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Small Biz

Smallbiz/Udahl/28 inches/lk1st/dt2nd To ensure a higher degree of success, your company’s communication and promotional activities should be planned, executed and evaluated with extreme care. Not only must you have a clear definition of your target audience, you also must design your message to communicate effectively. All too often, companies scare off customers by talking about product features only. As a result, customers instead opt to buy from a competitor who emphasizes benefits and advantages. When purchasing products, customers look to satisfy their needs and wants. In buying food, the customer seeks sustenance and taste; in buying a car, the customer seeks transport, safety, and style; in buying a sofa, the customer seeks comfort and durability, etc. Products and services ultimately are perceived as bundles of benefits, so the emphasis in marketing should be on these benefits. Accordingly, when you design product literature, advertising, or promotional messages, bear in mind the “FBG Principle.” This maxim recommends mentioning more than your products’ features. You also should call attention to the benefits and gains associated with using your product. The same goes for other communications that do not deal specifically with your product, but more generally about your company. When reading or hearing your message, your target audience will ask, “What does that mean to me,” and “What of it?” These are the questions about which your audience never should be in doubt. And it’s up to you to make certain of that. Do not count on your listeners or readers to find the answers themselves. Consider this message: “Buy this Turbo 8000 Car. Then, you can invite your spouse to dine in a fine restaurant and go the cinema at least once a month.” The Feature: “The car runs on low-octane gasoline and has high fuel efficiency.” The Benefit: “You can use cheaper fuel and will save a lot of money.” The Gain: “You can take your spouse to fine restaurants and the theater with the money you save.” Some people may be able to figure out for themselves that they can save money using the car. However, only a few will be able to deduce that in the brief moment when their eyes see the headline. You should not assume that your audience on its own is able to immediately turn your product’s technical merits into specific user benefits. Put yourself in their shoes, and find out the advantages and gains derived from using the product, or buying from your company. You should aim at your target group’s specific motivations for purchasing your product. If, for instance, you know that there is a market need for drilling holes faster in the construction industry, why limit your message to: “This new water-cooled drill has an RPM of 6,000?” Consider instead the more powerful message: “You can improve your efficiency 105 percent with this new tool.” If your target group includes technicians, you should not leave them unfulfilled on technical information. However, avoid limiting your message to technical blueprints alone. Also be sure to include advantages that result from these specifications. Concerning the medium of communication, it can be tempting to repeat what has been done before. Perhaps your sales director is requesting a seasonal sell-in promotion, so you just pull out the file and modify it slightly for this occasion. New and refreshed programs should never be ignored. To avoid falling into the same old campaign routine, you need to periodically think in new ways and reform your communication. In modifying or designing new campaigns, you may have to run risks, so the trick is to run only intelligent risks. To do that, you must filter out ideas that are unengaged and conventional, as well as those that imply foolish gambles. Do not judge campaigns entirely according to your own liking. Although you may be sold on a creative idea, it may not be the most optimal one. Remember that you are not always the intended target group. Tests always should be done on new or very important campaigns. One way of testing on a small but effective scale is to use a test panel. Run elements of your campaign by a panel of selected representative respondents from your planned target group. Such an exercise can be very useful if you have target groups that are averse to advertising and promotion, or when you have to be careful about the approach you take in your communications. Another method is to screen campaigns on your desktop. You can do this filtering effectively by asking questions such as: Do we clearly communicate the product’s features, benefits, and advantages? Are our assumptions about the target group adequate? Do we have a clear and simple message? Does the message provide a clear differentiation compared to our competitors, without being inappropriate? Do we involve our audience sufficiently? Is the design of the information in harmony with its concept and message? Making this a group task, and using people from various departments in your organization, can be a very useful exercise. If you use an outside agency, have it attend or assist in testing. You should keep your agency properly briefed about the particulars of your business, your campaign objectives, products, target groups, etc. Consider furnishing it with not only sales and shared research data, but also a full update on your other activities with the product, including packaging changes, new product plans, planned sales actions, etc. The quality of work your agency provides often is directly related to the clarity of the strategic thinking and support information you build into your briefing. By investing this time and effort, you stand a better chance of getting high-quality results. Finally, it is very important to measure results whenever possible. You may be able to do this with company data (as with sales or sales-force performance), or you may have to carry out research (as with image or customer attitude changes). For many activities, the time scale over which the results are measured is critical. Many short-term promotions have a “peak and dip” effect, and you need to measure results over a long enough period to assess the actual effects. If you want to be very methodical, you should first establish what your baseline business would be without the campaign. You can do this by extrapolating underlying sales trends and clear them for seasonal variations. Then, measure for the proper period of time. In the case of, say, a two-month campaign, you may need to measure sales for four to five months afterwards to establish the peak and dip effect against baseline business. You may find it even more enlightening to convert that sales performance into extra gross profit generated, subtracting the promotion cost to see if it paid off in terms of extra contribution. This can be a very salutary exercise. You may find that much of your promotional spending is not really helpful, or that certain types of campaigns yield much better results than others. U. Lindahl is a business consultant with Chatsworth-based Vidac Business Consulting. He can be reached by fax at (818) 885-5599 or by e-mail at vidac@laoffices.com.

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