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Fine tuning your promotional mix is key in a tough market.

publication date: Aug 20, 2009
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While leading brands’ PR people are waxing lyrical about ‘green shoots’ and ‘market recovery by 2010’, in reality (the real world, not PR land) companies are steering clear of the marketing pull strategies that have dominated the industry in recent years; namely those that call for vast sums of money to be invested in advertising and consumer promotion to generate consumer demand.

And that’s all well and good – after all there is little point in ‘pulling’ until the banking crisis ends – however it’s crucial companies utilise the full range of the promotion mix to retain market position, gain a significant share of current market activity and position their brand to reap the lion’s share of the action when the marketplace thaws.

Promotion mix is the specific combination of advertising, personal selling, sales promotion and public relations (PR) techniques used by a company to pursue its advertising and marketing objectives. So in a downturn whilst most firms shave thousands off the advertising budget the most successful companies are generally those that invest in the less costly, but equally important, aspects of their sales and PR functions. With little ‘marketing pull’, demand is sustained through an effective sales force, staff who are trained to champion the brand’s values and succeed in face-to-face sales situations come what may, and good press relations that combine product publicity with corporate communications and lobbying to raise the brands’ profile.

In a challenging market, a strong promotion mix ensures a) a brand is still seen as durable and reliable – a good start when many businesses have folded b) its leaders are perceived as ‘the good guys’ who lift our spirits in turbulent times c) the company builds good relations with the public and obtains favourable publicity and d) it builds on its ‘good corporate image’ by handling negative press.

It goes without saying that advertising remains key to any solid promotional strategy but because market leaders use sales and PR techniques to define their products’ key attributes, public confidence in the brand remains high even when investment in advertising remains relatively low. Consumers favour durable and reliable brands largely because they ‘go the distance’ and win our trust – which is why the collapse of Woolworths came as such a shock to us in consumer land. If we can’t trust a British institution like Woolies, who can we trust? We can trust the dynamic ‘experts’ we perceive to be leading the industry forward and effortlessly guiding us through turbulent times – can’t we?

Whether for PR purposes, or because they are they are simply the sort of visionaries who make a brand successful anyway, brand savvy business leaders occupy a unique and beneficial space in consumers’ minds – both in buoyant and challenging markets. They provide the media with a wealth of ‘expert’ knowledge about market conditions, communicate positive corporate news constantly and actively lift the spirits of their staff, the community and consumers at large by ‘getting out there’ and engaging in charitable endeavours – from sponsoring local events to raising money for charities.

Without a doubt, securing free media coverage is also an effective way of spreading favourable publicity but due to the editorial controls imposed by this technique, market leaders often supplement it with ‘advertorials’ and digital media marketing to blow their trumpet freely and retain public confidence. In this respect, PR is a stealth tool that advertising alone cannot compete with – and is why my Big Mac tastes better when I know McDonalds builds houses near hospitals for the families of sick children. With such a wealth of negative press surrounding the UK housing market, it’s not bullish advertising that is currently winning the hearts of consumers; it’s the ‘subtle’ sales and PR efforts that go with it.

Danielle Simpson BSc is Creative Director of thebrandeffect and manages PR for market leaders in the property industry