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Marketing Communications: Focus on the Fundamentals First
By Jim Schakenbach, Managing Partner, SCT Group, Inc.

The most critical, and perhaps most overlooked, fundamental is the general category of content. More than ever, content is king.

The digital age has ushered in a host of new and exciting tools for marketers, including interactive Web sites, streaming audio and video, blogging, Webcasting and wireless content distribution. It is no wonder why companies often lose track of how to effectively organize their marketing outreach programs.

Often, companies will react to less than satisfactory sales or some other performance benchmark by paying for a glitzy Web site redesign or other expensive graphical overhaul when, in fact, far more effective results can be achieved through less visible but equally important means. I'm talking about focusing on the fundamentals.

I like to think of an effective marketing communications program as no different than athletic training. Before you can think about reaching the big leagues or the Olympics, you need to start with the basics.

In marketing communications that means spending some time and effort mastering the less glamorous aspects of outreach that often receive little attention and less respect, such as free industry directory listings, trade show guide listings, trade or professional association registrations and industry Web links. All the things that cost more in time than in money, but can get your name and contact information distributed far and wide.

This can yield big dividends with potential customers who are looking for products or services. They turn to the industry directory on their desk or computer, or the show guide they grabbed at a recent trade show to come up with a list of vendors they'll want to check out on the Web. Most of these listings are free; they just take a little time and effort.

The most critical, and perhaps most overlooked, fundamental is the general category of content. More than ever, content is king. With the pervasive use of the Internet as a primary research tool for finding products and services, a lack of content translates into a lack of visibility. If you don't have pertinent, valuable, current and searchable content on your site, you won't get considered or even found. All the cutting edge graphics and interactive features in the world will not rescue a site that lacks content.

Go back to that last sentence and the string of adjectives used to describe good content. Pay particular attention to the word "current." Many companies make the mistake of posting lots of content in the form of press releases, white papers and product specifications. Then they shut the lights off, close the door and call it a day. But unless you think of posting content as an organic process, you are unintentionally handicapping your site's searchability and diminishing its value. Search engines love currency, and if your content isn't updated regularly, it will be punished in the search rankings.

But, don't make the mistake of thinking that content is just a Web thing. Good content should be leveraged across all media. If you generate a white paper, case study or tutorial for your site, remember to "repurpose" it as a potential trade publication article, trade show handout or sales call leave-behind. Good content has a perceived value that far transcends tired trinkets such as pens, mugs and jar openers. Customers are looking for knowledge, not more junk for their desk drawers. A case study that demonstrates a solution to a common problem in their industry is worth much more than a calendar with your company name on it.

Once you begin building a stockpile of good content, make sure you develop the channels to distribute it. Spend some time and money compiling a list of appropriate editors in trade, professional and business publications so that you can make them aware of pertinent content that will be valuable to their readers. Notice I said "pertinent." You can make your editors' list even more effective by subdividing it by industry, application or product, so you can send the right information to the right publication. For example, if you manufacture a line of devices that includes products for different vertical markets, make sure you don't send the medical device news to the avionics publications.

Also, let your sales representatives and distributors know you have valuable content to help them make sales. Print a few for hard copy distribution and send PDF files that sales people can e-mail to current customers and prospects. A solid application story or tutorial will build credibility and set you apart as an industry expert, not just another company trying to sell a product or service. Better yet, when a publication prints your content in the form of an article or news piece, get reprints and distribute those. Nothing boosts your credibility like getting a tacit endorsement from a respected publication in the form of a printed piece in their pages.

Of course, all of this takes time, effort and some amount of money, and it may not yield immediate results. It doesn't have the sex appeal of a flashy new Web site or eye-popping advertising campaign, or the cost. But, returning to the training comparison I made at the beginning of this article, the results and return on investment can be remarkable if you're willing to focus on the fundamentals.

The SCT Group Inc. is a marketing communications agency specializing in science, communications, and technology accounts. For more information, please visit our web site at http://www.sctgrp.com/ or call 508.919.2092. Technology Spoken Here.

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