For many small businesses in New Jersey, the luxury of an integrated marketing approach may seem like something only large businesses can afford, especially given how difficult it is to understand today’s increasingly complex marketplace, where consumers get their information from a diverse array of media.
However, many marketing firms in New Jersey say that a good integrated marketing program is not only within the reach of a small business with a limited budget, but has become practically essential to hone one’s message to the most effective degree and make every advertising dollar count.
Integrated marketing has caught on in recent years as a way to coordinate a business’s promotional efforts and deliver one consistent message to the consumer that triggers an automatic response of recognition whenever that company’s name or logo appears in a forum, whether it is a social media channel or a billboard.
“In terms of how marketing works and the science behind it, when the company’s name comes up and you’re in the market to buy, you think of them first,” says Debra Taeschler, president and CEO of marketing firm GráficaGroup of Morristown. “The important thing is to be consistent in your branding in any media channel that is best suited for your company in your industry, and with the revenue you have to spend.”
Marketing pros interviewed for this story says small businesses today can cut through the clutter of an increasingly fragmented and competitive marketplace if they simply put some effort into formulating a good integrated marketing strategy and hire a capable firm that can help them with that process and also usher them through good execution and follow up.
The marketing expertise and the implementation do not have to come at a heavy price, they say. The advent of the internet and social media have created numerous affordable options for small businesses that did not exist before. Now, a small business can put up a website for very little cost and begin to promote itself through other channels that feed back to the website and can be used to gather vital marketing information that can fuel the development of improved strategies for selling products and services.
In addition, many market tracking and response tools are available that are also very affordable and can serve as vital pegs of an effective integrated marketing plan.
“We really tell our customers your website is your key. Your website is your fundamental starting point, because all of the channels normally point to the website, whether you’re coming from the website and going to other areas or being directed back to the website, for sales or for more information on a product or service. You need to make sure your website is really solid and is accessible to people,” says Janel Patti, executive vice president and creative director of The Marcus Group of Little Falls.
“You need to reach people on a variety of different channels and digital offers some great rate opportunities at really low or minimal costs, and that’s what makes it so doable and so accessible to small businesses. Websites now can be designed responsively and mobile friendly, so that even a small business can produce a website that can really cull and maximize all of the channels that it is using,” Patti says.
But marketing pros point out that for businesses small and large alike, you can’t simply put up a website and expect the consumer world to beat a path to your door. There needs to be a lot of strategy around the design of the website and how it fits into your overall marketing approach. Some businesses make the mistake of thinking they can do it all themselves, and other businesses quickly become overwhelmed by the breadth of tools and channels out there, and in both cases, the focus and guidance offered by an experienced marketing firm can make the difference between a marketing plan that works and one that fizzles, the professionals say.
“Before, it was a very simple process,” says Jeffrey Barnhart, president and CEO of Creative Marketing Alliance of West Windsor. “You go back maybe 10 years ago, you had broadcast, you had print, you had direct response. That was pretty much it. Now, you have a lot of digital media – social media – that you can use that are very effective.”
For his clients, the first step is to sit down and go over goals and expectations, he says. From there, you can work backward and develop a road map that will get your firm where it wants to be in terms of reaching the target audience and achieving broader recognition and revenues.
“The process that we use is called ‘Marketecture,’” Barnhart says. “We analyze customers’ buying points and competitive challenges and the marketplace forces that impact their company. From there, we’re able to develop a plan, a strategy and the appropriate tactics to accomplish those objectives.”
Such a plan of attack was developed recently for the hamburger chain Smashburger, which, with CMA’s help, opened two new restaurants in Lawrence (last September) and East Windsor (November). Barnhart’s firm combined e-mail marketing, community events and social media to get the word out about the restaurant openings.
A key to such integrated marketing is coordinating the message to make it resonate with consumers across different platforms of media. “Consistency in the messaging is critical no matter what the medium,” Barnhart says.
Patti gave the example of a small New Jersey engineering firm that already had a marketing program in place, as well as a website. It needed consistency and refinement in messaging to make a better impact on its target customers. In this case, an increased volume of promotion was not what was needed. The engineering firm’s message had been somewhat muffled by a marketing plan that was more scattershot than focused, as a good integrated marketing plan should be.
The Marcus Group made the firm’s website more current and dynamic with case histories and public relations components, such as press releases, articles and speaking engagements. “They had a limited advertising budget, as most small businesses do. We helped to identify what the key publications or outlets were for them, prioritizing them in terms of primary and secondary. That made for the best use of their dollars,” Patti says.
A good integrated marketing plan can also incorporate the beauty of simplicity, says John Martorana, president of Oxford Communications of West Amwell. He says a small business could start off with a few well-coordinated elements of promotion and build up from there based on results. Where the marketing firm can help with the process is by doing its due diligence to find out how the target business can generate more customers and more leads of the type that are needed.
“It’s really about establishing a partnership in the beginning, so that you’re investing in a business,” Martorana says. “They’re giving up their time to make you as smart as possible.” Sometimes, the sales people provide the most useful information for this process because they’re the ones who are facing potential customers each day and working to overcome the objections to buying the product or services. “The information gathered in those types of formats is invaluable,” he says.
Another thing that a seasoned marketing firm can do to help a small business or a large one is to process and interpret a lot of the data that is collected on sales, customers and potential customers. Often, a company doesn’t know what to do with all of the information it has on hand. “Part of our job or a marketer’s job will be to take that data and give you – the business owner – an executive summary on lead quality and lead generation,” Martorana says. Armed with such information boiled down into a helpful analysis, executive decision-making can be much better informed, he says.
What Martorana’s firm also likes to do is create a calendar of action that is based around the integrated marketing strategy. The calendar lays out different stages of the marketing approach, so that achievements can be cross-checked with the agenda month by month and followed up with each successive stage of action. Martorana says that helps to organize the marketing efforts and provide the perspective needed for adjustment and fine tuning.
A systematic approach is key to an effective integrated program, Taeschler agrees, but a little grit has to be worked into the formula, she says. “Once you have that foundation in place, the hardest part is remaining true to it.” The good news is that may be easier for a small business, in some instances, to accomplish that, because larger organizations are often siloed and marketing efforts are pursued by different departments, leading to fragmentation and a confused message.
“In a smaller business, it should be easier to do because you have more control over what’s being produced,” Taeschler says.
Many businesses, small and large alike, make the mistake of shopping around for marketing elements without seeking the planning component that should go hand in hand with an integrated approach, marketing professionals say. Business representatives come to them and say, “How much does it cost?” Whereas, first they should do a little brainstorming with the marketing firm to understand the process a little better.
“Looking at your audience, determining what your goals are, identifying a strategy creating a message and then using the appropriate mediums for that is critical, no matter what the medium,” Barnhart says. “And I think when you package all that together, you almost have to start at the end and say, ‘What am I trying to achieve?’ so you can try to back in what you need to get there.
“I think a lot of people in today’s market – whatever process they call it – enter into a program without desired results or a predetermined idea of what they want to achieve,” Barnhart says.
Some things can be done by small businesses and others have to be left to the pros. “Small businesses are becoming more savvy online and are able to set up their own websites, but they don’t have the abilities or resources to do some public relations activities – to do press releases and keep track of things that are impacting their businesses,” Patti says. “And that may be the best way and the best spend of their dollars. But, overall, it’s really important for them to have an idea of their budget. The strategy is different if you have $10,000 or $50,000 dollars.”
Precision tools for gauging the success of an integrated approach abound. Taeschler notes the value of “attribution modeling,” which enables businesses to pinpoint the exact media mix – television, print, radio, web – that pulled in the customers. “Attribution modeling can give you the analysis on what combination of media works,” she says. “You have to set the campaign up right from the beginning to do that, but the beauty of it is you can do that.”
Martorana of Oxford Communications notes the value of “conversion tracking,” which helps to tally the number of sales and customer leads that are generated by online ads. Another form of conversion tracking, known as pixel tracking, helps to track sales or “conversions,” as well as the number of page views and ad clicks.
Google Analytics is one such conversion tracking service that is favored by the pros. It is free on a basic level, and premium options are available at cost. Both large and small businesses have been known to use it.
An additional tool available is call tracking, which tells you which form of media generated a call to a client, Martorana notes.
“The great thing about marketing in today’s world is there are ways to understand what’s happening and what’s not … way better than at any other time in history,” he says.