Thinking differently about allocating marketing communication resources

James H. Martin, Associate Dean, Director of Graduate Business Programs, Professor of Marketing, John Carroll University

“What is it that makes budgeting for marketing so much more difficult now than it used to be?” James H. Martin, Associate Dean, Director of Graduate Business Programs and Professor of Marketing at John Carroll University, has been hearing this question a lot lately. To learn more, he spoke with a panel of experts including Sara Stashower, Visiting Professor at John Carroll University; Jason Therrien, CEO at Thundertech; and Tom Bernot,CMO at Optiem. All three had similar perspectives on this problem. They all said that there is a fundamental shift in thinking about marketing from the traditional view to a new perspective, but not all companies have made the shift yet.

Smart Business learned more from Martin about their collective insight.

What is the traditional view?

The traditional view of marketing communications has the primary objective of pushing out a non-interactive campaign message that gives the marketer total control over the communication process. This happens in three basic steps:

  • First, you create a campaign message you think your target market ought to hear.
  • Second, you select those media that will allow you to tell that message to the most people in your target market at the lowest cost per impression.
  • Third, you evaluate the success of the campaign based on changes in sales (or awareness levels, or knowledge, or brand attractiveness, etc.).

Because technology has added what seems like a tidal wave of options for media and performance metrics, the task of allocating a marketing budget across communication channels has exponentially increased in complexity.

From this view, allocating marketing resources has become a much more complicated problem simply because there are so many more options from which to choose.

Is there a better way to think about it?

The traditional view of marketing is based on the premise that communication is a controlled one-way process and media represent efficient mechanisms to get the message out. Unfortunately, this frames the problem in a way that doesn’t match the real value of the new media. You need to re-frame your strategic thinking from the traditional view of marketing communications to a new way of looking at the problem.

This new view has an entirely different premise regarding marketing communications. The new approach is based on developing opportunities for conversations with your customers on topics that are important to them and that you can contribute to because of what you do. Engaging your customers in conversations brings them closer to you. It builds trust and confidence in your brand. It creates an affinity to you that the old approach simply cannot accomplish. And that’s the real value with the new media.

But, to do this well means you have to want to talk with your customers, not at them. You must want two-way communication. You provide your expertise and they provide their input. It’s about which media are the best conduits for those conversations, not which media are the best at pushing your message to your customers. This is not just a different way of saying the same thing. This is a different way of thinking.

How do you know what conversations to have?

In which conversations you engage depends entirely on who you are and on who your customers are. But, here are some pointers. Start with your expertise. Then think about who your customers are and what they want to know about.

Having trouble figuring out what your customers want to know about? Whether your customers are OEMs, suppliers, distributors, retailers or consumers, customers want to know about things that will improve their lives. They want to know how to experience less uncertainty, they want things to be easier, they want problems solved, they want to be healthy, they want to grow as a person or as a company, they want to feel connected to others, they want to feel like they are part of something important, they want a life fulfilled, they want to understand, they want to feel like they can make a difference, they want fewer hassles, they want job security, they want to do their job better, they want to be successful, they want to be entertained, they want to learn…

Conversation topics are limitless. As a company, you have expertise. How can you use this expertise to add to any of these conversations?

How do you have these conversations?

This question has a different flavor from the traditional question of how to allocate budget across media. The question is now about the best venue for creating a conversation and how to connect across media to engage and continue the conversation. The answer is a function of what conversation you are having and with whom you are having it. You want to construct a network of conversations that engage your customers in a way that builds affinity with you and your brand. The result of this engagement is that customers will want to go to your website for your expertise.

Ultimately, marketing communications is about sales, but the more direct question now is about the effectiveness of the conversations you have with your customers. Engaging customers with content that matters to them and inviting them to participate in that content will bring your customers closer to you.

James Martin, Ph.D., is Associate Dean and Professor of Marketing, Boler School of Business, John Carroll University. Reach him at [email protected]