The concept of vertically integrating your brand message is clearly not new. Companies for years have embraced the concept that if you are going to communicate a brand message, it is best to communicate that same brand message throughout all customer touch points. The thought is that when this is done, the message resonates louder and has greater impact to the end consumer.
What is surprising to me is not the concept of vertical integration or that companies utilize this strategy. Rather, what is baffling is how many companies do not use this strategy. Often, their brand message is a mish-mash of messages that are neither cohesive or complementary. When McDonald’s launches their McRib sandwich, it is fully integrated throughout all of their communication from social media to television to radio to in-store POP to employee suggestive sales. Every communication option is talking up the promotion and allows McDonald’s to ramp up McRib sales very quickly.
While the rest of us are not even close to the size of McDonald’s and their budgets, it magnifies the need to fully optimize the finite use of our marketing dollars. Failing to put a plan in place to ensure that you get the biggest-bang-for-your-buck is a lack of foresight and execution. Vertically integrating your brand message is the best possible option for achieving your goals on a limited budget.
Promotions: Starting with your promotion, all other communication flows in an effort to support the campaign. Let’s say that the promotion for the month is to sell a product called “Pumpkin Spice Coffee”. Pumpkin Spice Coffee is a limited-time offer that is available during the month of October to dove-tail with the fall and Halloween. With monthly promotions, it is critical to ramp up the messaging as quickly as possible in order to notify all of your customers. A concerted effort to build momentum early on is essential or the entire month will be slow. In addition to in-store marketing of the promotion, vertical integrating your message outside the store is essential.
Media: If you are running any type of media – radio, TV, billboards or direct mail – all of the creative brand messaging for the month of October should point toward the Pumpkin Spice Coffee. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the whole message, but should be included in every message. Customers will learn about your offer in a myriad of ways and cross-marketing this message across various formats helps to solidify the message in their minds. With social media, ongoing promotional messaging and “call-to-action” announcements help build up the frequency of the brand message.
Public Relations: One of the most forgotten opportunity areas is public relations when communicating a new brand message. Take the time to write a press release, hold tasting opportunities or create any other event that creates excitement around Pumpkin Spice Coffee. If this is a new product, it is critical to get consumers and existing customers to sample the product. Creating an event at your store that enables them to sample the product risk-free is an excellent way to create fun and sales opportunities in a comfortable buying environment.
Third-Party Sponsorships: Sponsoring a local team and looking to dovetail the Pumpkin Spice Coffee promotion? That is an easy tie-in with the team and the coffee vendor in creating a third-party sponsorship. Most teams have one goal in mind – get people to the game. Work with the team to get two-for-one ticket coupons that can be linked to a purchase of the Pumpkin Spice Coffee. The team is happy because you are helping to drive people to the game. The coffee vendor is happy because you are adding significant value to a cup of coffee. Lastly, you should be happy since your offer of Pumpkin Spice Coffee is not only unique, but also a competitive pricing advantage over your competition with the ticket vouchers as additional added value.
Local Store Marketing: Last but not least, take your promotion to the streets. Your 3-mile trade area generally accounts for 80% of your entire customer base – make sure that you own it! Bring samples of the Pumpkin Spice Coffee to all the local businesses to raise awareness of your promotion. Tasting can be believing and sampling products in the trade area is an excellent local store marketing (LSM) tactic. Combined with your overall media and public relations efforts, LSM activities can deliver the knockout punch!
In summary, building a brand is a challenging, expensive proposition for any retailer. Failing to fully vertically integrate the message throughout a variety of communication portals can severely limit the overall impact of the message. Savvy marketers that have instituted vertical marketing action plans often find that good plans executed seamlessly and flawlessly far exceed the impact of fantastic ideas that die on the execution vine.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.