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Linear Versus Spacial Communications Plans

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

In talking with industry communications managers over the past two years, the common "complaint" has been that management gives them goals and objectives without the budgets needed to "achieve" them.

When pressed further, marcom people will say they don't have a large enough advertising budget.

Maybe yes.

Maybe no.

Because of the growing complexity of selling in the marketplace, the likelihood that advertising will have a direct cause and effect on sales and profits is probably less than communications people and advertising and on-line-only agencies would like you to believe.

We have never seen a study published that definitively says spending X dollars will result in X+Y sales.  Most of the studies dance around the subject saying that "advertising at X level assisted in increasing sales."

And while advertising-oriented people are quick to claim credit when sales go up, they are just as quick to say that the fault lies with sales and marketing management when sales increases don't materialize.

Marcom and agency people who hitch their wagons solely to the media and on-line advertising stars are generally in for a short ride. This is because advertising is only one of the marketing and sales tools a company can and should use in today's rapidly changing marketplace.

BPAA Study

In fact, according to a recent Business/Professional Advertising Association (BPAA) report, business publication advertising isn't even a major portion of the marketing/sales support budget.  BPAA reports that only five percent of the nearly $350 billion spent is used for advertising.  More than 60 percent is spent on direct mail, telemarketing, trade shows, and sales promotion.

While management presses for hard facts and figures, it is still true that marketing, sales, and communications are more art than science.  This may be a prime reason management tends to lean toward those marketing and sales support activities which concentrate on getting orders, increasing share-of-market, and profits.

This has been especially true of the computer industry within the past two years, where sales and profit results have been illusive and difficult to capture.

Media advertising is an important part of the total communications effort, however, it is only part of the picture.

When management schedules the introduction of a new product or sets up an annual program for the coming year, the most common concern with marketing communications (and/or the agency) is "let's develop and write an ad campaign."

Spatial Programs

If you examine the recommendations closely, they are made up of numerous spatial programs rather than a singular linear program.

In a spatial program, all of the elements start at once in different areas.  In other words, the activities in PR, sales presentations, direct mail, and web marketing are done independent of each other.

The result?

One gigantic bang.  When the dust settles, management, marketing, sales, communications, and the agency hope they have scored a direct hit.

As a general rule, however, nothing happens.  Or, it happens for a very short period of time.  When this happens, marcom and/or the agency go out and develop another big bang.

Such spatial programs lack build-up, drama, and excitement. They lack consistency and a common thread with which the prospect can identify and use as mental reinforcement over time.

This is why every six months to a year, the company and agency develop a new concept to its maximum, with minimum results.

Linear Programs

By contrast, when marcom and/or the agency develop a linear program, the company has the opportunity to fully develop an idea, a theme and a strong position.  All of the communications tools are pressed into action in a coordinated, logical manner.

There are several key differences between the approaches.

First and foremost, a linear program is not management, marketing, and sales against marcom and/or the agency.  It's a team effort.

The goals, objectives, and needs of marketing and sales are examined by everyone involved; the market's wants, needs, and perceptions are clearly spelled out.  Then (and only then), all of the communications tools and vehicles can be considered in terms of cost/results/profit.

The final program has depth, breadth, and substance.  The program is definable and measurable.  And best of all, it gets results.

Program Focus

Secondly, when communications and/or the agency develop a linear program, they become the catalyst and focal point for the company.

Taking this approach, communications crystallizes the intended message for their target market(s).  They integrate individual sales approaches and messages into one consistent message and a focused selling effort.

Communications becomes a cost-effective complement to the selling effort.  It also works internally to build morale as well as help focus the firm's business resources.

While advertising, public relations, marketing and sales support, web marketing, inquiry processing/handling, and the other communications activities are different; they must build on each other.  Communications people and/or the agency have to develop a synergy among these activities.

Strong, accurate positioning provides that synergy.  It provides a pre-existing reason to be receptive to your marketing, sales, and advertising message.  It holds advertising, public relations, marketing support, sales promotion, and sales together.

Misunderstood Positioning

Unfortunately, too many people still don't fully understand the true concept of positioning and how it should be carried out for the company and its products.  This is because positioning is not what we do to the product, but rather what we do to the mind of the prospect.

Sound positioning makes it difficult for others to dislodge your company, products, and services from the minds of customers, prospects, and other target audiences.  In fact, in most instances, sound positioning overrides individual product benefits.

This is because positioning evaluates the entire organization, its strengths and weaknesses, and projects the competition's possible reactions to your activities.  Proper positioning is objective.  It determines what mind position you own in the market so that you can determine the position you want to achieve . . . and the cost of that effort.

Positioning then gives customers and prospects a reason to choose your company and products over your competition.  It permits you to transfer company and product benefits from one product to another.  It also helps you keep pace with a changing market.

Once this is done, the positioning of individual products and product lines becomes easier, and the results more easily measured.

Results Orientation

Business today is built on results, so activities have to work.  Often, management expect them to be immediate and innovative.  At the same time, communications has to develop solutions to perplexing adversity.

This means that once marketing communications and/or the agency develop sound positioning strategy for the company and its products/services, they have to develop totally integrated programs.  Once developed and approved, these programs have to be carried out quickly and decisively.

The programs have to involve more than conventional print advertising activities.  They have to incorporate some of the latest marketing communications activities such as web marketing, as well as detailed activities such as inquiry handling.  They also have to include research, literature, referrals, word-of-mouth, personal contact, and publicity (technical articles, user articles, management position pieces, market research meetings, editorial tours, etc.).

Total Communications Mix

In short, communications has to be a total media mix.  If marketing communications and/or the agency doesn't help management pull all of these activities together, they will quickly find they are no longer needed within the company.

Rather than sitting on the shore talking vaguely about creativity, image, and awareness, communications people (inside and outside the organization) have to get into the boat with management and marketing before it leaves the dock.  This will ensure that they sail with the organization rather than wonder why and when the boat left.

They have to immerse themselves in all of the communications-related activities so they can talk with and support sales, product marketing, and general management.

Once this is done, communications people will be in a better position to help define and satisfy user needs, boost share-of-market, increase sales, and improve corporate profits.

© Copyright 1999, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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