For the sponsoring organization, the role of marketing communications includes distributing information, promoting image and reputation, creating and stabilizing product and service demand, emphasizing features and benefits, providing competitive differentiation, generating sales leads, ensuring customer retention and loyalty, and motivating staff. To accomplish these and other objectives, there are many marketing communication tools available. They include advertising, direct marketing and relationship marketing, sponsorship, event marketing, sales promotion, public relations, and other, alternative strategies. Contemporary media are the most commonly utilized “vehicles” to get the message out, including print, broadcast, outdoor, digital, direct, online, and other technologies. Historically, markets were largely places one could barter or trade commodities with another individual. Amazingly, Ancient Egypt survived for thousands of years without money, the structure of their society being based on provisions for the workers in return for support of the ruling dynasty and religious temples. Only later did specie or currency came into existence as a commonly accepted and convenient measure of utility or wealth – most evident during the relatively peaceful years of the Roman Empire now called the Pax Romana. European society in post-Roman times largely devolved into feudalism, under which workers were restricted from travel and tied to the land. Industrialism was a significant change because it broke the choke-hold of localism, bringing with it the expansion of the middle class as an important market. Barter still existed, of course, but residents of emerging cities now labored for money rather than products. Those that made or controlled products could sell more distantly, over time creating intermediaries (such as wholesalers, distributors, and retailers). The growth of river and oceanic trade, development of canals, construction of railroads, and other improvements contributed to more capitalistic societies.
The promulgation of literacy, invention of the telegraph, and automation of printing presses for mass production of newspapers and magazines (followed by later media such as film, radio, and television) also facilitated the evolution of the marketing process. Increased production also meant that manufacturers needed to differentiate their offerings from competitors by literally branding shipping boxes and commodities. According to David Ogilvy, famous advertising copywriter and ad agency founder, a brand’s personality and reputation are “an amalgam of many things.” These include “its name, its packaging, its price, the style of its advertising, and, above all, the nature of the product itself ” (Ogilvy 1983, 14). A brand also includes intangibles such as the images, words, and qualities that people associate with the organization or product.
Linked with branding is the rise of advertising agencies in the mid-nineteenth century. Their emergence reflected the need for better promotion as new competitors entered the marketplace, forging a system of collaboration between business and media that continues up to the present.
Public relations developed in the early twentieth century in support of business interests. Facing regulation because of the excesses of monopolistic trusts, corporate leaders recognized they needed to communicate their story to an enlarged middle class of educated consumer voters. The necessity to persuade as well as inform became the dominant model. In a business context, most advertising and public relations responsibilities appear on organizational charts under a marketing or corporate communication title.
Marketing as we know it is thus a relatively recent phenomenon. The classic 4-Ps of the marketing mix refer to the product, pricing, place (distribution), and promotion policies that guide an organization’s sales effort. Marketing communications falls under the rubric of promotion, or the strategic effort by the seller to build contact with potential and existing customers. Businesses use promotion as a means of informing customers about product(s) and attracting customers to buy from them.
Marketing communication involves the ongoing process of relationship building with target audiences on all matters that affect marketing and business performance. Targeted are those groups of people an organization needs to communicate with in order to meet goals and objectives. In this sense, marketing communication is a continuous dialogue between an institution, its brand(s), and consumers.
Market research is a key part of the marketing planning process, which involves a business determining who the users and potential users are, knowing who else has influence over sale of their products and services, and finding out what these groups want and expect. After a creative strategy is crafted, media research subsequently decides which communication vehicles are most appropriate given the available budget, followed by evaluation of their effectiveness.
A number of marketing communications options are available that help companies build and maintain audience, increase market share and market awareness, acquire new business, and build more fruitful relationships with existing clients. While nonprofit organizations may have different goals, the process is essentially the same. In addition to advertising and public relations, marketing communication tools also include publicity, direct marketing, sponsorships, organizational/corporate communications, personal selling, promotional products, sales promotions, and Internet word-of-mouth or grassroots marketing efforts. Although in some instances, one medium may be appropriate to reach a niche audience, marketing communications most often involves utilization of a variety of media to disseminate a chosen message. Making management decisions about how to effectively marshal resources and select the appropriate media mix is not an easy responsibility. Given problems with message clutter and oversaturation, many traditional forms of advertising and promotion (such as broadcast and print) are losing ground to newer media.
Proponents of integrated marketing communications (IMC) stress that a company’s promotional activities should speak with a single voice to increase synergy. In other words, all marketing communications should consistently work together to project a unified brand image across all points of customer contact. This would seem to be common sense. In practice, however, the results of IMC programs have proven mixed.
Understanding the content and pervasive influence of advertising in the modern world remains an important task since, for better or worse, advertising is an integral and influential part of our lives. The advertising process encompasses the consumer domains of (1) industrial technology, from which issues an endless flow of new products; (2) popular culture, into which are embedded applied psychological appeals and conventions through which socialization occurs; and (3) the media, which unify the flow of symbols, images, and motivational messages that audiences choose to “decode” from what they see or hear.
Advertising is a planned communication activity that utilizes controlled messages carried by the media to persuade audiences. Any form of nonpersonal one-way communication about products, ideas, goods, or services paid for by an identified sponsor can be grouped under the advertising umbrella. Typically advertisements are self-contained, although the growth of product placement (in which a brand is incorporated into a broadcast or film storyline) indicates marketers are embracing alternative strategies.
All advertising is subject to censorship. However, most advertisements aimed at potential buyers – unlike conventional news releases issued by public relations firms – are generally not edited or changed by media gatekeepers; before they reach their intended target audience. Mass and niche media include print – magazines, newspapers, brochures, flyers, outdoor ads, direct mail, Yellow Pages; broadcast and film – radio, television, cable, satellite, product placement; new technologies – Internet, mobile phone, podcasting; and other alternative media – promotional products, skywriting, etc.
Advertising commonly dramatizes companies and their products, building brand image. Psychologically, research indicates that consumers tend to perceive advertised goods as more legitimate. Another key advantage is that advertising typically reaches large, geographically dispersed audiences, often with high frequency. Although overall costs are high, advertising rates can be low per exposure.
Public Relations (PR)
Reflecting the fragmented nature of the many components that comprise what is loosely referred to as the practice of “public relations,” there are numerous widely promoted definitions outlining the operating philosophy and set of techniques used to integrate organizations and the people they depend upon. Among the best is that of Denny Griswold, founder of Public Relations News, who stated that public relations is “the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action [incorporating communication] to earn public understanding and acceptance” (Griswold & Griswold 1948, cited in Seitel 1995, 7).
In practice, public relations is most associated with maintaining good relationships with the company’s various publics by obtaining favorable publicity, promoting a good “corporate image,” and effectively minimizing unfavorable rumors, stories, and events. Since public relations appears in many forms (as news reports, sponsored events, etc.), it tends to be highly credible with audiences and reaches many prospects missed via other forms of promotion. Despite being cost-effective (certainly not “free” as many people think), public relations is often the most underused element in the promotional mix.
Conceptualizing the process of public relations has led to many theories of public communication. Some researchers stress the role of public relations in determining whether it primarily involves management counseling or technician-oriented communications. The most influential theory in recent years has been the “four management models” approach, first devised by James E. Grunig and Todd Hunt in their book Managing public relations (1984) and subsequently elaborated on. Using a systems theory approach, they analyzed the organizational structures and communications strategies most widely used by practitioners to derive the following categories: one-way press agentry model, emphasizing the generation of favorable publicity in the mass media; one-way public information model, stressing more journalistic dissemination of relatively objective information through controlled media (brochures, newsletters, direct mail) as well as mass communication vehicles; two-way asymmetrical or propaganda model, involving greater use of social science research so the organization becomes better at persuasion; two-way symmetrical or conflict resolution model, engaging in caring, researchbased dialogue to establish mutually beneficial partnerships with strategic publics. This last approach is the only one in which the negative implications of manipulation are minimized.
Connected with this four-part outline has been the notion that each model represents an ethical stage in the evolution of public relations, from primitive to advanced. However, scholars recently have begun to dispute this Darwinistic assumption.
Publicity messages are conveyed to the public through the mass media, but unlike advertising are not paid for by the organization. Publicity is a component of public relations linked to press agentry – heavy-handed (but shrewd) efforts to promote clients. Often publicists resort to hype (bombastic hoopla and oversell) to promote their clients. Normally, this commercial communication is designed to bring about positive coverage or “ink.” Sometimes, however, backdoor disinformation strategies are utilized to attack opponents and force them into the spotlight of unfavorable publicity.
Any communication to carefully targeted individual consumers designed to generate an immediate commercial response is direct marketing (i.e., an order, request for information, or sales visit). Direct communicators want not only to obtain on-the-spot feedback but also to cultivate lasting customer relationships. To do this, they maintain their own databases of current and prospective customers, or rent lists of prospective buyers identified by demographic and psychographic lifestyle profiles from firms specializing in such information. All direct-response advertising is structured around three basic elements: (1) the message communicates a definite offer; (2) the recipient is given the information necessary to make a decision; and (3) the ad makes it easy to say “yes” immediately by including one or more response devices (a coupon, free telephone number, preaddressed order form, envelope, bounce-back card, etc.). Infomercials are one of the most popular direct-response television formats.
Event sponsorship in which a business is linked to a popular sporting event is what most people think of when discussing sponsorships. However, the practice is much more widespread. Sponsorships are defined as payment (in fees, goods, or services) in return for the rights to a public association with another organization and/or event (naming rights, onsite banners, cross-advertising, etc.). Cause-related marketing (or cause branding) is another strategic sponsorship approach, connecting a company or brand to a relevant social cause or issue for mutual benefit. When this is done well, the corporations and the social causes they support both emerge with a “win-win” experience. For the company it is a way of reinforcing loyalty, building reputation, enhancing its image of corporate social responsibility, and increasing market share or sales. For the social cause or issue, having access to corporate resources contributes to prompting public awareness and engendering support. In total, US companies spent an estimated $1.34 billion on cause-related marketing sponsorships in 2006, a 20.7 percent increase over 2005.
Most businesses have a sales force whose members make personal presentations to persuade a prospective customer to commit to buying a good, a service, or even an idea. The seller generally interprets brand features in terms of buyer benefits, and the salesperson can be critical when the number of potential customers is limited and the product is technical and/or expensive. The common stereotype of a sales practitioner is that of a pushy, annoying individual. In reality, many customers value direct contact and find salespersons helpful in meeting on-the-job challenges. Rather than being order takers, most effective salespersons often provide consultative services that establish a relationship, and concentrate on the buyer’s needs. A key advantage of such person-to-person communication is that the receiver is more attentive, with the potential buyer providing immediate feedback through words, expressions, and gestures. Such relationship- oriented interaction allows for adjustments in the sales approach. Personal selling is a very effective investment for building buyers’ preferences, convictions, and actions (including loyalty). However, maintaining a sales force represents a long-term commitment and is thus among the most expensive of the promotional tools.
Promotional products are now an $18.8 billion industry in the US. According to the Promotional Products Association International, promotional products comprise an advertising, sales promotion, publicity, and motivational communication medium that displays the sponsoring organization’s name, logo, or message on useful articles of merchandise. The imprinted products, called “adcentives” when given away free, or “premiums” when recipients have to make a purchase or contribution before receiving the item, are often personalized to better target those people who are most important to the marketer. Four major business groupings make up the specialty advertising and promotional products industry: suppliers; distributors; direct-selling houses; and trade organizations. There are literally tens of thousands of different types and styles of promotional products. Examples of common promotional products include apparel, writing instruments, calendars, drinkware, and many other items. Popular programs cited most often by industry consultants are business gifts, employee relations, orientation programs, corporate communications, and presence at tradeshows to generate booth traffic. They are also effective for attracting new customers or new accounts, in dealer/distribution programs, co-op programs, nonprofit fundraising, public awareness campaigns, and for promotion of brand awareness and brand loyalty. Other uses include employee incentive programs, new product or service introductions, and marketing research for survey and focus group participants.
There has been a debate on whether promotional products constitute advertising or sales promotion. Actually, such items can be both and more simultaneously. For example, consider the person who occasionally drinks a particular brand of soda and, responding to a sales promotion campaign, receives a T-shirt complete with commercial art message. He or she wears the shirt when out with friends, providing more exposure for the brand. Additionally, according to research in psychology, the consumer’s positive attitude toward the brand will be strengthened as a result of publicly wearing the shirt. Regardless of the advertising or sales promotion labels, promotional products have the potential of providing high impact to a tightly targeted market niche. They can also deliver long-term advertising value beyond short-term sales promotion objectives. The key to success in such endeavors is in matching the adcentive-based elements to the interests of the audience segment – that is, targeting true prospects rather than suspects.
Sales promotions are defined by the American Marketing Association as those activities other than personal selling, advertising, and publicity that stimulate consumer purchasing. Sales promotions are typically short-term field marketing and merchandising incentives to encourage purchase or sale of a product of service. Examples of point-of-sale and business sales promotion vehicles include contests, coupons, rebates, refund offers, sweepstakes, etc. One advantage of sales promotions is that they may be targeted at the trade or ultimate consumer. By effectively attracting attention, sales promotions offer strong purchase incentives, stimulate quick response, and boost sagging sales. The downside is that such efforts are short-lived, and have not been proven effective at building long-term brand preferences.
Internet Word-Of-Mouth And Grassroots Marketing Efforts
Word-of-mouth has long been recognized as the most effective form of communication. The problem has been how to stimulate branded product conversation. The potentially huge number of viewers who can take action is one attraction of Internet campaigning. A well-placed link on a popular website, or passed from friend to friend, may generate millions of page “hits” very quickly. The impact of Facebook, YouTube, and other web locations has caught the attention of major marketers. By tapping into these “virtual communities” on the Internet – individuals who share common identification – companies are finding they can mobilize interest through “viral marketing” techniques. In a way analogous to the quick progression of an epidemic, viral marketers seek to exploit pre-existing social networks to produce exponential increases in brand awareness. By identifying opinion leaders in a market segment and providing them with special incentives, sponsors are also creating “buzz” within target groups. Marketers typically incorporate edgy humor and a mix of pop culture references to catch the user’s attention and build interest, especially among younger demographics. Music and compelling visual images that are already “part of the conversation” help convey their message. From a grassroots marketing perspective, embracing brand “co-creation” means that marketers invite consumer sub-cultures to help shape a brand’s persona, ideology, use, and persona. The more involved consumers become with a branded product as part of their “grassroots” lifestyle, the greater the likelihood they tell others about their experience.
Although email marketing has been subject to widespread abuse, it remains a powerful communication tool. Rich email (graphically designed email that is forwardable and trackable) is among the new Internet-based technologies for e-commerce. Evidence indicates rich email achieves higher receipt and response rates and the tracking information results in useful lead generation. Really simple syndication (RSS) blogging technologies make it easy to create an online journal. More corporations are especially using blogs by their executives, helping personalize the firm and establishing thought leadership in a market. Voice-casting platforms empower business clients to support their sales and marketing campaigns through a personalized audio message that is then narrowcast to thousands of business-to-business phone numbers. Other tools are coming online all the time.
The accelerating changes we see in communication technologies are evidence of a fundamental shift in society as a whole. Many commentators argue we are at a historical turning point similar to that which marked the introduction of movable type in Europe and the rise of industrialism. No one is yet sure what “globalism” really means in terms of the way we live or how we conduct business. Shifts that give consumers greater control over messages they pay attention to are definitely changing the notion of the marketplace. Combined with the erosion of older models of how media deliver audiences, these developments are temporarily causing consternation among many marketers who are still groping to find what works. Given past performance, they are likely to be successful.
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