Small and Midsized Company 2016 Marketing Communications Forecasts

By now, you’ve probably seen the forecasts referring to 2016 as an “OK” year, with US GDP growth of about 2.6 percent, unemployment at 4.8 percent, wage growth of 2.7 percent, and increased volatility in financial and political arenas.

Why would any B2B, B2C or nonprofit marketer feel comfortable with this outlook? In fact, the December Chief Executive Magazine’s “Confidence Index” for the year ahead is at its lowest since June, 2014.

Marketing Communications Forecasts

With so many macro strategic and tactical issues on the horizon, it’s difficult to know where to start. But corporate and nonprofit marketers will still have to make decisions about their businesses, so here are my top five forecasts for you to consider as they relate to your marketing communications needs in the coming year.

1. Current client-agency relationships are at a very low level, and there will be an increase in the use of outside marketing communications consultants and groups to help small and midsized organizations.

Over time, client’s lack of trust in their agencies, combined with the huge overhead garnered by the larger agencies, has resulted in a weakening of the bond between clients and agencies. As an example, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recently hired two consulting firms to investigate allegations of undisclosed rebates in digital media flowing to agencies. Much to the chagrin of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the ANA is working without their involvement.

Is it any wonder there was/is $30 billion under review in 2015? Transparency is the new black.

2. Content marketing will become even more important, as marketers learn to use market research and data analysis to deliver more meaningful information to customers and prospects. Further, as the number of people in the US blocking ads rose to 45 million in the second quarter of 2015 (up 48 percent from a year earlier), the economic viability of digital media is threatened. Taken together, this offers a unique opportunity to provide customers, prospects and donors with better information once the marketer understand what they really want to know. Look before you leap.

3. How marketers gather, analyze and integrate data about customers and prospects will help determine how well they achieve marketing and profitable sales success. By 2017, 69 percent of marketers say they expect data to drive most of their decisions (Gartner).

Everyone agrees there is an overwhelming amount of data. That’s the good news. The challenge is knowing how to interpret it and being able to communicate the implications correctly and effectively. Without this skill set, the entire marketing communications ROI is just another fancy name.

4. In 2016, with political advertising dominating media, many small and midsized companies and nonprofits will be priced out, finding it difficult to secure and/or afford many media and marketing tactical services. Next year, Advertising Age estimates that media will account for 54 percent of spending, while other marketing services will account for 46 percent.

Specifically, direct marketing is projected to account for one-third of all spending, followed by television at 23 percent, digital at 15 percent, plus newspapers and sponsorships, each at six percent. More than ever, being flexible and media neutral should be the first priority.

5. Despite the seemingly daily appearance of new online marketing tactics, human connections will, in fact, become more important. The explosion of digital tactics has created a unique opportunity to efficiently build awareness and initiate a dialogue. However, it’s also left behind a lot of clutter in its wake.

If you want to close a sale, you may have to resort to the “old” method of face to face relationships. In fact, nearly eight out of ten B2B and B2C marketers use in-person events for just that reason. Importantly, employees who understand the category and believe in the product can provide the quality, sincerity and emotional connection that are missing in most digital dialogues. Your own employees can not only be significant brand ambassadors but can also be an important source of customer feedback. Don’t be afraid to use them.

There are many other areas of prognostication worthy of discussion – including mobile, native advertising, baby boomers vs. millennials, internal communications, ROI measurement, videos, etc., etc. – but I believe the forecasts discussed above will have a significant impact not just on 2016 but the years ahead. The question then becomes what to do about them.

Marketing Communications Consultants Add Value

With all of the changes in the years ahead, consumers, buyers and donors will be forced to become more knowledgeable and more demanding, and will become even more cautious about how to spend their money. The rapid changes in technology have created an “always on” media environment. And a recent study by Forrester Research reports that over one-third of marketers currently feel overwhelmed by change.

I believe the 2016 will be the year of people, not technology or media or brands or companies. In almost all organizations, but especially in small and midsized ones, people are probably stretched to the limit and/or simply do not possess the background or expertise to handle the marketing communications challenges of 2016.

Because of this, an increasing number of for profit and nonprofit organizations have partnered with established senior level consultants to help develop, refine and, if appropriate, implement ROI focused programs. Look for people with broad industry and brand experience, across organizations, large and small. Candor should flourish. Look to make your future better than your past.

Tactics To Improve Nonprofit Marketing – Your Anniversary And A Marketing Communications Audit

With revenues at nonprofit organizations increasing by only 0.9 percent, to $298 billion in 2011, according to Giving USA, it is no secret how difficult fundraising has become in today’s environment. Add to that the possibilities of an upcoming fiscal cliff and the loss of tax deductions for charitable contributions and you wind up with a very daunting picture.

Your advisory board, committee members and staff all want to help, and look to organization leadership for direction. Now, more than ever, is the time to focus on the development of a meaningful marketing communications plan to profitably improve your fundraising efforts.

As you develop your plan, and evaluate various directions and opportunities, I suggest you consider two tactics that have proven successful for improving marketing ROI.

Market Your Anniversary
Your anniversary offers a unique opportunity to rekindle enthusiasm and galvanize all of your constituents to the relevance, importance and needs of the organization. It gives you the chance to tell your story, not just about your past, but more importantly, about your plans and goals for the future. And don’t think that an anniversary has to be only in multiples of 25 years. Your 33rd, properly marketed, can be as meaningful as your 50th.

Some communications tactics to consider in marketing your anniversary include creating:

  • An event or events to provide the maximum amount of interaction among existing and potential donors, volunteers, staff, foundations and the local community. But make sure your event doesn’t isolate your various constituencies. They want to talk to one another, not be lectured. Interaction leads to engagement.
  • A special theme and logo. But also consider a historical book and CD, or a one of a kind commemorative piece of artwork (that can also be used on your website). And employ a meaningful mix of both traditional and new media to create excitement.
  • A corporate – nonprofit partnership. Your anniversary can provide the trigger point for new collaborations with business partners, bringing in real rewards for both organizations. And these new relationships can last for many years.

These examples are just a start. But we encourage you to start thinking of your anniversary as a 12 to 18 month marketing communications program and branding tool to improve your ROI.

Conduct A Marketing Communications Audit
As was recently pointed out by Tom Buday, head of marketing and communications at Nestle, the best source of marketing communications leverage in the for profit world is the quality of the messaging. It’s not the media vehicle that does or does not deliver, rather it’s the quality of the messaging.

Applying this to nonprofits means that it is imperative for you to evaluate your program and its elements. Invariably, nonprofits employ a media mix of direct mail, events, newsletters, public relations, social media, emailing and advertising in some combination. A marketing communications audit can help you determine how your program is working as a whole, while also evaluating how each message is performing against your established objectives.

This type of audit will help you determine whether the elements of your creative approach – graphics, tone and manner, and subject manner – are working together with one clear and meaningful message. Ultimately, the results of an audit will not only improve the quality and integration of your messaging but also help you determine how your media mix and budgets should be tailored.

Whether or not you take advantage of marketing your anniversary, a marketing communications audit can make a significant difference to your programs and ROI. Doesn’t it make a lot of sense to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your programs before your commit significant dollars and time behind them?

Marketing Consultants Can Help
If you’re like most nonprofits, the majority of your time, talent and treasury is devoted to your passion for the people, programs and services you provide. The same is probably true of many of your most committed volunteers.

Given that, does your organization have the marketing and marketing communications talent and experience to develop the strategies, plans and tactics that are necessary to help you succeed in today’s environment? Trying to find this among your already overworked and underfunded staff or your volunteers doesn’t make much sense.

Your budgets are tight but can you really afford not to bring in outside help? Look for marketing communications consulting partners to help you and your team develop and execute these programs. Above all, select consultants with broad scope and extensive senior level experience across industries and brands, in both the for profit and nonprofit arenas.

Importantly, they should be media neutral, not selling one particular marketing solution, and willing to “tell it like it is” so candor will flourish. Their fresh eyes will go a long way when it comes to improving your ROI.

A Mid-Market Company Marketing Communications Audit Could Improve ROI

Whether you’re a B2C, B2B or nonprofit marketer, developing your new marketing and marketing communications plan is always a challenge. And today, despite some glimmers of improvement to the economy, the world in which you operate is probably still a precarious one.

As you move forward in your planning process, one of the difficult questions you face is how to allocate your precious resources – money, time and people – among the various disciplines under consideration – social media, traditional media, content marketing, PR and events – as well as what message to deliver across them

Maybe now is the time to consider an audit of your marketing communications program to determine what is and what isn’t working. Look before you leap!

Developing A New Marketing Communications Plan

If you haven’t recently (or ever) conducted a marketing communications audit, now is the ideal time to do so, before committing your already stretched resources. Like a financial audit, this process will provide an independent picture of your current actions; in this case, it will help you determine the strengths and weakness of your marketing program as a whole, as well as how each communication tactic and message does or does not contribute to your objectives and strategy.

This review should include a thorough analysis of all of your internal and external communications tactics, creative approach, media mix, subject matter, budgets and market research. Interviews with key personal may also be necessary.

Benefits Of A Marketing Communications Audit

An audit can go a long way toward helping you through your planning to maximize ROI. It can provide you with:

  1. An understanding of where improvement is needed in your outbound and inbound messaging, so that a more holistic approach can be developed;
  2. An understanding of what is registering with your customers, prospects and employees versus what they really want to know about your brand;
  3. Knowledge of the connects and disconnects of your current theming, graphics, tone and manner of all messaging across all media – both traditional and new;
  4. Help in determining what subject matter should be communicated and what messages should be minimized or eliminated;
  5. An improved budget allocation, resource distribution and media mix to maximize your marketing communications ROI.

The results of the audit will provide you with an actionable and coordinated road map of message and message delivery, media mix and spending allocation across traditional and new media communications tactics. It will also provide you with peace of mind, knowing that you’ve developed your plan with increased rigor and professionalism.

Marketing Communications Consultants Round Out Your Team

All B2C, B2B and nonprofit marketers face increasing scrutiny to prove the value of their programs, as well as to demonstrate improved ROI. As you face this scrutiny, one thing is certain – your constituents, be they customers, prospects or donors, know a lot about your brand well before beginning a dialogue with you, or meeting face to face, much less buying.

Having the skills, time and budgets to build favorable awareness of and attitudes toward your brand among these constituents in advance of buying is a significant challenge. If this strikes a chord, now may be the time to tap into established, experienced and media neutral consultants to help you with your marketing communications audit.

Select consultants with broad scope and senior level experience across industries and brands, who are willing to “”tell it like it is” so candor will flourish. This apolitical objectivity can be a significant value to the profitable improvements of your brand. So don’t go it alone.

Creating Great Marketing Communications: The Art and Science of the Written Word

Great marketing communications isn’t rocket science. Yet, there is a mix of science and art to achieve the right mix of eye-catching style, valuable content, and grammatical excellence. The skills necessary to produce it can be dauntingly elusive. And nothing can wreck the efficiency of precious marketing dollars than a mixed message or one that is poorly communicated. Some 45 years ago, when newspapers, radio, and television were the only communication vehicles, Marshall McLuhan stated, “the medium is the message” (and the 21st Century’s growing media choices seem to validate McLuhan’s famous quotation), and for business today, carefully considering multiple media for delivery of your critical message has never been more important. For small business executives, delivering your core message isn’t easy, amidst the flood of new and old media available today (web sites, blogs, social networking sites, podcasts and webcasts, e-mail blasts, local/national television commercials, radio spots, and print advertising). But it starts, as it always has, with the written word.

The current economic environment has spawned many providers of new and excellent services to help you with the art and science of marketing your business. But quality content still remains at the heart of any marketing message. In fact, it is more important than ever. Marketing automation technologies can churn out corporate messages in tremendous volume, but the quality of these messages (including the style, grammar, etc) can make or break your marketing effort.

Few things will distract a customer’s attention from effective messaging than misspellings, grammatical mistakes, or awkward sentences that must be reread before their meaning is eventually revealed. Publishers have learned that the reader’s eye can be subconsciously drawn to errors, like poor spacing, bad syllable breaks, and repeated words, breaking the reader’s train of thought. This happens regardless of the medium: E-mails or text messages are perceived by the mind’s eye just as a magazine or book might be. Text messages or twitters, which are intentionally misspelled or incorrectly abbreviated so that they are easily typed, are not always easy to read despite their brevity.

Many small companies have employees who can handle information technology or Web-related tasks. Consider the E-mail blast that mentions the July issue of your newsletter: One that you’ve spent considerable time, effort, and money to develop. However, the E-mail says July 2009 not 2010. The customer wonders why you’re sending old, possibly obsolete, information. There is a saying that a customer believes they will be serviced the way they are sold. The same can be applied to how they are marketed.

How many times have you been annoyed when visiting an interesting website, found some information that can be useful, and clicked on a malfunctioning link? It stops you (and other potential customers) dead in your tracks.

And many small business owners can relate to this scenario: You develop a product brochure to be used on the company website and printed for future marketing efforts, like an upcoming convention. The day after it is printed, mailed, or posted, you notice an embarrassing typo: The name of a well-known client has been misspelled. Or two product photographs have been switched. Or the contact information has been dropped from the back cover. Do you want to spend time and money reprinting a necessary marketing communication?

Editing and editorial services, in general, may be overlooked, especially in tight economic markets. Doing so, however, imperils a small business’ marketing efforts. Spending hard-earned dollars to upgrade a website, launch an email newsletter, use Google AdWords, or produce other marketing collateral, without having the editorial skills at hand to make that investment payoff, is like building a house on a poorly constructed foundation.

Does your business have the capabilities to generate distinctive messages with precise grammatical structure, pristine presentation, and clarity of thought? Does your organization focus on the written word, and how your critical marketing messages are portrayed to potential customers?

Infusing quality communications into your business development and marketing planning can mean the difference between stagnancy and growth. To optimize business development and marketing efforts, business executives (small or large) ensure that its core message is integrated into all communications, from business cards and logo tag lines, from press releases to product brochures, and from websites to client E-mails.

Most small businesses, particularly those with fewer than 20 workers, do not have their own Communications Department. Often, senior-level employees take on the task of communications as well as marketing and business development. Recognizing the need to not allow coordinated communication efforts to stagnate in today’s difficult economic environment will be critical to business success in the near future.

One solution to generating high-quality marketing communications is outsourcing it to an firm with experience and expertise is the wide variety of media that are essential today. communications and marketing services is one extremely efficient method for crafting your organization’s message, publicizing it through various media, and producing needed results, whether you’re seeking more E-mail requests for proposals, increased traffic on the company’s website, greater recognition at local business meetings or events, or simply more sales.

The ability to isolate, identify, and effectively deliver your message is integral to communicating with current customers and reaching potential new customers and different markets.

More Critical Reasons for Integrating Editorial Services Into Your Marketing Efforts
• A Web home page must use its words sparingly, yet clearly communicate your value proposition. Visitors will read a line or two from the home page before moving on, so it is imperative to hold their attention with your company’s message.
• A one-page company “Fact Sheet” is a perfect leave-behind or follow-up E-mail attachment for a new prospect. Its style should concisely, but precisely, generate a clear picture of your company’s strengths and differentiating features.
• A press release can serve to announce new contracts, communicate with potential clients about new products, build credibility by highlighting completed work. Yet, creating a press release that provides more than advertising – ensuring that it gets exposure–is the key to success.
• A periodic E-mail blast or company newsletter can inform and can help you stay “top of mind” with your prospects. It can provide value-added information related directly to your services. Writing a custom newsletter can be easy task with solid editorial support.