Everything a company does regarding its services or products is part of the marketing strategy, from setting the price and choosing the packaging to where it is sold and how it is sold. People oversimplify marketing to think it is simply about advertising, but advertising is just one part of the overall marketing mix_._
There are several types of marketing communication, and each one is designed to help brands connect with consumers and other stakeholders. Understanding each function of marketing communication helps shed light on the various ways to connect and why they all matter.
What Is Marketing?
To understand the importance of marketing communications, you first need an understanding of the scope of marketing, which is often vastly misunderstood. Those in the industry often speak of their marketing mix, or they might talk about hitting all the four Ps. Both of these terms are essentially about the same thing.
Professor Neil H. Borden of the Harvard School of Business coined the concept of the marketing mix in the 1950s, and in 1960, his ideas were distilled by E. Jerome McCarthy into the simple-to-remember four Ps. Today, these beliefs form the cornerstone of modern marketing.
Behind every product and every service sold anywhere, there is a basic marketing mix that goes into establishing its place in the world. It needs a value, a purpose and an audience. In defining who and what each of those things should be, the company behind the product or service must solve its four Ps.
The Four Ps: Product
This is the “what” — what the product or service is. In theory, it should fill a need and have a demand. The brand behind it needs to understand what the product is and why it should come to the market. The brand should understand the product’s life cycle and the consumer’s expectations of it.
Everything about the product is part of the brand’s marketing. The product now becomes part of the brand’s identity, so the product must align with the brand’s image and reputation.
The Four Ps: Price
This is so much more than the price for which to sell something. For starters, it's about the value of the product and how much it costs to produce or perform. Then, there’s factors like maintenance, warranties, customer service and other things that must be covered via sales. A profit must be made by not only the brand but also by middlemen along the journey from concept to market.
Price can also dictate much more, like how a product is perceived, since being priced too low could make it seem cheap, while high prices can suggest the idea of luxury while also raising consumer expectations for quality.
The Four Ps: Place
Where will the product be sold? The “where” is much more complicated than just geography, as specific stores can be a coup for a product (like a third-party gadget getting carried by the Apple Store). Launching a food product at a farmers' market would convey a different image than launching it at Circle K. The same could be said for selling a brand of housewares at Nordstrom versus Walmart.
Each "where" has very different audiences, so the brand needs to make choices about which audience is best suited to the product and which place is best for reaching that audience. Of course, selling online only is also making a choice about the place.
The Four Ps: Promotion
This is the umbrella that covers advertising, public relations and sales promotions. Anything done to get the word out and inform or attract the public is considered a means of promotion. This category often works in tandem with place because how something is promoted often has to do with where it can be purchased or used, especially if it is only available online.
Marketing Communications Strategy
Don’t mistakenly think that the promotion of marketing communications is about public relations because PR is just one small part of marketing communications. Public relations is when free media coverage is earned for a product or brand, while advertising is when it is paid for. A marketing communications strategy includes both, and social media can be employed by either.
Every marketing communications strategy can be boiled down to just three things:
- Message: What are you trying to say?
- Medium: Where are you saying this? Online, in print, in stores, direct mail — these are all media.
- Target: This is the audience to whom the message is aimed, and the audience should be accessible through the chosen medium or success is dubious.
Product vs. Brand Messaging
It can be a mistake to blindly leap into product messaging before analyzing the brand's identity. Can a product do better if the brand is evangelized first? Either way, the messaging will need to be clear and impactful or "sticky" so it helps to mold the way consumers think about the product or the brand.
Stephen J. Blank, the founder of the lean startup movement, likes to joke about “sticky messaging” and how if you were told that a new restaurant specializes in serving seaweed-encased, dead, cold fish, you’d run for the nearest McDonald’s, but call it "sushi", and the joint becomes the hottest ticket in town. That’s the power of product messaging. Sushi, and not "dead, cold fish wrapped in seaweed", has proven to be a sticky concept.
However, not everything is like sushi, and sometimes, the product isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. That’s when brand advocacy is needed before product evangelism can happen. Apple is a great example. The company was floundering back in 1997 when it coined the “think different” campaign in response to IBM’s “think IBM” message. By establishing itself as something completely other than IBM, Apple created a distinct identity that still exists more than two decades later.
Understanding the Messaging
Three questions need to be answered every time a message gets shared.
- First, why should the preferred audience care?
- Second, what’s being offered?
- Third, what is the message’s call to action?
Consider again the sushi: Answering those three questions almost writes the message. Say the audience is university students for a local sushi shop. They care because sushi is an affordable, healthy, tasty, portable, open-late-night food option that is ideal for the busy, on-the-go university student. What’s being offered is a variety of sushi meals for dine in and take out, and they are being called to act in buying and trying the sushi.
Understanding the Audience
The messaging can’t happen until you know the audience, of course, and audience is often oversimplified in the marketing messaging process. Take the sushi ad, for example — just because the shop is near a university shouldn’t make the students the only targeted consumer. Doesn’t everyone love a healthy, convenient and affordable meal?
There are all kinds of audiences out there — venture capitalists, other investors, end users, a buyer for end users (such as the CEO of a company who might be the best person to whom to market an office chair since the workers never get to choose their task chair) and even retailers. Each audience may be receptive to a brand's messaging; however, they will not all identify with a message tailored to another audience segment.
The best way to understand the audience is to do the customer discovery process and break down who they are, why they need the product/service and other details that influence their buying choice. In doing this, you create a value proposition. Some call this the “customer development model”, a process detailed in Stephen J. Blank’s “The Four Steps to the Epiphany”, which is a great book to read for those spearheading marketing communications for their own brand.
Marketing Communication Process
Once the corresponding audiences and messages have been ascertained, the actual communicating begins. This means picking the best media options for the messaging needed. In well-done customer discovery, you would ask the potential audience members how they typically learn about new products and what the best way to reach them might be. For teens, it might be through Snapchat, while consumers over 70 might be best reached through their community newspaper — but you don’t know unless you ask because media vary widely both regionally and demographically.
The message in question will influence the medium choices because some things work better online than through television or print. Good marketing communications campaigns will generally use a mix of media.
Picking the media channels and the messages to go with them are all covered in a media strategy. Print, internet and broadcast are the three primary categories. Beneath those come websites, social media, YouTube, online communities, community papers, national news and magazines, radio, local television and national broadcast, to name a few, and each needs audience-specific/media-specific messages.
Use Messengers Too
Messengers are anyone who is leveraged to spread the word about the product or service in question. They come in four categories. Each has access to different audiences, and their influence has unique resonance. Compelling any of these messengers to share the joy about a product or service will be accomplished through targeted campaigns, methods or media.
- Experts: This category includes people positioned to know your product or service intimately and to whom others turn for purchasing guidance. That can mean salespeople, analysts, industry watchdogs, consumer groups or consumer clubs, industry bloggers and even consultants. The messaging they receive should be created with their expert-level awareness in mind, and they should not be overlooked because they tend to influence consumer choices.
- Reporters: These are paid voices, usually through media companies in broadcast, online or in print. They often may have a “beat” that involves the industry in question, but enticing them to write about the service or product you’re selling can be a dead end unless you can make it relevant or timely. Some reporters are also experts, so they’re able to appeal to a wide variety of audiences.
- Evangelists: Some products and brands have their diehards who evangelize about them every chance they get. Apple, for instance, has a ton of evangelists — consumers who pay and are unabashed fans who love to share how great they think a product is. Salespeople can fall in this category as well.
- Connectors: The guy who knows a guy who knows a guy is a connector, and every industry has them. Connectors are often people who are in the mix and who introduce people and businesses to “someone you should know”. These are relationships that may become valuable down the line.
Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.