Preface: This piece may seem incredibly basic for readers with years of MarComm experience. But, in recent activities with Business Marketing Association (BMA) leadership on both a national and local level, many are expressing the same concern: a lack of education in the fundamentals of marketing communications among younger practitioners. This is not intended to “dis” anyone, but rather as a simple statement that, while tricks and tools may change, there are some basics that have…and always will…be essential to MarComm success.
A couple of decades ago, the term “marketing communications” came into vogue to describe what had traditionally been called “advertising”. Advertising was descriptive of selling messages delivered via traditional media, like TV, radio, publications, direct mail and the like. But, with the advent of the web, email and social media, marketing communications is a better way to describe the creation and delivery of messages designed to get us to buy something.
Business swings beget changes…
It’s not a new phenomenon. When there’s a business downturn, a company’s marketing department feels it first. Communications plans are put on the shelf and communications pros are put on the street. When business picks up again, marketing communications comes back into the mix.
The issue then becomes staffing MarComm positions. Sometimes, a company opts to fill them from within, choosing someone in the organization who had a few marketing and advertising courses in college. But, whether promoted from within, or hired from outside, that person is usually younger, lower salaried and less experienced than the person they replaced.
…that become a youth movement
In the past, that wasn’t as big an issue as it is today. Young guns were pretty much on the same page as older hands, in terms of available tools and how to use them. Today, though, turning a communications role over to younger folks can present a dichotomy between what they know and want to use, and the way the customer needs and wants to be communicated with.
The young comm manager is likely to be a “Millennial”. Growing up, they got their first cell phone at 10, had a laptop or tablet before they got to middle school, text more than they email and may or may not have read an actual newspaper. Certainly, print has never been their medium of choice. Social media is.
This can be problematic, especially in B-2-B marketing, where the age of potential buyers for business products or services can range from the 30s to the 60s. A new communications manager needs to understand that and be willing to look beyond the channels and tactics they know. That takes knowledge. If there is no mentor “in-house”, they need to learn on their own.
That’s the point of this blog
In my 40+ years of ad agency and corporate marketing experience, I’ve witnessed…and coped with… changes brought on by this new media “universe”. Regardless of changes, though, a few basic concepts still need to be applied to make marketing communications efforts successful.
- It’s about targeting
You’ve heard the term “selling ice cubes to Eskimos’” right? In a nutshell, that describes targeting. You need to define the audience or demographic market segment with a need for your product or service. Failing to do that and scatter-gunning messages to the ends of the earth is just a waste of time and money.
- It’s about the medium as the message
Thank you, Marshall McLuhan, wherever you are! He was on it. Once you’ve defined your target audience, you must deliver your message when and where they are receptive to it, via their medium of choice. This is one area where the increased number of communications “channels” has altered marketers’ tactics. To be effective, they need to strategize how to use each delivery medium and how to craft a consistent selling message appropriate for it. That’s called Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC).
- It’s about getting their attention
Studies show we’re exposed to over 100 selling messages per day. How many go in one ear and out the other and how many “stick”? A good message goes beyond the rational and resonates emotionally. Think creativity. Most ad agencies use a Creative Work Plan to help develop the message. Two key questions in the plan ask: “What is the problem the consumer seeks to solve?” and “How does your product solve it?” Answering them is key to creating a good message. Compelling messages work. The more memorable, the better.
- It’s about building a brand
If you take the Creative Work Plan a step further and ask how you can be that one product, in a world of competing products, that the consumers believe solves their problem the best, you’re building a brand. That takes time, consistency and quality. I just finished a 32-year stint with Kimberly-Clark, owner of one of the most recognized brands in the world, Kleenex®. That trademark is synonymous with facial tissue. It meant the same thing to your parents and grandparents as it does too you. That’s a brand!
- It’s about measuring your results
Department store magnate John Wanamaker lamented, “I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The problem is I don’t know which half.” When web clicks, opened emails and sales results can be tabulated almost instantaneously, measurement is a must. The web has also made market research more available and affordable. Smart marketers learn from what was done, success or failure, and incorporate that learning into the next communications plan.
- It’s about networking
Advertising and marketing communications have always been about big ideas, insightful strategies and new tactics. The discipline is constantly evolving. Big ideas don’t come from books. Marketing communications is a craft and, since man began making tools, craftsmen have learned at the feet of craft masters.
There is no better way to gain knowledge and insight than spending time with other professionals. For a young B-2-B marketer, the best choice is probably BMA (Business Marketing Association), but AMA, IABC and even the local ad club can also be valuable. Most local chapters have regular, informative breakfast, lunch or evening sessions where experts speak on topics of interest to the audience. Many of these organizations also offer discounted memberships for young professionals. Join one, or at least attend their events.
MARK SEMMELMAYER is a former Chairman of the Business Marketing Association (BMA) and Past President of the BMA’s Atlanta Chapter, Recipient of the 2015 G. D. Crain Award from BMA and an Inductee in the Business Marketing Hall of Fame, Mark is a 40-year B2B marketing veteran, including 32-years with Kimberly-Clark.. He is the founder and Chief Idea Officer of Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications, a consultancy in Atlanta, GA.