveys.
People open envelopes from the back.
Stuff envelopes so the material inside faces the back. Remember this if you send anything in an envelope, or instruct a mailing house, as reading the back first throws out the AIDA order, and wastes time before the reader sees the main benefit statement.
Use lower case type – word-shapes are lost when capitals are used.
People read by recognising word-shapes not individual letters, do don’t use upper case (capital letters) for text, and ideally not for headlines either, as it takes longer to read and reduces impact.
Headline should be three-quarters up the page or advert space.
Position your headline statement where it can be seen quickest. Do not put headlines at the very top of the space. The eye is naturally drawn to between two-thirds and three-quarters up the page or space, which is where the main benefit statement needs to be.
Advertising is often referred to as a ‘Black Art’ because it is mysterious, and is rarely a precise science. Things sometimes work which you imagine wouldn’t, and plenty of things you think should work, don’t. The Direct Mail Campaign Story is a amusing example of the unpredictable nature of advertising ideas and methods.
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PR – public relations and using press-releases for free advertising and publicity
Brief your staff – have a policy, especially for crisis situations.
If you are in a situation which is likely to attract press attention, then you must ensure that your staff are aware of your positions and policies. Ideally appoint someone with strong marketing and communications experience and skills to be in charge of press contact, and channel press enquiries through this person, so that other less able staff are not placed in awkward positions or forced to comment.
If press/media attention is potentially threatening to your organization’s reputation and image, particularly if you operate in areas which have a major public interest or are controversial for any reason, it is sensible for senior staff to undergo training in how to deal with the media, especially in crisis situations. Many PR companies provide such training.
Products, services, activities of organizations which can attract potentially serious/threatening/difficult media attention certainly include:
- Health and safety
- The environment
- Local community
- Equality, disability, racial/gender discrimination, etc
- Stress and illness among employees
- Poor quality and poor customer service
- ‘Fat Cat’ syndrome (directors/executives enjoying great rewards and advantage)
- Quirky news stories – products that don’t work properly, poor service, corporate stupidity
There are others. Media is driven by what interests very big audiences.
Read your local newspapers to see the sort of issues that create big headlines locally, and read national papers and news websites to see the sort of issues which can reflect very negatively on organizations. There are many.
With the development of social networking technologies, media attention nowadays tends to ‘swarm’ in very big numbers and massive sudden waves of media interest that are difficult to predict, and certainly even more difficult to counter if a story ‘goes viral’ (which describes the mass swarming and spreading effect of social networking media.
All newspapers and news/magazine-type websites need press releases from external companies with story to tell, to help fill their pages. Local papers particularly need news submitted by the local community or they have to pay more for journalists to go out and find news. Look through your local papers and magazines to spot the PR material submitted by commercial organisations. This will encourage you as to how easy it is to provide ‘news’ stories for the local press.
Local TV and radio are also amenable to PR, but they’re a bit more choosy. Nevertheless bear TV, and certainly radio, in mind for anything going on in your business of local interest or ‘novelty value’.
Research and keep an up-to-date list of relevant (industry and local) editorial contact names and numbers, journalists, departments, email addresses, etc.
PR ‘news’ must be submitted to the news department (editorial department if it’s a magazine) of the publication concerned. Increasingly online publications enable online submissions, and the range of media outlets vast now compared to a few years ago.
This wide choice means you should target your activities carefully – look for publications, printed and online, radio, etc., which offer the best access to your taget audience, with maximum audience numbers and territorial/industry-sector coverage.
Email is nowadays the preferred format for submissions of news/editorial stories, but given the unreliability of emails, and the generally difficult nature of dealing with media even under ideal circumstances, it is good to follow-up or give prior warning of emailed editorial releases by phone or text. Persistence is important. Expect a success rate of much less than 100%. In time relationships will develop for you, and journalists and other media contacts will respond more positively, especially if you are consistent and helpful in your communications.
Dealing with very high profile media (such as radio, TV, big websites, newspapers and big-circulation magazines and journals) to achieve publicity and exposure for your press releases and other editorial stories is a matter of cultivating relationships with journalists and editors. This is why most big organizations tend to use PR agencies to handle their media relationships, where PR specialists have many years experience and lots of contacts.
If you are a small company with a small budget, and keen to target local and/or specialised media, then you should be able to handle this internally using your own resources.
Be aware that the journalists will alter your copy (the content/writing/article that you send), so don’t agonize over the precise wording, but do enough to make it interesting and newsworthy. Generally journalists prefer to deal direct with organisations rather than their PR agencies, so don’t be shy.
Remember that press-release publicity is free.
Don’t miss the opportunity to take maximum advantage. It’s worth managing your PR through some kind of control system to keep up a regular and consistent activity. For a little thought you can easily achieve the equivalent of thousands of pounds worth of display advertising per year, for no advertising cost.
Press-release publicity carries more credibility than paid-for advertising.
People are largely unaware that much of what they read in the local and national newspapers is in fact carefully planned PR. They are therefore more receptive towards it and moreover believe it almost without question.
Photographs improve editorial take-up by 100’s%.
A good photograph in support of a press release will dramatically improve your chances of publication. Either provide your own, or if the story is an event ask the press to send their own photographer.
Do it now – old news is no news.
If you’ve got something newsworthy don’t wait or the opportunity will be lost. Even simple things like staff promotions, qualifications attained, hobby achievements, staff joining, babies, all make acceptable PR stories, and always be on the lookout for the quirky and unusual.
Ask for editorial coverage before paying for display advertising.
If you plan to pay for display advertising or inserts in any type of publication always ask before giving the order if you can have some editorial coverage as condition of placing the advertising business. Many publications will agree at this stage, and you’ll have some free editorial to support the advert. Some publications combine the two and sell ‘advertorial’ feature space, which purports to be news but is really a large paid-for advert.
Surveys provide excellent material for editorial, and are used by many companies for publicity purposes. Any business can organize an interesting survey. See the guidelines about surveys and questionnaires below. You’ll learn something about your market and create a significant opportunity for free publicity. Read newspapers and magazines and you will soon see examples – even in the national broadsheets.
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newsletters – guidelines for producing effective newsletters for staff or customers
Make them interesting – encourage feedback and contributions
Producing your own newsletter for the local community is an excellent way of giving information, building an image of friendliness and trust, canvassing opinions (and being seen to do so), and advertising your own services. Follow the basic rules of AIDA, concentrating on the first two issues ofAttention and Interest, unless you seek a direct response. Modern computer desk-top publishing programmes make it very easy to put together a respectable news-sheet to begin with. If possible, when you are committed to the concept and wish to increase scale, get some professional design input for the general layout, graphics and banner artwork.
Invite contributions from your readers; a letters section is a good way to fill space and make the readers feel more involved. Especially invite comment about the format and content of the newsletter itself, which will help to convince you how and whether to continue publishing future issues.
Commit to a frequency and size that you can sustain
If you can only manage one every three months so be it. Don’t promise a monthly and then fail to get the next editions out on time, which would rather defeat the object of building your image. Start off with a single page, and allow it to increase in size if you see positive reasons for doing so. Start by piloting just a few copies, perhaps just a few hundred, and increase the distribution as you refine it.
Adopt a format and styling that is fit-for-purpose
Basic rules of advertising production apply. Keep it simple, easy to read, and avoid anything off-the-wall or extravagant. Use a format that is cost-effective and amenable to your method of distribution (think about rack dispensing, inserts, door-to-door, etc).
Include photographs and details of your staff
If your newsletter allows inclusion of photographs, pictures of customers and other people will help bring it to life. Publishing pictures of staff is also motivational.
Include positive and happy stories
Keep the content up-beat, optimistic and positive. You can’t distort facts of course but you do have some licence to present issues in a way that will reflect as favourably as possible on your business and your people.
Make one person responsible or appoint an agency
Often the most difficult challenge in producing a newsletter is sustaining it. It is extremely difficult to collect good ideas and news for content, and if there is not a clear point of responsibility with schedules and deadlines the whole exercise will end up being rushed, perhaps late or incomplete, with the result that it has a poor effect on staff and readers alike.
A marketing or PR agency will take on the job for you at a price, but even with expensive production support, getting the raw material is still the most difficult part of the process, and needs firm planning and monitoring.
Maintain a consistent design
Consistency of appearance is essential to build recognition, awareness and positive association with your business. Don’t compromise on corporate colours, quality of artwork and logos, and typestyles, even the type of paper you use should not be changed without proper reasons.
Relate the news to your customers and their community
Keep in mind all the time who your audience is, and assess the content to make sure it is relevant, and presented in a way that your readers will want to read it. It may be possible for you to recover some of the cost of the newsletter by selling some advertising space, but be careful about the type of suppliers you include so as to avoid detracting from the image you are presenting.
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website design and internet marketing tips
Websites and the internet can seem extremely complex, and on certain levels they are, but the fundamentals are simple. Don’t let ‘experts’ baffle you with science. Have faith in common-sense principles and your own experience when using websites. Here are some basic rules for good internet and website marketing, and particularly for creating effective business-to-business websites:
- KISS – as the saying goes – “keep it simple, stupid”. people want information quickly, clearly, no-nonsense. Remember your own frustrations when using unnecessarily complex websites. Make your own website easy to use and to convey your improtant messages. Aim for simplicity and ease of use in all functionality.
- The internet and the website medium are ideally suited to specialised providers, suppliers, companies, etc., so try to specialise and be the best in what you offer within that specialisation on the web.
- Give as much as you can free online from your website – material that can be printed or downloaded, or information that can be read from the web page are all good worthy free things to offer.
- A website should be like a shop – think about it in the same way – ease of access to what you want – make browsing easy – layout clear and clean – the experience should be warm and welcoming.
- Remove obstacles like registrations and password requirements as far as possible – these are barriers to visitors – shops don’t have barriers and registration requirements do they?…
- Fancy graphics visual effects please designers but not customers – fancy complicated design puts people off.
- Lots of text is good – if it’s relevant search engines like lots of text too, but it must be relevant.
- Keep information up-to-date – many search engines take account of update frequency, so update your website frequently (ie, weekly at least) even if it’s just small changes.
- Offer what people are interested in – not what you want to push.
- Good websites will be found by most search engines – don’t pay for regular submissions services unless you have a very complicated and extensive internet and website strategy.
- The big three search engines are Google, Yahoo and MSN. Google remains by some considerable margin the most popular search engine, accounting for a sizeable majority of all searches. Google’s listings are based on Google’s very clever ranking algorithms, basic details of which freely available at Google’s own website. After four years of collaboration with Google, Yahoo – which is the next most popular search engine, accounting for around 15% of all searches – converted to their own search engine system (as of February 2004). As Google no longer underpins the Yahoo search engine, getting a good listing with Google no longer guarantees automatic ranking on Yahoo too. MSN is the next most popular search engine, accounting for about 10% of all searches. These three search engines – Google, Yahoo and MSN – therefore account for virtually 95% of all search engine visitors to all websites, so if you concentrate on your listings with anyone, concentrate on these. If you only focus on one, under all normal circumstances this should be Google.
- Other sites linking to yours will certainly improve your search engine rankings, so reciprocal links are okay, but building a site that other sites will want to link to is far more beneficial than directing all that effort instead into a reciprocal ink campaign. Reciprocal linking is much over-reated as a website optimisation tactic. relevant high quality links matter. Having hundreds of irrelevant links on tiny unpopular websites counts for very little.
- Search engines downgrade or de-list sites that cheat, so don’t cheat. If you want to know what constitutes cheating look on the web for the very many highly complicated website marketing and promotion websites. http://www.deadlock.com is a good one, and they also have lots of really detailed advice far beyond these basic principles when and if you’re ready for it.
- Measure your traffic – there are lots of trackers and systems to use – http://www.extreme-dm.com is a good example of a system that is either free (their ‘public’ version) or paid-for (multiple pages ‘private’ version). Aside from these separate trackers most website hosting solutions and providers now include traffic statistics packages. Google Analytics now offers an extremely sophisticated free website tracking and analysis tool.
- Read website optimisation blogs and newsletters, and learn about the tools you can use to design and measure your website’s performance in relation to the web as a whole – especially what people are searching for, how they find websites, and what yoiu can do to optimise your own website. For example, Google Trends is very useful tool for assessing the relative popularity of website search terms. Overture’s keyword search inventory tool is also very useful, when you can actually get on the site – it is inconsistently available, perhaps due to high demand.
- If you engage a website designer or agency follow the principles for engaging with any creative agency – develop your specification first (ie., especially all text, spelling and grammar checked, structure and process implications) and then let them get on with it – don’t waste a designer’s time finalising and correcting these fundamental content and material issues once they’ve begun the design stage.
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surveys and questionnaires – for staff or customers
It is important to know what your staff and customers think and need in relation to your organization.
Don’t guess or assume – or worse tell them. Ask them.
A survey is the common method to discover staff and customer attitudes, needs, desires, problems, etc.
Usually a survey is based on a questionnaire. Market research companies can design and organize staff and customer surveys. So too can good telemarketing agencies. You might prefer to organize a survey internally due to control or costs reasons, in which case it’s helpful to follow a sensible process. Even if you use an agency, it’s helpful to understand the process.
Here is a quick guide for the process of creating and organizing a staff or customer survey – or some market research – based on a questionnaire. All situations are different, so seek other ideas and adapt your own plans accordingly. Seek help from colleagues and external people where possible in areas that you are not capable or confident.
To develop your questionnaire you first need to identify exactly the data you wish to discover.
Brainstoming this can be a useful start. You should also consult with all interested parties in listing your survey criteria. It’s a lot of effort to design and manage a survey, so it’s silly to miss something important because the early planning stage was rushed.
Here are the main steps to designing a survey of staff, customers or your market, using a questionnaire:
- Decide and agree the purpose of the survey. Keep it as simple as you can. There is a temptation to expand surveys into additional sectors and subjects, but this normally dilutes the usefulness of the response and the resulting analysis. It helps to concentrate on the key issues for your essential target group. In this respect, surveying is rather like marketing and selling. If you spread your efforts too wide and thin your results will be wide and thin too.
- Decide your target respondents or audience or market sector or staff audience. Ensure that your target respondent group is relevant to your survey subject, and satisfy yourself that you can identify and reach the target group via whatever communications and survey method you choose.
- Decide the level of privacy and anonymity which is appropriate for your survey. Many surveys work better if conducted anonymously. On the other hand, a survey of business customers generally works far better if respondents are known and given the opportunity to express specific views from their own particular standpoint.
- Decide the minimum response (number of completed questionnaires) that you need for a useful sample. For business customer surveys a minimum of 100 responses is an acceptable number provided respondents represent a suitable cross-section of the relevant target audience or customer base. Consumer surveys tend to require several hundred respondents for very useful results.
- Organize your survey to allow for the anticipated response rate. For example anticipate a low response rate (between 2% and 10%) if the survey method is passive, such as postal or email or web-based. More proactive methods like telemarketing give a higher response rate (assuming the contact list is reliable you can work on about 20-50% response from the contact list – and be guided by the telemarketing agency if you use one). For general consumer market research surveys via street or door-to-door interviews again consider that most people decilne to take part, and therefore you should build a low response expectation into your planning of numbers and time. The highest response rates are from focus groups (basically a focus group is an arranged meeting for interviews and discussions, usually combined with a questionnaire) which by their nature enable 100% response. Interestingly the other hugely ignored opportunity for very high responding surveys is complaints and grievances from your target group. Think about it… complaints and grievances are an extremely useful source of valuable feedback and views, which ideally should be incorporated into any survey project. It’s a terrible waste not to.
- Decide the survey method(s) – email, internet, telephone, written document, focus group discussions, street surveys, door-to-door, or combination of these – whatever will fit your situation and tagret group best. Consider the reply mechanism if one is required. For example include postage-paid addressed envelopes. Or for internal staff attitude surveys consider tasking someone to encourage and collect replies. Whatever – make it easy for people to respond.
- Consider incentivising or offering prizes to survey respondents, or even a payment – especially to focus group members. It’s very frustrating to put the time and effort into designing and running a survey only to find that you get a response that’s too low to be useful. People are very busy and mostly are not prepared to give time in responding to questionnaires, even if it’s in their interests to do so. For passive survey methods (for example postal or internal mail) expect response rates to be less than 10%. Sometimes they can be less than 1%. Business customer surveys work well if postal questionnaires are supported by telephone introduction to explain the survey purpose, then followed-up (‘chased’) by telephone too if necessary.
- Design the actual questionnaire: List the individual questions/issues. At the earliest possible stage it helps to build the survey onto a spreadsheet – this enables data and structure and scoring, etc., to be organized much easier than in a text editor. Try to create a natural flow or sequence in the questions. Use closed questions (yes/no) where useful, and offer multiple-choice answers, and avoid giving a bias to the questions influenced by your own assumptions, or the CEO’s personal views.
- Then create questions – seek expert help with writing the questions – it’s important to get this right. Questions that seem clear to you might be confusing to people far removed from the project. It’s crucial to frame the questions objectively and clearly so that they can be quickly and clearly understood by the reader. Clear questions also maximise response rates. Confusion and lack of relevance in questionnaires are big reasons for people not responding. Effective questionnaires must be easily and quickly understood, so test your questions on someone who knows nothing about the situation, even some young teenagers (arguably the most difficult audience of all), to check that your intended meaning is properly and quickly understood.
- Devise a scoring method and design this into the questionnaire format. Analysis of results is very difficult and time-consuming if you fail to consider this properly. Ideally you must be able to convert answers into numerical data to make analysis quick and reliable, especially if your survey is large. If in doubt seek help from a spreadsheet expert. Finance departments in organizations usually contain such people, who are often delighted to help with survey projects because they are interesting and connected with the customers and/or staff side of the organization. Spreadsheets enable all sorts of clever analysis if you know how to do it, and it helps greatly for good analytical functionality and structure to be built into the design of the spreadsheet from the beginning.
- Write a suitably appealing supporting explanation of the survey’s purpose. Also take care with the questionnaire instructions, and also give some details about the follow-up process. People are more likely to respond if they can see and understand a meaningful purpose and follow-up for the survey. Getting a good response to a survey is always challenging, so the better your supporting explanation then the better your response rate will be. A survey also helps towards positive staff/customer relations exercise – it shows you are interested in their views, so make the most of the opportunity to communicate and explain.
- Consider and decide about publishing the survey analysis (or a summary), and how best to convey results and follow-up actions to the respondents and other interested parties. This is especially important with surveys of employees. For certain types of market research or attitudinal surveys consider also the PR (Public Relations – publicity) value and opportunities arising from your survey. Subject to rules of privacy and agreement with your respondents, a survey commonly makes excellent press editorial and publicity.
- Test the survey and method(s) with a small sample of people, preferably representative of the actual target group. Check that the scoring and analysis can be done. This is especially important if the survey is large, expensive, and/or crucial to the organization’s strategy and decision-making. The need for testing is one very good reason for planning surveys sufficiently in advance of the deadline for getting the results.
- If you test the survey, obviously refine the questions and structure and survey methods appropriately.
- Run the survey. Monitor its operation. Don’t wait until the end to discover a problem that you could have fixed at the start. If you use an agency check their progress soon after they start, and again at suitable intervals, depending on the size of the exercise. Again don’t wait until the end to discover there was a bloody great big spanner in the works.
- Chase up the replies using telephone follow-up where necessary. This is another reason for monitoring progress: commonly response levels fail to be as high as planned, in which case the earlier you are able to add some extra impetus the better.
- Analyse the results and implement follow-up actions as appropriate, which if appropriate must involve giving agreed feedback of results and outcomes to respondents. If you are struggling with the analysis because the format was badly designed, it’s still not too late to call in some help from a spreadsheet expert, rather than making a mess. If the data is there in one form or another, a good spreadsheet person can often achieve a minor miracle and save the project, or simply save you several days work.
- Write up the report fairly and objectively, and circulate it as agreed, especially if it throws up a few nasty surprises, which are actually the most valuable survey results of all.
- Ensure all specific complaints and matters arising from individual customers are followed up reliably and satisfactorily.
- Review the survey project overall and incorporate lessons and improvements next time.
Tip – a good way to understand how to structure questionnaires and write survey questions is to see how other organizations do it. Look at the various survey materials which you receive yourself – through your letter-box, in new products that you buy, at airports and stations, in magazines – they are everywhere once you look for them.
See also the notes on designing and managing an employee motivation survey. Essentially this focuses on understanding staff motivational attitudes, but the guidelines also include useful techniques and rules for surveys and questionnaires in general.
The training needs analysis methods are also useful for understanding and designing surveys, and the TNA spreadsheet tools can easily be adapted into more general questionnaires for other purposes.
Another example of a questionnaire is the Multiple Intelligences Test materials – which provide further examples of how to design survey questionnaires.
The personal strengths indicator is another (very basic) example of a simple survey format, which is fine if the survey is small and does not require a lot of statistical analysis.
While analysis and structure are vital in big surveys, ultimately what’s most importnat is simply taking the trouble to ask for people’s views about important issues, rather than guessing or assuming, or telling people what you think they should be.
Well designed and implemented surveys always produce a positive effect for the organization. People – whether employees or customers – think better of the organization for being asked and consulted, especially if they see you’ve listened and done your best to react positively to the feedback you’ve been given.
Back to marketing index.
running training/information events – a proven new business/enquiry generation method
Designing and running a free (or very low ‘token’ cost) training or information event is a proven and very effective way to generate new business and customers.
The method can be used by anyone who needs new business and customers – by large corporations and even self-employed providers.
Designing and running free training/information/experience events is an excellent way to generate new business at any time, and the process works especially well in tough economic conditions, when customers want to save money, and are looking for new ideas themselves.
This method, with a little adaptation, is effective for all industries and all target markets:
training/information event method
||Design a training course or workshop or other educational/informative event.
||Fill the event with useful facts, information, tips, techniques, statistics, methodology, advice, demonstrations, examples, and maybe a guest speaker/expert or two. See more content ideasbelow. The event you design must relate to your product or service, and appeal to your target decision-makers/customers. The event can be anything between two hours and a couple of days long. Generally the event will need to be bigger and more content-rich according to the size of customers and seniority of decision-makers you are targeting, although there can be exceptions. The most important issue is that the event will appeal to your target audience. Adapt this concept to be more of an ‘experience’ or showcase, or sampler, if you are targeting consumers with a consumer/lifestyle offering.
||Decide a suitable method of advertising your event.
||You could buy a list of target customers to use for direct marketing, or use an indirect method, for example display adverts or inserts, or web advertising. In the UK you do not need to register your own company or yourself under the Data Protection Act for using a customer list, unless, broadly, you rent or sell the list, or are offering financial services. More details (for the UK) about Data Protection rules are at theInformation Commissioner’s Office. You should also adhere to your local laws or guidelines concerning unsolicited direct marketing. In the UK these are explained by the Information Commissioner’s Office in terms of marketing by phone, electronic or postal methods. If you are not in the UK seek equivalent advice. Generally a good approach is to buy a list from a reputable list supplier, or to use an indirect advertising method which will reach your target audience, and which is not subject to preference rules. By way of clarification, a phone call or email is direct marketing, whereas an advert or insert in a newspaper or magazine, or a card in the local newsagents window, are all indirect marketing.
||Create an advertising mailer or other communications method for reaching your target audience.
||Look at the advertising ‘tricks of the trade’ to help you do this.Sell the event, not your product or service. Your advertising must be very clear and concise. Make it easy for people to see immediately what you are offering, what the main benefits of the course/event are (ideally a single strong benefit), and easy for people to respond and register to attend. The event should be free, or offered at a low price so as to reduce ‘no-shows’ (people who say they’ll come and then don’t). My own preference is to offer the event free and minimize the ‘no-shows’ by some other method. The event must be very easy to get to, ideally by public transport, and offer easy car-parking for your target audience. The event date and timings must be as easy as possible for your target audience to take time off work to attend. For example do not stage an event for finance directors at month-end or fiscal year-end. Take account of other seasonal factors which would make the timing of an event and its core benefit more attractive to customers.
||Set up your method and system for handling responses and recording registrations of people wishing to attend.
||These respondents are effectively enquirers or prospects for your product or service – think about it – you will have their attention at your event for the duration of your event. Ensure therefore that your registration system enables you to gather the necessary contact details enabling you to follow-up after the event. And ensure you look after them very well before, during and after the event, because this will reflect directly on your quality as a supplier or provider.
||Run the event.
||Do focus on giving: information, help, knowledge – whatever people need.
Do not focus on selling. People will be attending to learn and take away knowledge, ideas, etc. If you sell hard or too much to them you will be breaking the psychological contract, and undermining your own integrity. At the end of the event seek feedback (use a suitable feedback form and evaluation method) about the quality of the event and what could have been included additionally or improved. During the event – typically in the coffee breaks and lunch breaks (if applicable) – you will be able to discuss and get to know what subsequent business development opportunities might exist among your attendees. They will approach you with questions and potential work/contracts if you seem to know your area well and you extend a professional and reliable image. It is appropriate at the event to seek people’s permission to follow-up. If you fail to seek permission and then follow-up anyway this will upset some people.
||Follow up the event with phone calls or appointments as appropriate.
||Evaluate and refine.
||Analyse the outcomes. Refine your methods and plan your next event.
content ideas for a training/information event
Ideas for content to include in a training/information event used for business generation:
- tricks of the trade
- health and safety aspects
- technology updates
- legal/law/legislation briefings
- guest expert speakers
- ‘how to’ sessions
- ‘sampler’ experiences
- showcase of suppliers/products/services
- activities and games (must be relevant and enjoyable – not all areas are amenable to this)
- workshop sessions
- hands-on making and doing and trying, etc
The extent to which you sell your own products/services at a training/informative event depends on the situation.
As a general rule, the bigger and more complex/expensive the product/service then the less you should try to sell it at the event. Your aim in this situation is to build your own credibility and to generate interest for follow-up discussions.
If you are targeting consumer/retail customers then you can include a stronger selling element in the event. in which case position it suitably in your event advertising material. In this situation the event is arguably closer to a ‘party’ concept, as used and proven to work effectively by large businesses like Tupperware and Ann Summers, etc.
Choice of venue is important. You need somewhere flexible for numbers, especially if you are not going to be managing ‘no-shows’ tightly in advance somehow. Some venues are prepared to offer special deals for first events, on the basis that if it works they’ll have the chance of further bookings. Be creative and adventurous in finding potential venues. Often an unusual venue can be a significant part of the attraction to the event. Negotiate with your potential venues until you get the deal you need.
Partnering with like-minded customers or suppliers can be useful in running events, and also in finding suitable venues.
If you are in the middle of the supply chain perhaps there is opportunity to partner with a large up-stream supplier to stage the event at their showroom or factory.
Use your imagination.
Imagine and maybe ask your potential customers what sort of event they would find helpful.
Running an event is a wonderful way to involve staff. Involvement motivates everyone who takes part, and lightens your own load.
If you are self-employed and want to design and run an event, and don’t want to do it alone, then partner with an associate or a supplier.
The clever part in using a training/information event to generate new business is designing and promoting the event so that it:
- appeals strongly to your target customers
- and links naturally to the products and services you seek to sell afterwards.
If you are really successful in designing and promoting and running effective events you can find that the event itself can become a chargeable ‘product’ for your business, or in some cases actually becomes the main part of your business.
In the modern age, successful selling increasingly requires the supplier to give (knowledge, information, experiences, etc) before selling anything. The training/information event method fits this way of working extremely well.