The best marketing meetings are usually those in which a suggestion prompts someone to finish the thought with an unexpected spin. And then someone else builds on this idea with another addendum. Before you know it, words like “advertising,” “marketing,” “promotion” and “publicity” are bouncing off each other so fast you may feel as though you’re inside a huge marketing pinball machine, trying to keep track of the ideas ricocheting off each other.
As a small-business owner, the last thing you want to do is “tilt” all this positive energy, especially when you hope it will ultimately benefit your small business. But you deserve to ask for clarity, particularly when you’re trying to grasp the role of advertising in your promotional mix. Advertising may be more than one of your biggest expenses; it’s also the powerhouse component of the promotional mix.
The Promotional Mix Differs from the Marketing Mix
The promotional mix is often confused with the marketing mix, probably because the word “mix” appears in both terms. It would be nice if there were a fail-safe way to delineate the two terms, especially because they’re both related to marketing.
Perhaps it would help to remember that marketing is an expansive discipline that includes many activities (including advertising). The marketing mix reflects this busy state by probing “The Four Ps” of product marketing. The four Ps are product, place, price and promotion.
You Know It When You See the Promotional Mix
If someone were to ask you, “What do you do to promote your business?” Your answer would probably fall under one of five categories. These categories make up what is known as the promotional mix. “Advertising” might come first alphabetically, but its omnipresence packs an additional punch, when it is considered last among:
- Direct marketing: Few small-business owners can live without it. This type of marketing is usually sent out en masse, but it stands out when it includes a personalized message – even including a first and last name. Postcards, coupons, letters and catalogs are forms of direct marketing that probably are part of your marketing arsenal.
- Personal selling: Few small businesses can survive without this effort, as well. Even if your personal selling efforts are restricted to your place of business, cultivating relationships is what elevates sales to salesmanship. Traveling salespeople even those who have a small, limited territory – should think of themselves as walking advertisements for the business they represent. People tend to judge the way that others speak, the way others conduct themselves, and even the way others dress, as an extension of the business.
Public relations can be one of the best investments a small-business owner can make, as well as being one of the best ways to advertise his presence in town. Say the words “public relations” and many people automatically think of press releases pitched to the media.
In fact, press releases represent the tip of a massive iceberg of opportunity that could include press conferences, special appearances, open houses, tours, speeches, exhibitions, contests, as well as any other creative undertaking that results in “free advertising” for a business. It may help to think of public relations “freebies”
if you were to run an ad? Successful public relations efforts that generate publicity of this kind can be extremely valuable to a small business.
- Sales promotions are the perennial favorite of new business owners, who know there is nothing like a promotion to generate interest in a new enterprise. But what happens after the foot traffic fades? The truth is, many small-business owners feel nervous about the role of promotion in marketing at this juncture, fearing that once a customer benefits from a promotion, he is less likely to pay full price.
- An assertive marketing professional would say that this is, for lack of a better term, “stinkin’ thinkin’,” especially if you consider that there are enough types of sales promotions that a small-business owner can offer a different one every month. Consider: discounts, coupons, product giveaways, gift giveaways, two-for-one, buy-more-save more offers, loyalty points, price-match guarantees, invitation-only events, refer-a-friend deals, free shipping and promotions tied to holidays. With a treasure trove like this, customers should register the idea that sales promotions come and sales promotions go.
Advertising can, and should, sit atop the heap of the promotional mix. Assuming that a customer is aware of a brand or company through most of the other elements of the promotional mix, the role of advertising in the marketing mix can serve as the cementing force, fortifying and reinforcing the messages in a small-business owner’s direct marketing and sales promotions. And without consigning words to a word-for-word script, the themes from personal selling and public relations efforts can, and should, be echoed in advertising messages to create marketing symmetry. For every person who says that advertising’s “glory days” have faded right along with newspaper and magazine ink, there are many other people who are reveling in the growing number of online and social media platforms that they say have given advertising greater diversity and depth.
Strategy Invigorates the Role of Advertising in the Promotional Mix
As you know, your advertising mix is an assortment of tactics. You define the role of advertising in the promotional mix by first defining a strategy, because strategy always drives tactics. Alternatively, think in terms of strategy answering the question “What?” and tactics answering the question “How?” Strategy addresses what you wish to do and tactics supply the answers about how you’re going to do it.
Devising an advertising strategy is one of those tasks that many small-business owners understandably entrust to their marketing team; the process takes time and requires a skilled research hand. But you’ll want to step in and become part of the process at several junctures since it should reflect the goals and objectives of your business, too, especially in the middle phases.
An advertising strategy includes:
- Identifying your target audience: your “ideal customer,” which you already should have identified in your marketing plan. Establishing your advertising objectives, or what you hope your advertising plan will achieve, in very specific terms. Setting an advertising budget. Settling on a creative strategy that contains your advertising messages. In short-term parlance, this step is often referred to as an advertising campaign, with a definitive starting and ending point. Regardless of the duration, your marketing team should present ideas that offer symmetry so that your themes are presented consistently across all advertising mediums. Selecting the “right” advertising mediums and developing a media schedule. Implementing the overall advertising strategy. Measuring the effectiveness of your advertising efforts, so you know the return you’re getting on your dollar.
There’s no substitute for going through the process of executing an advertising strategy to help you form an appreciation for the role of advertising in your promotional mix and learning how best to make it work for you and your small business.