Let’s Start From the Very Beginning: What is Promotion?
As I already mentioned in my previous article, marketing is more than just acquiring sales. It involves many different activities, all of which are designed to make a specific brand (company, person, organisation) more successful, more likeable and more profitable in the long run. Marketing is frequently heavily involved in building strong relationships between the brand (company, person, organisation, etc.) and people, who find the products/ideas/services offered by that brand to be useful or beneficial for them personally.
In order to build such relationships, marketers utilise Promotions, which is an important part of the marketing mix. Actually, Promotions are a big part of an overall marketing plan as they don’t only help to build brand-customer relationships, introduce new products and increase brand awareness but also generate interest, win customers and increase sales.
Not a lot of businesses can survive without acquiring customers and making sales on a regular basis…
There are quite a few different types of promotional activities that marketers can use to achieve different goals, but first, they need to evaluate different variables in order to choose a correct mix for a specific brand and target audience. There is a list of possible promotional activities:
- Advertising — the type of messaging that identifies the brand or relevant products and is promoted to many people at one given time. Advertising can happen on a wide variety of media: television, magazines, newspapers, direct mail/email, radio, social media, blogs, mobile devices, websites, billboards, Google, etc.
- Sales Promotions — short-term organised incentives, such as coupons, contests, games, rebates, offers, discounts, etc. Sales promotions are usually used to encourage potential customers to take some sort of action quickly. For example, try a new product, make a repeat purchase, or increase the number of goods that a person buys.
- Direct Marketing — the delivery of personalised (usually interactive) promotional materials directly to individual customers. Direct marketing can happen via mail, catalogues, Internet, e-mail, telephone, messenger, etc. Anything works as long as it’s done without any intermediaries and is personalised for specific individuals or individual groups that share the same or very similar qualities.
- Public Relations & Publicity — a type of communication designed to promote (and sometimes improve) the brand’s image. This type of communication usually appears as being created by someone independent of the company (and it sometimes is, but not always). PR includes press releases, publicity, and news conferences. Product placements, sponsorships, experimental marketing, crazy events and ideas can also generate PR opportunities.
- Sponsorships (Events & Experiences) — a type of financial support that a brand decides to provide for certain events, venues or experiences. Some brands use it as it allows them to target specific groups of people. It also enables the brand to enhance their image and generate PR opportunities.
- Product Placements — an activity when the brand’s products are prominently placed in movies, television shows, celebrities’ hands, online influencers’ photos on social media, etc.
- Social Media — the type of promotional activity when a brand creates social media accounts and some sort of online presence so potential customers could get a grasp of what the brand is all about. It’s also a good place to promote events/new products/services to the people who are already interested in the brand and build relationships with them by responding to comments, etc.
- Professional Selling — an interactive approach, which involves two individual people — a buyer and a seller. It can happen in person, via telephone, email, messenger or even social media. Basically, it’s when a seller is directly involved with a potential buyer and trying to develop a relationship that would ultimately lead to a sale.
- Guerrilla Marketing — an unconventional way to bring public attention to the brand, its products, ideas or services. It can be anything: viral campaigns, graffiti, unexpected events in town, flash mobs, etc. Guerrilla Marketing activities are only limited by one’s imagination, really.
- Word-of-Mouth (WOM) & Reviews — this is more of an external promotion that marketers have little control over. However, both of them are essential for nearly every brand and they cost nothing but time to go that extra mile for the customers to provide exceptional service or customer experience (well, and an amazing product, of course). Some brands accumulate them automatically, but others organise various incentives that would encourage people to do that for them.
- Affiliate Marketing — It’s when a brand relies on intermediaries to promote them. Brand and its products can be promoted on external websites or blog posts in exchange for a small compensation (very popular among bloggers). Some people might even build eCommerce websites to resell products, for example, from Amazon or Aliexpress. The more they sell, the more commissions they earn. In order to sell more, they promote their reseller websites. As they promote more and sell more — original websites/brands sell more, too.
- In-home Marketing — the type of promotion that some product-focused brands can use by collaborating with product discovery companies. As part of the specific campaign, these companies can send a brand’s products to people, who are most likely to enjoy them. Such type of promotion can not only acquire new customers but also benefit from product reviews, social media buzz, online word-of-mouth and important customer data.
- Spamming (ha!) — the type of unsolicited messaging that everyone hates with passion. Some marketers may acquire (buy or make themselves) email lists or telephone numbers of “potential clients/customers” and then spam them as if there is no tomorrow. They may email 10 times a day, send absolutely unnecessary messages, leave strange comments below blog posts, etc. I’m not sure this should be on the list (duh!), but just wanted to say that many things can be viewed as spam if done repeatedly to uninterested people, so it’s something to be careful about.
And here is the list of a few variables that may affect what promotional mix should be used for a specific brand:
- The budget available (not everyone has a budget to run ads during the Super Bowl even if they really wanted to… Wait, does it really cost around $5 million for a 30-second commercial?!)
- Stage in the product cycle (if the product is new, then a customer might need more information. If it’s something like Coca-Cola — not really. Well, unless they introduce a totally new product)
- The type of product (some products, such as cars, may require a different promotional mix than, for example, chocolates)
- Target audience’s characteristics and preferences (what they like, what they read, where they go, what they use to communicate with others, what are their pain points, etc.)
- Competitors (what are they doing? What mix they are using? Could it be done better?)
- Regulations (some products cannot be advertised on TV or magazines in some countries at all. E.g. alcohol and tobacco )
- Media availability (some TV slots for commercials may be too expensive or quickly sold out, magazines’ lead times might be too long, social media might be perfect, but the target audience might not use it, etc.)
So How Exactly Does It Work?
In order to execute promotions successfully, marketers need to know what goals (general statements about the direction that they need to be heading to) need to be achieved by their promotional activities. Once they know their promotional goals, they then can think of the SMART* objectives (concrete and measurable steps) that need to be met in order to achieve these goals.
As an integral part of an overall marketing strategy, promotional goals can range from building brand awareness, introducing new products to the public and reminding people about the brand’s existence to persuading consumers to switch brands, encouraging them to buy and strengthening brand-customer relationships.
Many marketers use AIDA* model (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action), which identifies cognitive stages of a purchasing funnel that individuals need to go through during their buying process. It enables marketers to know what, where, how and when they should communicate with their customers at different buying stages. It’s very useful to think about this model when thinking about promotional goals. We can use many of same promotional activities for each different stage, having different goals in mind.
For example, marketers might run Facebook ads or press or commercials to introduce the brand and its products (attention). Then they might use the same activities to tell people why this particular brand is better than other brands. They might even use well-known people to talk about this brand’s products to generate interest and desire. Finally, they might use all the same activities in a combination with some new ones to persuade people to take action. They might run Facebook ads to show offers they have, commercials to show why and where you can get them, sales promotions to encourage you to use this chance to try these products at a discounted price, etc.
The important part here is that promotions are not necessarily all about the immediate sale, but about a relationship that is being developed between the brand and potential customers. It is about mapping out the whole journey from introducing a product to letting people know that they can trust the brand enough and buy from it once they need it. Not everyone is ready to buy right away, but they might be after a year 🙂
Promotional messages are two-sided and interactive (yes, even advertising) because each message that is sent out to the world and consumed affects receivers in some way. They might like or dislike it, they might feel inspired or motivated, the desire for the certain product might increase, etc. Each promotional activity and the response it gets from the receiver greatly influences how successful will the subsequent promotional activities be. In other words, each promotional activity and the receiver’s response to that activity are both a cause and an effect, which are governed by all their actions and reactions to each other.
Setting Promotional Goals
When we view promotions as a way to build brand-customer relationships (we should), our promotional strategies become a little bit more sophisticated and led by short-, mid-, and long-range goals. As marketers, we should understand that each promotional activity is effective and good not only of what it does (short-range goal) but also how well it prepares the audience to receive subsequent promotions (mid-range goal). Most importantly, how well it represents the brand’s image and develops the desired relationship between the brand and its customers (long-range goal).
Short-range goals are related to the desired immediate outcomes (thoughts, responses, interactions, actions, behaviours) that a person should ideally have or do after viewing or encountering a certain promotion. Short-range goals can be achieved relatively quickly – in a matter of days or weeks. I even think that short-range goals are nearly the same as objectives (long-range goals might require many objectives and goals in order to be fulfiled and I think it’s not the case with short-range goals).
These goals might be similar to the following: sell a certain amount of products, raise brand/product awareness or build an email list. For example, when businesses need to acquire short-term sales in order to generate short-term revenue quickly, they might use various incentives and sales promotions, such as coupons, discounts, competitions, or they might decide to do some direct marketing or even advertising. Other goals might even be as simple as encouraging people to visit the website (increase traffic), learn more about the company, enter the competition, or engage on social media. In other words, short-range goals are pretty specific and don’t require much time and planning to achieve.
In order to organise/create effective promotions, the following things should be well thought of:
- The maximum realistic outcome that one single chosen promotion can achieve and how well it fits the overall promotional plan.
- What possible attitudes and responses (positive and negative) already exist in people’s mind prior to such promotions.
- What attitudes and responses (positive and negative) could possibly emerge as a result of these promotions. Think of a possible counter-arguing and whether consumers will have enough time and ability to process it in the first place.
Another important thing to think about when setting short-range goals is competition. How will these promotions fit with the current communications of your competitors? The thing is, it’s possible to run a bad promotion, which, due to some sort of similarities, can confuse one’s brand with that of competitor’s or make it really hard for customers to differentiate between the two.
Successful promotions, on the other hand, not only achieve set short-range goals but can also make people confused about competitors’ claims and put them in an unfavourable position. However, even if short-range goals were achieved, it shouldn’t be expected that customers will remember the brand or form a strong opinion about it just yet.
Setting Mid-range Goals
Mid-range goals tend to focus on ensuring that the promotions sink in and that people can differentiate the brand from competitors. Such promotions require some extra effort and take a bit longer to achieve. While short-range goals focus on immediate outcomes, mid-range goals focus on making sure that customers remember the brand and want to interact with it again in the future. For example, marketers might try to evaluate how often their target audience should be exposed to certain messages in order to remember the brand or make another purchase.
In other words, marketers focus on executing promotions that would increase the chance of repeat purchases or increase audience’s loyalty. Such promotions are expected to provide a continuous reminder of the brand’s existence or its product range and strengthen a brand-customer relationship.
Such promotional activities will heavily depend on the success and effectiveness of the previous promotions. For this reason, it’s best to expect both, positive and negative, responses from the audience beforehand and prepare additional campaigns in advance to address these anticipated responses.
Ideally, these promotions force brand’s competitors into a ‘me too’ campaign or, even better, leave them unable to fight at all. However, in cases when it doesn’t work out so perfectly, the next promotions might need to be designed to counter-argue instead.
Common mid-range goals’ successes include the audiences’ ability to recognise the brand’s name, its key attributes and position in relation to competition. Consumers should be receptive to these promotions and more likely to recognise the brand in different settings, too.
For example, they might be more willing to consider the brand’s products on POS (point of sale) displays or acquire and use coupons or discounts to try them out. At this stage, marketers should be confident in thinking that their target audience has been prepared for their next interaction with them.
Setting Long-range Goals
Finally, long-range goals are about ensuring that the promotional activities follow all established brand guidelines, create an intended brand image, build community or a group of loyal customers and brand advocates. Long-range goals take a long time to achieve.
Marketers dealing with promotional strategies must know a clear vision and mission of the brand-customer relationship that a specific brand aspires to achieve. Only this knowledge and understanding can allow the marketer to organise and oversee suitable promotional messages, visuals and activities so everything would move in the right direction. Only this can ensure that potential customers develop trust and form a strong opinion about a brand.
Now, if such promotions effectively achieve long-range goals, it means that they created a consistent brand image and a strong position in the market. Customers now may favour this particular brand over the competitors. Even better, they might become loyal customers and brand advocates, who vouch for this brand to their friends and acquaintances.
If marketers fail to think about long-range goals and make sure that all promotional communications and activities are consistent with the brand’s image, then it’s possible to erode the brand’s image or inadvertently reposition competitors to a more successful position. Not the best way to build a strong familiarity, trust or reputation.
Yes, marketing is all about strategic thinking:)