As businesses compete, strategies for advertising and marketing campaigns must change to meet the tastes and needs of customers and to keep up with advances in technology that are occurring on a rapid basis. Representatives of five companies operating in Columbia participated in a Columbia Business Times survey on industry trends: Pat Hanna of Hanna Stanley St. John Advertising, Bill Costello of Woodruff Sweitzer, Lili Vianello of Visionworks Marketing & Communications, J. Michael Roach of IDP Group Interactive Marketing & Communications and David Rachell of Vangel Marketing Communications.
Is there a new media technology you believe Columbia businesses should become involved in to get noticed?
Hanna: Digital technology has given us many new advertising media choices, and they can often be very useful when targeting a specific niche audience—especially younger audiences. Television and radio multicasting are prime examples: more programming choices from the same familiar media sources. The Internet brings us paid search, portals, blogs, podcasts, online yellow pages, e-mail marketing, pop-ups and many other advertising opportunities. We’re surrounded by advertising media, and the list keeps growing.
Costello: While it’s not new, the Web is simply the fastest-growing media technology out there, and it continues to transform how people gain information. It’s the new paradigm in marketing communications and typically the first resource for learning about companies, products and services. Big brands understand the power and flexibility of the Internet to reach consumers—demonstrated by the fact that the top 200 brands spent nearly $3 billion in Internet costs last year. And when you consider all of the extensions on the Web—podcasting, blogs, viral video, etc.—the opportunities to tell your story to potential customers are limitless. It’s also going to be fun to watch how savvy marketers use mobile phones as an advertising medium in the future. The indicators are that this medium has the potential to be huge.
Vianello: One growing trend is that technology users often are waiting a little longer than before to fully adopt new technologies. Some are waiting for the early bugs to get worked out, while others may be waiting for signs that the technology will quickly become obsolete or unpopular. Because of this, brand-new technologies can be dangerous places to invest marketing dollars, so we always conduct extensive research and employ great caution before recommending new technologies to our clients.
Roach: While the most effective tools we’re seeing are a combination of blogging and RSS feeds, podcasting will begin to create an entirely new kind of “broadcast” advertising. You’ll still have “radio” and “TV” ads, but distribution will follow the viral model, where companies will develop funny or moving ads and customers will download them and share them with friends, without the need for traditional paid media.
Rachell: “Personalized” and “customized” are the keywords in media technology. Web-based research tools have allowed our clients to integrate new media technologies with more conventional outlets to produce effective marketing and advertising plans. But before you get caught up chasing the latest technology craze, remember that the key to creating results-driven marketing strategies is understanding who your current and potential customers are and what they want.
Where have clients been putting their advertising dollars this past year compared to previous years?
Hanna: We haven’t seen a big shift in ad spending yet, but that could change in time. Most companies maintain a good Internet presence these days, but they still need to use conventional media to steer potential customers to their Web pages, etc.
Costello: Again, we see more and more clients devoting significant resources to the Internet as another way of branding their companies, as well as providing consumers with important information regarding their products and services. With media changing so much, however, it’s absolutely essential for clients to keep consumers coming back on a regular basis with fresh content, special Internet offers and customer relationship management programs.
Vianello: In general, we continue to recommend the marketing mix, a combination of all media and other tactics, to carry our clients’ campaigns. It would be fair to say, however, that there are growing opportunities for many clients in television advertising. Many are also becoming more comfortable in expanding their marketing mix to tactics that are new to them, like direct mail or billboard advertising.
Roach: We’re finding that our clients can invest in interactive marketing, corporate branding and customer relationship management and cut back on traditional media advertising, decreasing their overall marketing budget. What’s more, Google, Yahoo! and MSN are making local Internet searching more effective than ever before, so search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising are becoming extremely cost effective compared to other tactics.
Rachell: A shift toward localized Web and search-engine-based advertising is intensifying as the tools become more sophisticated and user targeted. We are also seeing businesses increasingly look for ways to more accurately reach their key audiences.
What are the biggest trends in marketing right now?
Hanna: Consumers are doing a lot more online product research, even when they make their actual purchases locally. The number of media choices will continue to grow. New media will be invented at an escalating pace. Positive word-of-mouth advertising will continue to be as effective in the future as it has been for thousands of years.
Costello: It’s amazing how powerful advocacy and word-of-mouth marketing are right now. Credibility is key, and skepticism is high. Consumers place a great deal of trust in the opinions and advice of other consumers, and the Web, for one, provides a whole new way to interface with other consumers before making a purchase or using a company’s services. Consequently, loyalty to a brand has never been more important. Developing, recruiting and nurturing product “evangelists” who love your brand and are willing to spread your message through their own personal experiences is a crucial strategy for every marketer.
Vianello: In terms of technological trends, newer Web marketing opportunities are the most accessible tactics for most businesses. Businesses are publishing blogs on their sites to establish themselves as opinion leaders and improve their search engine rankings. They are expanding their Web capabilities to allow their customers to make appointments, order products, ask questions, get customized price estimates and complete other tasks that would otherwise require a phone call or in-store visit.
Roach: Social networking sites such as FaceBook and MySpace have become the ideal spots for most advertisers as MySpace alone receives more traffic in North America than any other site currently. Companies not only utilize the direct advertising on these sites but also create their own profiles and identities to better connect with this audience. Companies as high up as Microsoft have started re-branding themselves with a more youthful appearance and approach. These changes have been carried through all forms of how they present themselves and typically involve a lighter attitude, brighter, more colorful media and logos.
Rachell: Marketers are focusing attention on “hot” sites like MySpace and YouTube. The trick is using technology to better understand who spends time at these sites—who they are, what they like to do and what they buy.
What challenges are your clients encountering this year that they have not encountered to the same degree in past years?
Hanna: Breaking out of the advertising clutter will always be a challenge. The increasing number of media choices tends to fragment some demographic groups. Ironically, this same trend will organize some target audiences into easy-to-reach niches.
Costello: One of the biggest challenges many of our clients come to us with is how to clearly communicate the relevancy of their brands. This is harder than ever as the marketplace is more cluttered than ever with more messages and more channels competing for consumers’ attention.
Vianello: Overall marketing spending among our clients is currently on the rise following a post-9/11 slump that lasted a few years. So, while the challenge is nothing new, the marketplace is becoming more aggressive.
Roach: For our mid-Missouri clients, it’s definitely big-box competitors. They’re fast, they’re well oiled, they’re powerful, and they’re formidable competitors. We’ve taught our clients how to use these new competitors strategically to eliminate other small competitors, and to compete against them by doing what they can’t.
Rachell: Companies are faced with maintaining their relevance with consumers now that we’ve shifted from a product-driven to a consumer-driven marketplace. Brands that once were marketed to the masses now need to further define their key audiences and find creative ways to become relevant to those audiences.