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Top Three Tips For Bridging The Gaps In Your Annual Marketing Plan

via ForbesOne of the most sought-after marketing initiatives is a steady public awareness drumbeat. Every marketing director wants to build one. However, there are roadblocks to establishing a consistent drumbeat, and the single largest one is that most companies typically only have three or four major announcements per year. It can be a struggle to build regular positive messaging without equally regular product or company news.

The effort is worth the struggle, though. Generating a regular cadence of awareness offers major benefits to many areas of an organization, even beyond filling the gaps between company announcements. Regular messaging also creates opportunities for consumers to easily slide into the top of the sales funnel and generates more leads for business-to-business development.

Here are three things you can do today to bridge marketing gaps and create a drumbeat of awareness:

Launch a consumer insights program.

The idea of surveying large groups for data is as old as Babylonian population censuses, and modern technology has made the process simple and adaptable. Designing and running a consumer insights program allows marketing teams to accomplish several key goals.

Consumer insights programs are opportunities to gather feedback from customers on their perceptions of a product and brand. They also highlight avenues for future marketing opportunities and channels. Perhaps most important when considering how to bridge marketing gaps, insights programs give the company newsworthy intelligence they can take to the media.

At my company, we recently launched a far-reaching consumer insight survey that focused on personal cell phone habits and trends. Although the overall thrust of the questions intersected with our core business, we also asked about general, everyday behaviors to learn more about how people live with their cell phones.

The results were stunning. Our study was picked up by major media outlets across the globe and used in human interest articles that highlighted the most tantalizing bits of information. Although we were between major product launches, our company name was circulating on dozens of outlets, many of which receive millions of visits per day.

The essence of consumer insights is to benefit as much of the company as possible. As marketing directors work with their teams to create these programs, it is important to learn the needs of other key departments and help gather information that will benefit them as well. Our survey generated some tremendous consumer data that will help optimize our campaign messaging and provide insights our sales team can leverage.

Leverage customer stories.

We are in an age of declining public trust in companies, with corporate marketing very much included under that umbrella. Conversely, 85% of people rely on virtually anonymous online reviews as much as they rely on their friends’ opinions. As Ron Nessen — a former White House press secretary under Gerald Ford — once said, “Nobody believes the official spokesman but everybody trusts an unidentified source.”

This shift in thinking requires a parallel shift in marketing strategies, specifically by pointing to positive stories from customers. These stories, including case studies, feedback and testimonials, can be powerful tools.

The easiest stories to find generally come from the customer service team, when a person or organization contacts the company to share a positive experience. Without question, such feedback should be filtered to the marketing team for consideration. Other customer experiences will come through different customer-facing channels, like sales.

Finding, soliciting and leveraging case studies and testimonials gives companies an opportunity to bridge the marketing gap with the trusted word of fellow customers. Positive stories can furnish the sales funnel with valuable content from blogs, marketing assets and business development materials.

Connect with customers through creative social media campaigns.

It wasn’t too long ago that a company’s “social media expert” was the person who knew how to log into Twitter, but the industry is developing rapidly. Social media is how the rising generations find brands, and those channels are a missed opportunity if not utilized.

There are terabytes of business articles on the internet promising the secrets of how to unlock social media, but the underlying strategies are largely the same for everyone. Companies need to commit to social media efforts and integrate across key departments. A consistent voice is important to build a corporate personality, and engaging with audiences and conversations is crucial.

The benefits of a strategic social media plan reach across the entire organization. Engaging with personality helps consumers and corporate buyers make a human connection to the brand. Highlighting other elements of a company, including employees and workplace culture, bridges news between announcements. Providing real-time customer service and identifying trends and pain points helps customer-facing departments.

Of course, making connections, highlighting facets of a company and identifying trends are all goals of more traditional marketing efforts. In this way, social media can be a tremendous bridge for marketing gaps and a tool that should not be left on the table.

I got my start in public relations. In both marketing and PR, efforts to fill the gaps tend to be equal parts strategy and scrambling. Bridging these gaps is particularly beneficial for companies that tend to become hyper-focused on products or services, as many smaller companies do.

Marketing directors can reach media and potential customers between major announcements by gathering and utilizing consumer insights, leveraging customer stories and creating intelligent social media plans. The results can contribute significantly to building a public awareness drumbeat and ultimately strengthen the company’s bottom line.

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