Remember that glossy brochure that took so much time, money and energy to produce? Chances are your customers didn’t even read it — much less use it to make an informed decision about your products and services.
The fact is that most agencies spend an inordinate amount of resources on marketing collateral that doesn’t resonatet with the target audience. In fact, it’s rare when a piece of collateral actually hits the mark with the right message in the right channel at the right time.
But there is a silver lining. For those agencies that make the effort to revisit their marketing communications strategy — in terms of the distribution, content and presentation of collateral — it offers them a way to clearly differentiate themselves from the competition, cut through the “noise” in the marketplace, and promote their brand more effectively.
Following are some best practices to consider as you begin working on your next marketing campaign.
Developing the Right Concept
Start building your marketing plan with a concept review meeting in which all the key players are represented, including product managers, producers, writers and designers — even your attorney. Discuss your strategy (both strengths and weaknesses), target markets, tools you’ll need to reach them, roles and responsibilities, timeline and budget. Get all the issues on the table — before you start thinking of catchy taglines.
Determine how your products are different from your competitors (avoid using the terms “price,” “quality,” or “service,” which almost any agency can claim). If you’re not sure how you’re different from the competition, check out their Web sites, read their ads and listen to what their customers say about them.
Choosing the Right Channel
Consider producing materials in a variety of flexible formats — not just hard-copy brochures and flyers — that can be delivered electronically via email or downloaded from your Web site.
Develop new formats for materials that are better suited to electronic distribution such as talking points, success stories and testimonials.
Take advantage of emerging technologies like blogs and podcasts to get your message across. For example, a blog about “Insurance 101” can reach a wide audience for a very small investment. Many agencies are also experimenting with social networking sites like Facebook to extend their marketing efforts.
Post materials online in an easily accessible, efficiently organized way.
If you’re focusing on business customers, create a self-service resource site that provides an open, flexible platform to accommodate a broad range of users, is easy to update, and is backed up by tech support for lost or changed passwords.
Consider teaming up with a carrier, a vendor that provides a unique service, or even another agency that complements your own. A co-branded marketing campaign can enhance your credibility, give you access to new markets, and increase the premium that customers are willing to pay.
The Right Content
Create short, detail-oriented communications that foster a sense of personal interaction with your customers.
Outline three to five key messages that clearly and concisely describe your value to your customers; make sure these messages are consistent across all your collateral, from printed brochures to ads to the home page of your Web site.
Describe the direct benefits your customers will experience from buying your products. Benefits answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” as opposed to listing all the features of your products and services.
Avoid “scare tactics” in your marketing materials. It’s more effective to show how your products and services better serve the needs of your customers than to try to frighten them into making a decision.
Establish a clear call to action that tells the readers exactly what they should do next, such as, “Visit our Web site to download your free safety checklist.”
The Right Voice
Create marketing materials that are written in a clear, concise, engaging voice that is free of jargon, buzzwords and extraneous information.
To personal lines customers, your voice should be caring and helpful. To business customers your voice should be that of a trusted, professional partner.
Drop the formal, artificial tone and speak to your audience as if you were a person, not a company. Use the first person plural (“we”) and second person (“you”) when appropriate. Read your copy out loud to hear how it sounds — and if it sounds awkward or stilted rewrite it.
Keep the majority of your sentences simple in construction but vary the flow and rhythm of the sentence structure. Make your writing easy to scan with short, eye-catching headlines.
Lead with your key messages. In many cases, the introductory paragraph tells the reader what they already know; for example, “We recognize that your business is challenging ….” By over-stating the obvious, you waste a reader’s time, dilute the key message, and sacrifice important real estate on your marketing materials that could be used more effectively.
Take the Initiative
If you’re not sure where to start, or how to put all the pieces together, or you’ve tried to do some marketing before and been disappointed with the results, hire a professional. You’ll incur some extra expenses, but it will be worth it to hit the ground running with a solid plan, a clear target and a foundation you can build on in the future — and you’ll save lots of time, money and energy in the long run.
Abbott is a marketing consultant who specializes in using agent research to help industry professionals create more effective sales and marketing tools. Web site: www.JohnAbbottCommunications.com.
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