Perspectives on Branding (Part 4 of 4): Communications Strategy and Message Integration

Communications Strategy and Message Integration

In my last article, I talked about the importance of cultivating the brand/customer relationship, moving the prospect through the stages of building brand equity.  Those stages being awareness, acceptance, trial, preference and loyalty.  Ultimately, marketing and branding are effective to the degree that they move the customer along that continuum.  And different tools in the marketing arsenal play different roles in the process.  That’s why they call it the marketing “mix”.

Different Tools for Different Tasks
Think of the marketing mix as a tool belt with different implements designed to accomplish a variety of jobs.  Granted, there is certainly some overlap, but each vehicle definitely has its particular strengths.  Failing to recognize that principle results in a myopic perspective that one tool (for example advertising) can address all of your marketing problems. So let’s consider what the key communications vehicles bring to the table:

Advertising.  The primary strengths of advertising lie in building aided and unaided awareness, reinforcing brand positioning/recognition and persuading and reminding the consumer to purchase.  Advertising can establish and enhance brand image, as well as communicate a focused selling proposition.  However, this is not a particularly strong medium for extensive product education, detail or demonstration.  It can be an effective direct response vehicle, but only if it is designed as such with a compelling offer and call to action.

Direct Marketing. Direct mail, direct response advertising and catalogs provide an immediate incentive to purchase such as a coupon or special offer.  They also are personalized and offer an opportunity to provide extensive product detail.  They can be used to demonstrate or visualize product function or benefits.  Unfortunately, much of direct marketing suffers from a negative image problem, and over half is summarily discarded or ignored.  Still, it can be a cost-efficient way to reach a broad range of potential customers.

Public Relations. It is ideal for re-tooling or reinforcing company or brand image and perceptions.  It offers third party credibility unmatched by other communications vehicles, and can create good will and positive energy for a product or service.  It can also stimulate demand given the right circumstances and exposure (can you say “Oprah?”).  In recent literature, PR has been called the new advertising in terms of its ability to help “birth” or establish a brand in the minds of consumers.  This is definitely a marketing discipline on the rise.

Sales Promotion. Usually defined as a marketing tool which shortens the distance between initial awareness of a brand and purchase of a brand.  In-store merchandising, coupons and sampling would be good examples. It generally incorporates a specific incentive for trial or purchase, and is best used to elicit response or action on the part of the consumer.  This is a tool best suited for short term, immediate results.  In other words, a spike in sales rather than a slow lasting build.

Internet. The most personal and interactive of all media, it is best used to foster and build a relationship with your current and potential customers.  It can deliver in-depth product information, features and benefits, and is a great research tool for perspective buyers.  Searching the Web often proceeds a purchase at a bricks and mortar location.  The core strength of this vehicle is its unique ability to engage prospects and invite interaction with the brand.  Differentiating oneself amidst the Web clutter is the major challenge facing Internet marketers, as the environment is increasingly competitive and overwhelming.

Speaking with One Voice
As you select the appropriate marketing tools, refine your positioning, and execute your creative strategy, don’t forget about the importance of integrating your message from both a strategic and execution perspective so that your disparate marketing efforts “speak with one voice.”  Once your value proposition and key selling message are defined for the brand, all marketing communications should serve to reinforce your agreed upon brand positioning.  As much as that may sound like an obvious tactic, I can tell you from personal experience that it is frequently overlooked.  It is easy to get caught up in the unique role of each vehicle and forget that the strategy and message must be clearly and consistently communicated across all channels.

The advantages of message integration are many, but key benefits include:
•    Generates increased sales over time
•    Improves and focuses the creative product
•    Builds team morale, communication and output
•    Clarifies and reinforces consumer awareness and attitudes
•    Builds long-term brand preference
•    Adds value to your product positioning

My thanks to those who have followed this series from the beginning.  As simple as the principles of marketing are, the discipline will always be a challenging combination of art and science.  I have tried in these articles to guide you through the necessary steps for self-evaluation and self-improvement with the end goal of helping you to be more effective at marketing your products and services.  May you have great success.

Jeff Hilton
Co-founder, Partner
Integrated Marketing Group

Previously published in Functional Ingredients

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