With branded messaging covering everything from bumper stickers and billboards to in-app phone advertisements and viral videos, marketing communication channels may seem infinite now. While companies have greater access to the buying public than ever before, companies also have quite a sticky wicket when allocating advertising dollars.

Choosing what to spend and where, for how long and aimed at whom is a series of questions every marketing department needs to answer. To do so, they must understand their target audiences and motivations, but there’s never been a better time for that, either.

Sifting Through the Marketing Mix

The most fundamental concept in marketing is the “mix” of the four critical ingredients that brands use to entice consumers to their products or services. These include price, product, place and promotion. Marketing is everything that defines what that product or service is — from what’s included, how it’s priced, where it’s placed, what’s promised, what’s advertised and how it’s promoted.

To achieve all of these, marketers employ various approaches through eight methods of marketing communication.

Eight Modes of Marketing Communication

People talk about the "six marketing communication elements," but with so many methods available, it's becoming common to break it down into eight elements. The six are promotion, advertising, direct marketing, sponsorship, personal selling and communication. The eight methods get more specific, and they are:

1. Advertising

Defined as any paid promotion of goods, services and ideas by a known sponsor in any marketing channel — branded bags, magazine ads, radio spots, TV commercials, branded pens, flyers and anything else hawking the brand. Advertising can also be featured in any of the other seven methods of marketing communication too.

Today, advertising gets a big shot of innovation from digital platforms like YouTube. Industry “disruptors” have brilliant concepts and campaigns to create buzz. One wonderful example is the BlendTec YouTube campaign “Will it Blend?” in which the owner of BlendTec began blending things like the Extra-Value Meal and cell phones back in 2006. By 2019, they’d been played over 275 million times. It's a viral video — but it's also compulsively watchable advertising that has no broadcasting expense.

2. Sales Promotion

Yes, this includes having sales and promotional offers (“buy two, get the second for half off!”) but it also includes having contests for sales reps as well as giving retailers discounts so they buy larger quantities for offering door crashers and other sales. Providing samples and coupons falls under promotions too. These are all methods that entice consumers, retailers and brokers to purchase or trial a product or service.

3. Events and Experiences

This is where sponsorship falls. When companies sponsor events — like concerts and fireworks or marathons and other races — that’s sponsorship, but it’s also the use of experiences and events to create brand awareness and brand loyalty. Formula 1 and NASCAR are heavily sponsored, and beyond just being a great photo op, they’re true events racing fans can experience, but the branding is inescapable at these events.

On a smaller scale, community-based events happen all the time and are a great way for local businesses to get their name known. The local troop of Boy Scouts might have a hot dog sale, but a local retailer supplies them with wieners in trade for branded signage at the table. “When you think backyard barbecues, think Knutsen’s Butcher Shop!”

4. Word of Mouth

This is people-to-people communication, whether it’s in conversation, online, in email or any other place. There’s organic word of mouth, which companies have no control over, but then there’s orchestrated word of mouth — or buzz marketing. To generate buzz, a brand needs to be unique, memorable and doing something different from the competition.

Buzz marketing can incorporate other aspects of marketing communication, but the goal is the buzz. For example, a movie trailer is a sneak peek — it’s a glimpse at something in the distance, and it’s designed to be both memorable and shareable. Major trailers, such as "Avengers: Endgame", can go viral and steal the day on social media, getting shared far more by the public than they ever could by the studio releasing the film.

The official studio account for the 2019 movie "Little Women" released its trailer on Twitter and their one tweet got 21,000 shares in its first couple days, over 65,000 “loves” and more than 4.3 million views; that’s buzz-worthy word of mouth.

5. Public Relations and Publicity

While both of these terms are often used interchangeably, they're not the same. Public relations is the whole concept of managing a brand’s public image via generating publicity, public awareness and creating relationships. Publicity is the act of attracting attention to a brand or product, like when Apple does its annual release event where they create a lot of public attention for the brand. But public relations means controlling the brand’s image in the media, speaking to controversies, creating the brand’s persona and so much more.

6. Personal Selling

The oldest marketing trick in the book, one-on-one and other in-person sales. These can include presentations and corporate sales. It’s when companies have a long sales cycle that personal sales is so critical — think with car lots, for instance. It’s also critical for products that compete in a crowded market, like books, where a rep will come and pitch a line of products to retailers who then choose the offerings most likely to sell for them.

7. Direct Marketing

When the brand connects directly with the audience members they’re targeting, that’s direct marketing, and it’s typically done through phone calls, emails, the post and text messages. While these methods have been used for decades, it doesn’t mean they can’t be done with innovation today.

One great example is when the World Wildlife Fund sent Philippines corporate executives a gift in 2009 — a black box designed to look like a skyscraper with yellow light emanating from all its windows — but upon opening the box, they saw a yellow candle. Removing the candle made the illuminated windows go dark — a ploy that helped create 260% more corporate support for lights out in Earth Hour among targeted brands, making the Philippines among the world’s biggest Earth Hour participants. Well-targeted direct marketing concepts can be extremely effective.

8. Interactive Marketing

Online marketing can create awareness, promote sales and build brand reputation. Like any other great marketing, it should engage, inspire and convert its audience. Quizzes and games, contests and polls are all popular ways of getting consumers to get involved with a campaign designed to educate them, make them brand-aware, promote a new product or whatever else a brand is trying to achieve.

The Brave New Marketing World

Today, these methods of marketing communication are used by brands around the world, but the creative brands know how to harness them for greater resonance with consumers. You’ve likely heard some of these trendy terms before — like buzz marketing above — but do you know how they’re leveraged for consumer traction?

  • Lifestyle Marketing: This is all about connecting with consumers where they live, play, eat and work. A plastic wrap alternative like beeswax food wrap might choose to promote itself in farmers markets where its target audience is more likely to congregate — that’s lifestyle marketing. A new yogurt product might be given out as free samples outside a popular fitness center or transit station where active and healthy people are likely to be encountered.

  • Experiential Marketing: While the consumer might get to sample or try a product through experiential marketing, there’s usually something more going on to provide a hook with the customer. One long-standing and popular example is the Pepsi Taste Challenge. Consumers not only got to try Pepsi, but they also got to do it as a blind experience versus its top competitor, Coke, with an audience to observe and provide a little “buzz marketing” for the spectators, on top of the power of experience for the person who tried the soft drinks.

  • Product Placement: Ever since E.T. followed a trail of Reese’s Pieces, product placement has been used to increase visibility for brands and create a cachet of coolness. Apple used product placement to get the iPhone and MacBook noticed and to promote the brand’s prestige while generating an air of authority. Back in 2013, when the hit series 24 was announced to be returning after nearly a decade off-air with a 12-episode miniseries called 24: Live Another Day, Samsung and Apple both fought hard to be the brand Jack Bauer relied upon while saving the world. Instead, phones sold by Sprint and vehicles made by Chrysler supplied the products placed throughout the 2014 series.

The Social Media Element

Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook have disrupted the entire concept of marketing. Listening to the customer was always a premise behind marketing, but social brought the opportunity to truly engage. As a result, customer service has jumped leaps and bounds over the last decade. In fact, 81% of American consumers said they felt brands were giving them great service in 2019 versus just 67% in 2014, with much of the reason coming down to online service through messaging and social media sites.

For some brands, that two-way street of social is a problem because they’re only shouting out and not properly monitoring sites for engagement and mentions. The brands who do these things well, on the other hand, are ones that create an active community — like the burger chain Wendy’s, which is popular for its quick wit and snappy comebacks.

The great part of social media, though, is the ability for marketing departments to now do small-but-often-viral acts for consumers one at a time, considered the surprise and delight method of marketing.

Consider something like Kimpton Hotels in the UK, where a police officer tweeted that they left their conference to return to their room to finish a tear-inducing book about a police dog. The Kimpton team saw the tweet, replied to it and sent the officer a box of tissues to dab the tears away. The officer, both touched and amused, tweeted the incident and made a small splash for Kimpton, which was able to amplify their reputation for attentive service and customer care.

Ultimately, social media teams like Kimpton's need to understand each platform’s capacity for communication and all its perks because when they get it right, it’s cost-effective and impactful.