Marketing smarts for 2010: Five ways to expand your marketing strategy

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As recession pains ease, marketers have seen an uptick in budgets. Now that companies are coming out of the bunker, they are looking for revenue growth, not cost cutting, to improve the bottom line. The logical place to turn to in this circumstance is marketing. We have had discussions with a number of companies that are trying to figure out how best to spend their budgets, and it's no surprise that many are looking to capitalize on the growth of digital and social media. The challenge is spending the money in a way that maximizes impact. Companies need marketing that delivers results, measurably and effectively, regardless of channel.

What does that mean for trends in marketing in 2010? We offer six suggestions to help marketers start the year off right.

1. Develop more methodical approaches to experimenting with emerging channels. With the multitude of channel and communication choices, both traditional and emerging, marketers must understand which ones are relevant, how to make them relevant and how much to bet on them. It's not enough to want to be on Twitter; it's important for to understand how and why your customers are using Twitter, if at all, and develop the appropriate strategy for communicating. This requires structured testing and experimentation. Try different things, see what works and what does not, tweak the approaches, and see if a winner emerges. If not, move on. This means allocating some money to experimentation and being disciplined in pursuing or discarding ideas when appropriate.

2. Incorporate your social strategy into your overall marketing strategy. Emerging social networks and media are just communications channels and shouldn't be managed in a vacuum. Yes, you need to understand the nuances and differences associated with new media (e.g., the importance of listening), but you need to determine what role it plays in your communications strategy. Data still plays a vital role. Your customer information provides insight into preferences and behaviors. Use this information to make informed decisions about which channels you invest in. In other words, let your customers decide where they engage with you.

3. Think Cross-Channel. Marketers continue to struggle with coordinating messages across channels and delivering a consistent customer experience. Now social media provides a platform where customers have a voice. Companies have to figure out ways of being heard in these platforms in a way that is distinct, while reinforcing and strengthening the brand. This requires monitoring data and communications across multiple platforms. It is challenging in most organizations, many of whom continue to have different organizational groups focused on different channels. Look to most organizations to consolidate their customer intelligence function, blending traditional market research and direct marketing analytics to provide a consolidated view for different channel managers.

4. Become smarter and more nimble in testing and measurement; you have no choice. Most organizations still have trouble reading the results from discrete campaigns. They particularly have trouble comparing results from different channels, which often have different objectives. Your objectives on Twitter or Facebook may be very different from what you hope to accomplish with outbound emails or with customers once you have driven them to your Web site. How do you allocate funds across channels and campaigns if you do not know how to compare them? There is also the issue of timing and relevance of analysis. Are your measurements and analysis timely enough that you can actually adjust what you are doing based on that feedback? As campaigns become more continuous and multi-channel, as well as reactive in the case of inbound channels, it is critical that responses to different messages and offers be measured, analyzed and adjusted in a matter of hours or days rather than weeks or months. This requires systems that are much more agile in their ability to bring in response data from diverse sources, process and analyze these results in a continuous loop and act on that intelligence. The good news is that this is becoming increasingly possible.

5. Leverage external partners and weave them together more effectively. Given the pace of change, no marketer can hope to be an expert in all of the channels or even, except in the largest of organizations, be able to hire and build capabilities internally. This leads to the difficult question of who to partner with. Do you stick with the vendors you trust who may be dabbling in new areas but have delivered for you? Or do you go with hotshot companies that have a deep expertise and knowledge in an emerging medium? This is a tough trade off with no easy answers. Many traditional players are fast adding to their capabilities so that they can remain relevant in this fast changing environment. You need to judge whether your incumbent has the smarts to make that shift or is going to be slowing you down. On the other hand, handling new vendors adds a level of complexity and coordination to an already complex world. Agency models are emerging that can provide very effective one stop shops to help you engage your customers across channels and can handle information, analysis, create intelligence driven strategies and deliver measurement while letting you focus on strategy and the big picture.

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