The time has come to discuss marketing communications, a tactic so often confused with marketing.

Marketing communications, just a tactic

Communications is a tactic and so, as with all of the other marking tactics, we should not even attempt to make decisions about how, when or where to communicate until after we settled on a strategy,  this includes choosing a target customer and positioning our offering to suit that customer.

Only after we have a strategy in place does it make sense to start designing an ad campaign or posting billboards or sending out direct mail catalogs or doing any of the other things we can do to communicate with our customers. Remember, strategy always precedes tactics.

Because advertising is so visible many people mistakenly assume advertising constitutes most of marketing. That’s simply not true. When marketing is done well it starts well before any particular communication program is even conceived. It incorporates product design, pricing, distribution and incentives.

Good marketing is much more than just advertising

So despite the fact that advertising is often the most visible most creative and entertaining memorable occasional even brilliant part of marketing it’s also a relatively small part of marketing. Good marketing encompasses much more than just advertising.

With all that said communication is still important. So, let’s see some of the principles involved in doing marketing communications well. The process of communicating is fun and interesting because it’s actually a microcosm of the marketing process itself.

Just as you need a marketing plan that includes a specific goal, a strategy to reach that goal and a set of tactics designed to implement that strategy so also each communication effort requires its own communication plan complete with its own communications goal its own strategy and its own tactics.

Creating a communications plan

Before you run any kind of customer communication initiative you should know exactly what is the goal for your communications. Is it an awareness campaign? Do you just want to let people know that you exist or to keep the brand top of mind? Is it an informative campaign?

Are you trying to educate people on some new offering or new feature? Is it a persuasive campaign? Are you trying to change attitudes or convince people of something? What are you trying to accomplish with your communications? The goal of your communications campaign should be consonant with their larger goal of the overall marketing plan but it’s usually more specific more targeted.

Remember that campaign need not just a goal but also strategy just like the larger marketing strategy this includes a target and a positioning. In some cases the target for communications campaign will just be the target for the marketing campaign.
That’s fine, but it doesn’t have to be the same sometimes you communicate to just a subsegment of your total target.

We have a goal and we have a strategy. It’s time for some tactical decisions on how are we going to get this message to our target. Tactics here might include some the deprivation ads. Remember here, great advertising does not necessarily mean great marketing if the goal and the strategy is wrong. Brilliant ads do you no good unless you reach your marketing objective.

Steps to designing a marketing communications plan

When designing a marketing communications plan is best to follow set of discrete steps:

  1. First establish a goal for the communication. The goal should be consistent with the larger marketing goal but it’s usually more specific. We talked briefly about some of the goals a campaign could have: awareness, persuasion or brand building. These are all common goals for communications effort.
    Presumably the goal of nearly any communications campaign is to increase sales, but there are different ways to get there.
    A campaign designed to convince consumers that your offering is better will likely have to include more information and more comparisons to existing offerings than what a campaign designed to create awareness of the new product for example.
    So the first step is to know exactly what you hope to accomplish with your communications.
  2. The second step is to develop a communication strategy. Again, this parallels your marketing strategy, but it’s usually more specific. Who is the target or targets for this communication? What is the positioning of the product or service in these ads? In other words what specific benefits are being promoted here?
  3. The third step is to determine the tactics. As with the overall marketing plan the tactics in a communication plan should only be determined after the strategy. Should this be a TV campaign or print or billboards or online or some combination? Should it be interactive or static?
    Should there be a viral or social component? How much should we spend? All of these are tactical questions and should only be answered after you know your goal your target in your positioning.

The biggest danger in marketing communications

The biggest danger in developing a marketing communication is to get too caught up in the creative: the images you use, the actors cast, the innovativeness or cleverness of the copy.

The most important thing to remember about communicating with your customers is that those communications should always serve a specific marketing purpose they should help you achieve some specific marketing goal.

Marketing communications is not a test to see who can be the most creative. Creativity can sometimes be a great way to achieve your marketing goal, but it should never be an end to itself. But, creativity and cleverness are not sufficient.  They are only valuable to the extent they fit within the marketing plan.