Every day of the business week I sit in meeting with both clients and potential clients and listen to them talk about their business goals. Regardless of the meeting, one thing is consistent: every management executive or business owner wants to grow their business and gain mindshare in areas they believe they need growth. While this may be true, it is also uniquely consistent that these companies believe, in many instances, that advertising will gain the customers faster than any other solution.
This, however, is not the case. Over two decades of experience has taught me that advertising is just that, advertising. True committed customers with ongoing relationships with a business will make their purchasing decisions based on credibility. Credibility is something lacking in advertising. While advertising is an excellent branding and awareness tool, before any organization should begin an advertising program, it is mission critical to have a game plan. A true, effective plan will include quite a bit more than mere advertising ideas and spend. It will include the management of the message and the brand from all aspects of corporate communications, both internally and externally.
Take, for example, a company that has a limited budget and needs to reach a large audience for growth but knows it is in a state of growth internally and externally. Creating a huge advertising campaign is not necessarily what I would recommend. Instead, I would tell the customer to put together a marketing and communications plan that, over the course of time, addresses all facets of brand and product/service recognition before entering into formal advertising contracts. For example, is your brand consistent throughout all of your materials? Do your staff members stay on message when talking to customers? Does your website bring you customers or is it just a placeholder of information that distracts from your core competencies? How is your reputation online? How positive are your online reviews? Does your product/service have brand recognition and resonate with your potential customer pool?
If your answer to one or more of these questions is anything but yes, then it should be understood that an effective marketing program will, by its very definition, need to begin by fixing the problematic areas first, prior to utilizing your advertising spend. More than fifty percent of companies that advertise do so based on gut decisions and not based on effective communications practices. How, then, does this help you?
I tell both current and potential clients to think of advertising as ego and strong, effective public relations and reputation marketing initiatives as the cornerstone of their success. If your message is not resonating with your target market prior to advertising, your advertisement will only create more market confusion. In other words, sophisticated managers and business owners understand the value of practicing before the big game. In this scenario, the advertising dollars are the big game but the real success comes from the strength and value of your brand, products/services, reputation, and, most importantly, your message. At Cornerstone Communications, ltd., this is our message…in our voice.