Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marketers Could---but Should They?

Marketers are faced with an overabundance of options for all types of strategic decisions. This is especially true of channels choices. By that, I’m mostly referring to communications channels, but the same principles may be true of e-commerce channels.

The current atmosphere reminds me of the mid-1990s when companies were waking up to the Internet and asking, “Should we have a website?” It quickly became, “We must have a website because everyone else does.” It was bad reasoning then; it’s bad reasoning now. Only now it’s, “We must have a Facebook page because everyone else does.”

Now every business or non-profit organization has a website. Many of them aren’t very good. They don’t fulfill the business mission and they don’t provide good customer experience. So sadly, before marketers have fully comprehended the issues of ‘traditional’ online marketing, they are faced with the explosion of social networks. And they are FREE! Clearly, we’ve got to do that!!!

I’ve been pointing out for quite some time that social media marketing is not free. It takes skilled people who are committing time to it. So nix the free argument.

We’re back to square one. There are a lot of channels to choose from. Marketers COULD use any or all of them. The real question is which ones they SHOULD use. And notice the consistent use of plural. You do not reach any target audience today with meaningful impact in a single channel. Multiple channels must be assumed.

That makes the real question how to choose the correct combination of channels to accomplish marketing and business objective. I’ll make my recommendations; your additions are solicited.

First, there is your target audience. We know the general outlines. Younger people are more likely to use social networks; older segments are slower to go online, but according to Pew, once they are there they eagerly search for information and engage in gaming, for example. It is important to remember that these are generalizations and the specifics of both demographics and use behavior can change from one product category to another.

Second, there is your position in the value chain. Are you a manufacturer? If so, is your Internet objective to support your retailers and distributors or it is to open another channel to reach customers directly? Are you a dealer or distributor who needs to communicate with and develop loyalty among B2B customers? Are you a small retailer who wants to participate in the frenzy of local marketing? In these cases, channels have been defined and the different channels imply vastly different marketing strategies.

Third, there are your specific marketing objectives. Do you want to sell things? Do you want to generate sales leads? Do you want to grow your social media followers—which is nice, but not enough. What is your PURPOSE (potential marketing uses) for having social media followers? This is about marketing effectiveness, not about bragging rights. Please don’t tell me you want to generate awareness. I’ve written about that before and plan to update my campaign against awareness objectives for Internet marketing soon. The Internet is about generating desired behaviors among targeted audiences. Leaving it at awareness is simply leaving cards on the table.See the video on the McKinsey Quarterly (free registration required)>

The pressing strategic issue is, “Which of the 4Ps comes first?” Ok, I’ll accept that you usually have to have an offering first. But then what? Does your choice of channels (multiple but integrated) determine the outlines of your promotion, including creative as well as the service and tech infrastructure you have to put into place? Take a look at the section of this Eric Schmidt video in which he talks about ‘designing for mobile first.’ He’s talking about disruptive business models, but it also has a strategic lesson for marketers.

As I write this, I realize that we marketers have a semantics problem that we must be clear about in order to make wise strategic channels choices. There are channels of distribution from the traditional Manufacturer > Wholesaler > Retailer to Manufacturer Direct via E-Commerce. Those are choices that, once made, are difficult to change for reasons of both infrastructure and relationships.

Then there are communications channels choices. There are a myriad of those from television ads to a Facebook page. Some of those can be specific to a particular marketing campaign—television advertising, for example. Others, like a Facebook page, need to be maintained once they are established, with involvement in marketing campaigns as required. The point is that the communications channels choices are more temporal than the distribution channels choices, although they have their own elements of stickiness.

My point is that the choice of communications channels sets the direction for a lot of the marketing work that must follow. What do you think?

1 comment:

Paul said...

I think research plays a very huge role to be able to do effective marketing even on your own. One of the reasons why Internet marketing became such a hit is because of its appeal of being less costly and more of a do it yourself thing.

I like all the points raised in this entry with all the needed details and explanation that every starting marketer should know. Keep up the good work!