Metalworking Marketer
Wednesday, September 17, 2014

B2B Communications Planning in the Digital Age

By Mark Semmelmayer
Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications


It’s September and, as a Marketing or Communications Manager for your enterprise, you’re probably about to sit down, roll up the proverbial sleeves and craft your 2015 plan. Trouble is, for every year we push further into the 21st century, the more complex the process becomes.

Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Needs to be Your Key Strategy

If you’ve read previous posts, you know I’m a proponent (some would say “zealot”) of IMC. After being introduced to the concept in 1994, by one of its “founding fathers,” Bob Lauterborn, I started employing it in my marcomm planning. In the 20 years since my IMC epiphany, IMC-based plans led to measureable success in markets as diverse as agriculture, veterinary medicine, industrial safety products, professional health care and more. The proof of the concept was evident in consistent performance to plan.

IMC Isn’t Simple … But Today’s Marketer Definitely Needs It!

In his foreword to Lauterborn and co-authors Stan Tannenbaum and Don Schultz’ 1992 book, “Integrated Marketing Communications; Pulling It Together and Making it Work,” then-IBM Marketing Director James C. Reilly wrote “The practice of integrated marketing communications is emerging as one of the most valuable ”magic bullets” companies can use to create competitive advantage.”

That was then and this is 2014. But it seems like Lauterborn, et al, had a crystal ball. In an era of diversifying methods to deliver selling messages and the fragmentation of target audiences into different “media camps,” this tool is more meaningful than ever.

The Basics of IMC

The book I’ve referenced is a textbook. Valuable, but not an easy read. Many universities now use it as a core in their marketing curriculum and have created their own take on the process. For instance, the University of Wisconsin-Madison defines it this way:

  • Coordinate various communications approaches into a mutually supportive, thematically unified, coordinated whole
  • Manage all sources of information about a product that moves the customer towards a sale and maintains loyalty

The generally accepted steps in the IMC process are:

  1. Develop a brand marketing message
  2. Research its relevance to your target audience
  3. Study target audience “media” preferences to determine best delivery vehicles
  4. Tailor a consistent message, appropriate to the delivery medium
  5. Plan to deliver messages, over your communications “continuum,” including “liveware” (i.e. sales)
  6. Execute the plan
  7. Measure the results
  8. Use what you learn to develop the next plan

As IMC Moves into the Digital Age, What are the Most Critical Elements?

In my humble view, #3 is the most crucial, followed by #1 and #4, respectively.

  • Audience media preference:

The universe of B2B buyers is beginning to fragment along demographic lines. Empirical marketing research among existing and potential customers is the most statistically valid way to probe media preference. But, ask your sales force for their perspective, too. How many customers/buyers (baby boomers, in many instances) are planning to, or have recently, retired? That, generally, means turning the reins over to younger buyers.

Making sure sales is engaged in and aligned with your IMC plan is a great move, because they are a key element of your communications. One of the best sources of audience information may be “following” your sales force around to ask customers how they get information that impacts buying decisions. If the trend is to younger buyers, who grew up with web and social media as preferred options, one needs to pay attention to this shift in media behavior.

I’ll give you an example of how your findings might frame your strategy. If a buyer is under 30, print advertising and materials may not have quite as much impact. If your core customers remain in the 40+ demographic, traditional approaches are still in play.

  • Brand marketing message

This is where you step away from the purely logical and enter the realm of TV’s “Mad Men.” In a 2010 study, comScore ARS research showed the importance of strong creative in effective campaign results. Findings showed creative quality drives more than half the sales change for brands analyzed. That was four times higher than the impact of the media plan alone.

You need to test your message for relevance and resonance within your target audience. Ideally, it will connect with your customers emotionally, making them think of you as the best solution for their needs.

  • Consistent messaging across delivery platforms

This is one area where traditional marketing and branding wisdom hasn’t (and never will) change. Creating dominant, identifiable positioning in customer consciousness is the key. Your message must:

  • Project a consistent graphic look
  • Project a consistent tone
  • Project a consistent image of quality solutions to customer needs
  • Project a creative and innovative persona

This is where IMC planning starts to separate the winners from the losers. A great, creative, resonant message is essential, but it may need “tweaking” to suit the delivery medium. People react to print differently than they do web content. Social media is all about shorter, pithier content. The trick is to “shape” brand messages in ways that work well with a particular delivery vehicle.

If you want a tutorial on this, look at how major B2B and B2C marketers (think Coke, UPS, Nike, etc.) handle this media “spread.” Compare social media presences, like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, where customer interaction and reaction is the objective, with more “static” presences, like website, print and broadcast advertising footprints. See the difference?

IMC Helps Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

Things change. B2B today may be changing more rapidly than any other marketing discipline. IMC helps you evaluate every option. It can point you to the strategic “keepers” and eliminate probable “weepers.” Better still, IMC, in the sense of detailing media preference and message relevance, may reveal some “sleepers” that can add to success.

Let’s not de-emphasize the other elements of the IMC process, especially measurement of results and application of learning to future planning. But, given accelerating changes in B2B marketing, understanding buyer demographics/psychographics and media preference appear to be areas for critical focus.

Over the next few years, the needed marketing mix should settle down and become more predictable. Do your homework now, execute your plan, measure your results and apply your learning to the next plan. Sooner than later, you’ll start your planning from a position of knowledge that ensures increasing success.

Need more information?
Mark Semmelmayer
Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications
Marietta, GA

� MARK SEMMELMAYER is a former Chairman of the Business Marketing Association (BMA) and the current President of BMA’s Atlanta Chapter. He recently retired from corporate life after 32-years in B2B marketing with Kimberly-Clark in their Health Care business. He is the founder and Chief Idea Officer of Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications, a consultancy in Atlanta, GA.

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