March 03, 2009

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What Tactics Work Best in a Recession? The budget axe is falling. Marketers everywhere have to choose which campaigns and which channels survive. As a result there is a robust debate about which tactics work best and which channels are "must haves" versus the fun but expendable "nice-to-haves." As usual, the decision often depends on the objectives marketers seek to achieve. In this environment, management wants low-cost, fast-acting and dependable ways to get attention, traffic, interaction and sales. Many branding and positioning initiatives get quickly sacrificed when cash runs short, even though the media for accomplishing these objectives is heavily discounted and subject to aggressive negotiation. A key decision criterion seems to be the ability of a campaign or a media channel to convert a prospect into either an active lead or a sale. Viewed through this lens countless blog readers and Facebook friends become more of an abstraction and less of a measurable means to deliver business value. Ironically many of the highly hyped tactics -- online PR, web video marketing, Twitter and social media marketing -- are sorted OUT because of their limited track record in delivering quantifiable results. Though today they are cheap enough and accessible enough for marketers with a few extra bucks and some extra imagination to use creatively and break through to hard-to-reach customer or prospect segments. Search (both SEO and PPC) and e-mail are the work horses in a recession. The costs are containable, the targeting can be quickly and effectively tweaked plus the ROI has been proven again and again.They are sufficiently interactive to meet "social" marketing needs and can be deployed almost on-demand to suit anxious CFOs. Another recession-centric focus is on current customer bases and CRM tools. This starts with the notion that its easier and cheaper to sell more to existing customers than to seek out and persuade new ones. But a farming versus hunting orientation depends on the agile use of data, since one-size-fits-all campaigns against a house list rarely meet expectations. In looking to upgrade CRM capabilities marketers have to assess the incremental lift of improved data mining versus the incremental cost and total ownership costs of systems or software. As more and more marketers hunker down, look for inventive uses of the tactics that work. And keep an eye out for wacky experiments to try to break through to new audiences or to road test emerging channels.
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Planning Integrated Campaigns Digital and social media can extend the use, reach and efficiency of offline messages and campaigns, if we plan them properly. Speaking with classic agency guys recently, it occurred to me in the course of conversation that they still think a spot is just a spot. For big agency types, the notion of integrated messaging has more to do with an inter-agency scrum than with how we can get to and persuade target audiences. If you don’t believe me, consider the case of the Super Bowl where national advertisers spend millions per spot and most still do very little to extend the reach, the echo or the efficiency of this spend into cyberspace. According to the post-game scorecard analysis by Reprise Media, thirty-one percent of Super Bowl advertisers didn’t buy pay-per-click terms to support their TV ads, only 1 in 5 included a call to action in their $3 million dollar spots and just 1 in 4 linked videos or landing pages featuring their creative to social networks like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or YouTube. This lack of foresight squandered a considerable tailwind from massive traditional Super Bowl publicity and hype plus the expectation that the national championship football game is also the Super Bowl of advertising. It’s a mindset thing. To optimize the value of a significant creative investment you have to think through all the different ways audiences can access the message and all the different techniques to give the message added legs both to reach additional prospects and to achieve ROI objectives. It helps if you envision what you want the audience to see, feel, think and do and then build out the pathways and channels to let nature take its course. This requires a baseline acceptance of the Web and of social media as genuine vehicles for reach, expression and persuasion. It also demands that marketers look to leverage their investments and wring as much value out of each dollar spent as possible. This task is not only for the media guys; it requires input from everyone to maximize impact. Consider three critical planning steps. Anticipate Audience Response. Ask yourself at the outset -- how will audiences react to the message and what do you want them to do about it? We know that dramatic creative provokes comment, chat, pass-along , blogging and all kinds of sharing. Plan to leverage this by preparing versions in the right formats, seeding the campaign on video and vertical-interest sites, previewing the message for influential journalists and bloggers, cue fan groups and alert brand loyalists. Then buy enough key words for a fixed time period surrounding the flight to help anyone interested find you quickly and easily. If it’s a direct response effort put the URL and the 800 number in prominent positions, build a series of landing pages and make a clear, compelling offer. Use Extenders. Think of pay-per-click, blogs, PR and social media as “Hamburger Helper” for your campaign. These tactics extend the experience beyond the flight, add experiential dimensions for the brand, create buzz and make it easy to find and engage the brand. Their relative cost is minimal compared to the incremental reach and impact they deliver or the momentum they can sustain. Costs can be carefully parsed with smart scheduling and analytics. Consider Context. Every campaign is a surge period. Yet every brand is out there constantly affecting target customers and prospects. If you think of a particular message in this context, you’ll see the value of surrounding and enhancing a campaign with tentacles into social networks, blogs, search, free media and online communities because they provide context and continuity both for brand loyalists and for those you seek to attract to the franchise. Emerging digital media also give you a ready reaction or recovery tool in the event that your audience doesn’t respond as expected or in rare cases when the message doesn’t align with the audience. A spot is no longer just a spot. A campaign no longer stands alone as a point in time. Real integrated planning requires a different perspective and planning horizon across platforms and media to harness more elements in service to faster, deeper and more effective brand awareness, preference and loyalty building.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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