Cataloging Time

Wow! Time flies between blog posts if I’m not careful. I realized this morning that I hadn’t written anything in more than a week. Since my time the last few weeks has been spent working on catalog pages for the various retailers my company works with, I figured I would take a few minutes and share my thoughts on tactical execution of marketing programs. Why are certain tactics selected year after year and yet have limited return on the time and money spent to develop and distribute materials?

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

National retailers, for example, have depended on printed catalogs for many decades. Hundreds of thousands are delivered to homes around the world. As a child, I remember receiving the Sears Christmas catalog or Toys R Us supplements and pouring over them for hours. Pages would be dog-eared and passed on to my grandparents for Christmas or birthday gift ideas. But the question I have is whether or not catalogs remain a staple in the consumer world?

Considering the amount of time I’ve spent developing content and design for just a few pages, I can’t help but think about the time spent on the retailers’ side — combining all products and manufacturers into a book that makes sense to the consumer and will earn the best response in sales. But then I wonder about the web pages and store fronts where thousands of visitors each day browse and buy product from those same manufacturers. Is the amount of time and money spent developing catalogs really worth it? Or is this just another case of continuing a tradition just because that’s the way it’s always been, and it’s really not necessary?

Here are a few posts that have additional thoughts — Catalogs Still A Valuable Tool, Even in Internet Age, Glossy Catalogs Still Lure Shoppers. I’m actually torn. I see both sides of the need but am interested in your thoughts. Please share.

Who Represents Marketing?

There have been several interesting posts recently about who owns the social media function. One of those posts generated a conversation on Twitter between myself, @mandy_vavrinak and @patrickallmond, and I started thinking. Dangerous I know. 🙂

The comment was made that PR or Marketing should manage the social media function, and if people using social media are not in Marketing then they need to be moved there. I don’t agree with that statement because I believe everyone in a company represents Marketing in some form or fashion.

Organizational structures are different with every company. Some have Marketing and a separate PR department, while others combine the two functions into a single department. I know there are arguments as to which is the ideal situation, but that’s not the point of this post. I think we can all agree that there must be an area in the company that focuses on strategic communication, messaging and the management of the plan’s execution. I would be surprised if we didn’t also agree that there needs to be an understanding that everyone within a company represents the brand, and therefore becomes an extension of the Marketing department.

Marketing’s job is to work with senior management to develop the right strategic communications plan that works with the business’ objectives. It is our job to not only determine how that message is to be shared with external audiences but, more importantly, how it is to be shared with internal audiences.

Whether you work in IT, Engineering, Customer Service, Sales or HR, every single person should recognize the talking points that matter most to the company for a given year or period of time. If you can’t walk down the hall and ask every one you see what those points are and get the  response you desire from your team members, then you are not doing your job as a communicator, in my opinion. Somewhere in the communication chain is a breakdown that needs to be addressed.

That’s not to say that the message is so scripted that there isn’t room for personality or individuality. However, a solidly prepared plan provides a foundation on which all conversations can be held. The company’s communication and social media policies must be shared throughout the organization.

I was fortunate at one company to work with a President who worked very hard to share the business and marketing strategies with all employees. He would host town halls, luncheons, manager meetings, etc. to create the opportunity to share but also listen to what employees had to say. If there was a disconnect between what he was saying and what he heard then he would come back to us in Marketing and figure out new and different ways of conveying the message.

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Your employees are one of the most important assets for your brand. While products and services evolve, the core foundation will remain your employees, and allowing them to develop the knowledge, subject matter expertise and loyalty needed to do their jobs properly plays an integral role in how your brand is perceived in the marketplace. This means too that you are empowering others in the organization to execute on the communications plan, giving up a measure of control over what might be said, to build an employee base who believes in the brand and feels as if they have a true stake in the organization. The key for the business and for us as strategic communicators is to train others to use the available tools well and understand the messages completely. Our success as marketers depends on it.

What are your thoughts?

Engaging the Consumer

keith-urban-10Friday evening my wonderful husband took me to see Keith Urban and Sugarland in concert at Tulsa’s BOK Center. If you knew how much my husband despises country music, you would realize what a sacrifice this was for him.

But that’s beside the point.

I enjoyed the concert a great deal, but one thing in particular stuck out in my mind. During the two plus hours of rocking music, Keith Urban did a fantastic job of working the crowd. At one point early on, he made his way through the throngs of insane female fans on the floor, playing guitar the entire way, to a small stage at the back of the arena where he then played a relatively low-key, acoustic set. He later moved from the main stage to the side of the arena for a song as well. In between, Urban energetically worked the main stage, playing every corner. Urban and Sugarland even combined forces to throw the Oklahoma audience into a tizzy by singing “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma,” which they claimed to have just practiced Friday afternoon as a treat.

Now, I’ve been to many concerts in my life and this was the first time where I truly felt like the artist was connected with the audience. Urban wanted us to have fun, and worked hard to make it so. My marketing mind mulled that one all weekend, thinking about how important it is for brands to find the right balance between selling a product and connecting with the consumer.

How many brands have you found that truly interact with the consumer, whether that is through social media channels or mainstream marketing methods? Does the amount of time a brand spends engaged directly with you impact your loyalty? I’m curious what you think.

Is All PR Good for Business?

trust1

Photo from Google Images

PR stunts are common. For generations, publicists for all types of companies have brainstormed “brilliant” events and tricks to garner attention for their product or service. PT Barnum is one of the more famous individuals in the stunt world, and PR Week published this list of PR stunts that would make Barnum proud.

It recently came to my attention that a car dealership in a northeastern Oklahoma town chose to promote itself by dropping a pickup off the side of a 19-story landmark building. Thousands of people attended this street party and publicity opportunity only to discover that there was no truck but instead the car dealership lowered a banner over the side of the building promoting a cash incentive on said truck. Here is the car dealership’s version; here is a take on the situation as written by a colleague of mine. Watch the video on YouTube here.

While PR stunts like this have been common for many, many years, I’m hesitant to encourage companies to attempt this sort of publicity because it rarely works — more often than not, it completely backfires. While this car dealership may not lose business in its’ small town, one has to wonder whether, in this age of transparency and openness, if the use of traditional tactics as well as as social media to promote an event where the end result focused on generating sales for the dealership is the right move.

I’m a proponent for being upfront, honest and above board with customers, employees and other stakeholders. It’s a matter of integrity for me. I don’t want anyone to question whether or not my business will treat them right or fairly. By choosing to launch a PR stunt like the one described above, it calls into question how the organization will respond in the future.

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

The World of Retail Marketing

Working in a retail marketing position has forced me to ask a pretty basic question in our organization. “Who is our customer?” Unfortunately, the internal answer is not clear cut. I have found that there are two groups: one views the retailers, dealers and distributors who we sell through as our customer; the second views consumers as our key customers.

Personally, I’m a proponent for the latter. While very important to the business, I believe the retailers, dealers and distributors are facilitators for us to sell our products. We need them to help us get our products into the hands of valuable consumers, but they are not what I would call the most important audience for us to reach. That disctinction should fall to the consumer. Without consumers who choose to spend their hard-earned money on our products, we would not be successful or able to sustain our business.

My question, however, remains. In an organization that views the designated sales channels as our main customer, does that mean that the consumer doesn’t matter? Does that affect business strategies and the overall marketing approach? Should it?

From my experience, it does affect strategy … but not in a good way.

With a consumer-based business, the marketing strategies used should be centered on ensuring that the entire experience that the consumer has with our company is positive. We should want him or her to return and spread the good word about our company and product. In a channel-based business, my experience has shown that budget dollars are allocated toward identifying ways to train sales associates but not much more. Promotional dollars are spent on dealer discounts versus consumer rebates.

One thing I can say about my experiences on the business to consumer side of the marketing world, I have changed my perspective on brands to which I choose to be loyal. I want to use and buy products that appear to value the end consumer.

The challenge for me is to strengthen my advocacy for the consumer within the company. Being the voice of the consumer is a critical part of ensuring the future of our organization is strong.