Ford Kanzler On the Value of Communications Strategy


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How to improve the online marketing strategy? How to increase sales? We are running this campaign for one month now, and it is not working? Change it please.

Everyone that is responsible for creating an online marketing strategy for franchises, restaurants, startups or e-commerce businesses had to answer those questions at some point. But it takes time for the online marketing strategy work. For example, every SEO knows that results don’t happen overnight, especially in a tough market. Same goes for paid search campaigns - testing there actually never fully stops. And when there’s pressure for quick results, sometimes departments will deviate from the already established online marketing goals, will change things from their end, ultimately menacing each other’s efforts. But this is just a symptom - the bigger problem is the lack of a communications strategy.

To shed light on this important matter, we have invited Ford Kanzler, a long-time Silicon Valley PR pro, to provide practical advice, backed by many years of experience.

Ford Kanzler

You're certainly correct that within organizations of certain size and beyond, various groups or departments within and outside start going their own way on brand or product differentiation, dreaming it up as they go, never twice the same message and wasting lots of time and money because of fragmented efforts rather than a strong, sharply-focused push all in the same direction via multiple media channels.

The only significant challenges I see with having a clearly differentiated communications strategy is that it must be agreed to across various groups, maintained and/or policed. These challenges shouldn't be underestimated. Someone with authority needs to call a halt when they see people going off-strategy. That can get pretty tough in larger organizations. But it can be done. Giant Philips Electronics once accomplished it across multiple, large business units. There are also situations where a particular strategy may be great for a certain geography but not somewhere else where the competitor mix differs. An example is the company may be defending a dominant position in one geography and attempting to challenge a market leader in another. In spite of globalization and the web, there are some marketing battles that are regional or localized. Understanding that and being strategically flexible is just smart marketing.

There are many paths to implementing on-strategy tactics. That's where some fun and creativity may be well applied. But appropriate and effective tactics typically grow out of a clearly expressed and well maintained strategy. There are some exceptions where a great tactical idea created a theme that evolved into an overall approach to communications. An example is the sarcastic but helpful Auzzie Geico gecko - By applying a "persona character" (i.e. fictitious spokesperson like Mr. Clean, AFLAC duck, Spuds MacKenzie {Bud Light}, Ronald McDonald and many others) across all media, continuity was created. Geico's use of the gecko character grew out of their TV commercial spots in an attempt to create brand name awareness and correct brand name pronunciation. Then it migrated to other tactical implementations.

Too often the problem is people wanting to go tactical first, I call that "Ready, Fire, Aim." This usually results in ineffective or at best, sub-par marketing communications outcomes but lots of time and money spent. Getting aligned, directed and competitively differentiated with a clear communications strategy that's consistently applied across multiple disciplines and media channels will more usually bring far better results.

One of the key factors is not changing a good strategy just because a marketing manager, VP or CEO is getting tired of it. Usually that's about the time when the program is just starting to connect with your target audience. Instant results aren't normally a part of any business initiative. But some people still think they can make them happen or for some reason expect them to. Changing strategy should be considered as the competitive landscape demands it. Plus, great strategies usually have very long legs. Conversely, tactics can evolve and be applied as opportunities, imaginations and budgets allow.

How long must a marketing strategy be left to roll before editing it?

I mentioned that an effective communications strategy should have long legs. It isn't something that necessarily changes quarterly or even annually. A good test of a strategy's success is when your market (customers and others) begin repeating your key messages and feeding back the positioning claim or place you want to occupy in the market, your differentiation claim. Typically impatient business managers and often marketing service agencies eager to generate new work, will push for another communications strategy well before the existing one has had adequate time to penetrate the minds of the market. People's' perceptions don't change quickly.

The company also has to be living the differentiation claim or "walking the talk" if they expect people to grasp that important difference. If for example, the claimed difference is a "fun customer experience" the employees better have a highly positive attitude and the environment should elicit humor and good times. How that is accomplished month-in, month-out is tactical execution. There's plenty of room for creativity and evolving work there. But don't attempt to change how you want to be known with the seasons. That's definitely a losing strategy. So is copying a competitor's differentiating claim. Pick something important to customers that only your business can claim and sustain.

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