Fill (2002) outlined four strategic approaches to the marketing communications mix; the Promotion element of the marketing mix. These are:
A positioning strategy uses market analysis and segmentation to create communications strategies focused on the achievement of SMART marketing goals. This approach aims to target finite resources efficiently and direct communication effort to the most valuable markets. This approach has three parts; segmentation of the market; selection of target segments and positioning within markets.
To successfully achieve a positioning communications strategy, you need choose the market segments most attractive to your firm; matching your organisational goals so that you maximise returns. A positioning strategy should position your products and your brand to meet the perceptions and expectations of target audience. You therefore need to know your consumers needs.
You must also recognise that everyone has four states of identity:
- The Worry Self
- The Actual Self
- The Idealised Self; and
- The Fantasy Self
So which of these identities do you want to target. Insurance firms target the worry self; Firms selling family hatchbacks target the actual self. Firms selling designer clothes target the idealised self; luxury brands often target the fantasy self.
A positioning strategy is key for developing brands. You develop a brand position which shows what the brand does, what the brand means and how the brand gives value.
FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods and other highly competitive, low margin sectors often favour a positioning strategy.
Positioning is an audience focused, not a product focused activity. It is focused on brand meaning, brand values and differentiating your brand from that of your competitors.
Audience based strategies focus on the different ways items are purchased and the supply chain. For example, the audience for consumer goods tends to be individuals whereas the audience for industrial goods tends to be buying groups which contain influencers. the decision to purchase a new piece of machinery will be made by a group within an organisation but that group will contain ‘influencers’ who initiate and advise on the purchase e.g. the Production Manager.
So your communications strategy will alter depending on the audience your message is intended for. Your audience could be the end users of your product such as consumers, it may be your suppliers and retailers or it could be other stakeholders in your business such as shareholders and financiers.
This means there are three audience-focused communications strategies:
- Push strategies intended to target supply channel members.
- Pull strategies which target end users.
- Profile strategies aimed at third-party stakeholders.
Push and pull strategies work in relation to how product is drawn through the distribution chain. You use push communications, such as sales representatives and trade press advertising to push your production onto the shelves of retailers and wholesalers (this can include using communications to attain prime locations in stores such as eye-level shelves. Pull strategies , such as television advertising, target the generation of demand in the end users of your production i.e. you target consumers who then demand that retailers stock your goods.
Profile advertising is similar to a positioning strategy as you use communications to secure your identity in the minds of third parties. This could be using PR and your corporate website to attract investors.
An audience strategy is about using the right communications tools to lock your products and brands in the minds of the intended audience.
All too often I see firms, particularly SMEs focusing much of their communications budget on social media advertising. Some of this, like YouTube advertising is Pull advertising no different to traditional TV and Cinema advertising. However, much of social media communication is push or profile communication. It’s intention is to build a brand identity and develop customer retention. It is a pretty poor way to lock your brand identity into the needs of consumers or to attract new customers.
You cannot operate solely on a pull strategy or a push strategy. You need a bit of both. You need to communicate with end users to generate demand and you need to communicate with intermediaries to ensure that that demand can be satisfied.
A platform strategic approach aims to express a brand promise through brand values and differentiated claims. But to do so it must be consistent and be anchored in corporate principles. It involves the development of a brand theme which is made up of consistent promises.
There are three platform types:
- Creative – Messaging consistent big ideas across different communications channels.
- Brand Concept – Which are routed in the brand identity but use different creative ideas (Guinness advertising is a brand concept strategy)
- Participation Platforms – using interactive channels such as social media to engage in dialogue with end users. the aim is to integrate the brand into people’s lifestyles.
The final strategic approach is a configuration strategy which focuses on the way communications are structured. This strategy is based on the form and format of communications e.g.
- The frequency of contact between parties
- The direction of communications either vertically down distribution channels or horizontally across a market.
- The modality of the communication – how it is to be transmitted e.g. print, digital, TV, Radio, person to person, etc. Whether communication is formal or informal; regulated or spontanious.
- The content of the communication is it a direct advertisement or is it indirect communication such as PR and social media chat? Does the message directly focus on a subject or is it a ‘nudge’ to alter behaviour.
- The exchange relationship – Is the communication aimed at creating a long-term collaborative relationship or is it an ad-hoc, one off contact?
- The climate within which the communication is sent e.g. the level of trust between parties, compatibility between parties, etc.
- The power dynamic: Who holds the power in the relationship, you or your customer?
None of the above strategies are mutually exclusive and you will find many organisations using a combination of all four strategy types in their communications mix.