The Marketing Mix: Promotion
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After reading this chapter, you should be able to
Discuss the contributions of consumers and marketers to branding.
Classify message channels in terms of their control.
Recall three aspects of promotions requiring decisions as part of the promotions mix.
Discuss marketing messages in terms of strategy, structure, and creative approach.
Demonstrate understanding of three issues affecting promotions decisions in today’s marketplace.
Recall three communication strategies that can be deployed in a global marketing program.
Promotional activity roams far and wide across the landscape. This aspect of marketing can take the form of traditional advertising, personal selling, social media conversations, and much more. It can include immersive experiences and social experiments, like the Knorr Love at First Taste case study in Chapter 2. It reflects consumers’ decisions and actions as much as those of strategic planners in the marketing function.
In this chapter, we begin exploring promotions with the core concept of developing and communicating branding. Then we move to how promotional strategies are evolving under the influence of media convergence and increasing capacities for one-to-one conversations with customers and prospects. The chapter closes with a look at the implications of humanity-centric Marketing 3.0 and access to global markets for the promotion aspect of the marketing mix.
Promotion joins product, place, and price as a P in the marketing mix. Promotional strategy affects three decision areas:
determining marketing mix strategies
achieving effective market segmentation, targeting, and positioning
enhancing revenues and profitability
The need for organization-wide coordination and for integration of consumers into the process is fundamental to understanding promotion’s role in the marketing mix. As you learn about the role of promotions in marketing, keep in mind this need for cross-functional coordination, the approach introduced in Chapter 2 known as integrated marketing communications (IMC).
6.1 Branding: The DNA of Promotions
Promotion is defined as the function of informing, persuading, and influencing consumers’ purchase decisions. With that in mind, our discussion of promotion must begin with how consumers experience being recipients of all that communication. Receiving attention from a marketing organization is a lot like being pursued by somebody who wants to get to know you. Promotions trigger social cues deeply embedded in human psychology. Branding is the result.
As individuals, we quickly sense the personalities of others we meet based on the social cues they send us, such as posture, appearance, and style. A brand does for a company what a personality does for an individual—it presents a unique (differentiated) identity that hopefully attracts and retains social relationships. A flawed personality repels rather than attracts; so does poor branding. Keep this idea of brand as personality in mind as we delve into how a brand is created and communicated.
In the marketing era born out of the postwar proliferation of products and services in the 1950s, marketers began focusing on positioning their products and services. They hoped to make their offerings stand out from competitors. Branding—putting a unique identity on an offering (like branding cattle, the source of this term)—was their best hope for competitive differentiation. Just as DNA is the carrier of genetic information, branding carries the personality information consumers use to recognize the branded product, product line, organization, or concept. Branding is the DNA of promotions. Branding is critical if a company wants its products to stand out among all the other products in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
First, let’s consider brand architecture—the structure within a company that determines how its portfolio of brands relate to and are differentiated from one another. The particular brand architecture chosen by a company guides development of new products and line extensions, provides a road map for marketing messages, and reinforces the value proposition of the entire family of brands. Three types of brand architecture are most common.
Master brand: All products and services the company offers bear the organization’s brand name. Example: FedEx. Whether you are shipping a package by air or ground or making photocopies at a local storefront FedEx Office, the overarching brand is always present. This strategy creates a strong association between a company’s products and its overarching brand.
House of brands: A company’s products and services bear a wide variety of brand names; consumers may not be aware of the relationship to the parent brand. Example: Procter & Gamble. It owns the brands Crest (toothpaste), Joy (dish detergent), and Vicks (cold remedy) but doesn’t usually promote that P&G ownership. This strategy is typically used to target unique and separate niches of buyers. It distances the brands from the company selling them and creates an impression of more product choices.
Hybrid brand: Brands are given separate identities or not, depending on context. Example: Marriott International. The hotel brand consists of subbrands that target different segments of the travel market. The Ritz–Carlton brand is owned by Marriott, but that relationship does not appear in marketing. On the other hand, the Courtyard and Residence Inn brands are both owned by Marriott and are marketed with the Marriott name attached. This strategy is useful when the organizational context demands flexibility.
Why would a company choose one architectural structure over another? The business value of brand architecture comes from its impact on brand equity, individually and together. Stronger brands can lift weaker ones, spreading their perceived value in a halo effect. The right brand architecture can make it easier for companies to expand into new categories or geographies or reposition themselves strategically. When Procter & Gamble sold off more than half of its brands in 2014, it increased its focus on the consumer categories in which it had the most expertise: household and personal care. By pruning outliers (Eukanuba pet food, Pringles snacks), it enhanced its ability to support its strongest performers and invest in new product innovation (BrandingBusiness, 2014). Deciding the right structure for a company’s brand depends on its marketing mix decisions and its understanding of its customers—in other words, its marketing orientation.
But brand architecture is primarily an internal strategy. For the external market—the all-important community of customers and prospects—companies need to set themselves apart from the herd. Brands need to tell a story. This story, termed the brand narrative, emerges from the ongoing dialogue that connects company and customer. While companies can choose a brand architecture, implement a well-crafted brand strategy, and maintain consistent brand communications, it is customers who create the brand narrative. Consumers interact with the brand through transactions and exposures, and they comment about their experiences through social networking and rating sites. Consumers ultimately control the brand narrative, using the information available to them in the marketplace.
Within the brand’s narrative lies its brand promise: the message that connects emotionally with consumers to differentiate the brand. The brand promise is closely linked to a company’s value proposition in that it promises a specific benefit (value) from aligning with the brand (not just buying its products or services, but buying into its promise of value). The brand promise phrases the message of the value proposition in an emotionally compelling way that harmonizes with the company’s overarching positioning and strategic vision. An effective brand promise will focus on only one or two benefits—attributes that are unique to the brand, are relevant to the consumer, and can be expressed in a compelling way. The BMW slogan “the ultimate driving machine” leaves no room for doubt about its promise of high-performance engineering. The most effective statements of a brand’s promise come from its customers—what they are saying about what a particular brand does for them.
Recall from Chapter 1 that positioning refers to the creation of a meaningful, unique identity in the minds of the target market, and from Chapter 2 that a value proposition is a statement that describes to potential customers why they should buy or use an offering from a specific company. These concepts, plus the new terms we’ve introduced—brand architecture, narrative, and promise—overlap and interact, like spiraling strands of DNA, to hold a unique place for a brand in the minds of consumers.
Field Trip 6.1: Brand Narratives
Branding is only effective when it connects with consumers emotionally via believable, persuasive stories. Follow the link to read (and view) six examples that one marketing expert labeled “genius brand storytelling.”
The companies profiled include the following:
Pick one and explain why it does—or doesn’t—engage you emotionally. Would you interact with this brand—for example, by talking about it in your social channels?
BMW 650i coupe driving on a road.
Kurmyshov/iStock editorial/Getty Images Plus
Brand positioning targets a specific value proposition. What market niche is BMW vying for with its “ultimate driving machine” slogan?
Customers may determine the brand narrative, but marketing communicators can influence them as they do so. This influential activity consists of positioning products and services. A company’s positioning is central to how its brand narrative, brand promise, and value proposition are communicated.
Positioning helps a company’s campaigns stake a claim to a specific value proposition. Branding is the related task of presenting the positioning and value proposition through aspects of style—selecting specific images, phrases, colors, typefaces, music, and so on to convey a specific attitude consistently across all campaigns and message channels. Branding even extends to company cars, staff uniforms, and headquarters decor, because a brand is essentially a personality. You express your personality through what you drive, what you wear, and how you decorate your home; so do brands.
In January 2012 carmaker BMW of North America introduced new advertising that reinforced its positioning as “the ultimate driving machine.” The advertising tagline had been used continuously by BMW since 1975. The new campaign promoted the tagline to a company-wide slogan. As a value proposition, the phrase promises the joy and passion for driving pleasure that BMW has become known for (Levere, 2012).
Positioning requires sacrifice, since differentiated offerings have specific value for specific market niches. Certain aspects are going to be more important than others to any given market segment. Some differentiating aspects on which positioning strategy can be built include the following:
Marriott International’s Westin Hotels and Resorts brand launched a new campaign in early 2017 that responded to a pain point experienced by many travelers—maintaining their regular routines when on the road. Westin’s marketers chose a specific positioning strategy for the marketing campaign, captured in the slogan “Will You Get Up, or Will You Rise?” Since 2011 (the last time Westin had released a global brand campaign), the company had been upgrading its properties with a focus on well-being (Paquarelli, 2017). Elements of the Let’s Rise campaign, which included TV, radio, print, digital, and outdoor ads, showed travelers taking control of their well-being. Examples included getting up early to go for a run, eating a healthy breakfast, and experiencing a good night’s sleep. “Because morning is the first and best opportunity to take control of the day ahead, the campaign uses morning light as a consistent creative device to speak to the potential that the morning holds” (Marriott International, 2017, para. 5), stated a Westin press release about the campaign, illustrating the extent to which elements of style support a brand’s positioning.
The goal of positioning, as shown by these examples, is to move individuals to action—to recognize a need, consider options, buy, join, or recommend.
Marketers Position, but Customers Determine the Brand
In his book Differentiate or Die, published in 2000, Jack Trout recognized that differentiation takes place in the mind of the consumer, writing, “If you understand how the mind works, you’ll understand positioning” (as cited in Garment, 2011, p. 2). The consumer is the prime focus.
Organizations do what they can through marketing communications to position a brand, but it is customers who determine whether the brand comes to life. Marketers are learning to adapt to this new environment in which they do not control the message but collaborate with the many voices of their customers to construct a brand narrative. Social media provides the tools, accelerating the many conversations taking place between the brand and its consumers, as well as among consumer communities—including dissenters (Wong, 2011).
Experiential marketing is another approach that, like social media, draws the voice of customers into the conversation about a brand, in real-time, face-to-face encounters (events). This strategy directly involves consumers by inviting them to participate in some kind of experience. The Knorr Love at First Taste campaign profiled in Chapter 2 is an example. These experiences are designed to take advantage of the humanity-centric urge to connect with like-minded people in meaningful ways.
Brands must behave like people in order to connect with consumers. People have friends; the parallel in marketing is a brand’s advocates. These brand-loyal consumers lead the discussion around the products and services that stir their passions. Marketers collaborate with these opinion leaders to evaluate new product ideas, marketing messages, and even cocreate new products. Godiva Chocolatier taps the “chocoholic” female community to drive product development—leading in one case during the economic downturn to the creation of chocolate lollipops as an answer to the need for little luxuries at easy-to-splurge-on prices (O’Malley, 2011). Some companies hire opinion leaders (for example, bloggers) to be ambassadors for their brands to specific customer communities. However, the use of compensation such as free merchandise, advertising support, or actual payment doesn’t guarantee that brand ambassadors will return the favor with positive brand communications.
Marketing communications has fundamentally changed under the impact of these customer communities. This coauthoring of the brand narrative tends to make traditional marketers nervous as they lose control of brand messaging. It shouldn’t, though. Rather, this collaboration should be celebrated, because it helps achieve marketing’s primary objective: customer orientation.
Authenticity must be part of a brand’s DNA. The brands consumers trust are those that consistently live by their values, communicating an essence that is consistent, believable, and appealing. That means something very different for Harley-Davidson, where the brand community expects an archetypal outlaw, and Dyson, with its promise of “better living through better engineering” (Smith, 2011). Given the vibrant, always-on conversation among consumers, losing credibility means losing a whole network of consumers.
Harley–Davidson owner posing with his motorcycle.
Mags Out/TV Out/Associated Press
Dyson vacuum cleaner.
Dyson Associated Press
Authenticity will differ from brand to brand. What is considered true to Harley–Davidson’s image will not serve for Dyson. Can you think of any other brands with differing values?
For an example of a brand built on authenticity, consider the story of a young British entrepreneur who became a YouTube phenomenon by teaching women how to create specific looks with makeup. As a teen, Lauren Luke experimented with makeup to counter her lack of trendy clothes and bolster her self-confidence. She began selling makeup on eBay. Luke soon discovered that photographing the makeup applied to her face rather than in containers increased sales dramatically. But responding to customer queries became so time consuming that she decided to make a video showing people how she used her products. Luke posted her first video under the name Panacea81 (on how to achieve the smoky-eye makeup look) on YouTube in 2007. The video went viral, quickly passing 1 million hits. Other makeup-tutorial videos followed, and within months she began making money from YouTube’s sponsored advertising model. Within a year, Sephora offered Luke her own private label line of makeup. The authenticity of Luke’s story was essential to the success of her personal brand (Wong, 2011).
When companies fail to live up to their brand’s DNA, the fallout can be public and damaging. New York–based State Street Global Advisors, a financial services firm, commissioned a bronze statue titled Fearless Girl that was installed on Wall Street in 2017. Its placement made it appear to be staring down the famous Charging Bull statue with its defiant posture of hands on hips, ponytail and skirt blowing. It was installed on International Women’s Day—March 7—to celebrate the first anniversary of the firm’s Gender Diversity Index, an investment fund made up of companies with a higher percentage of women among senior leaders. This sounds noble—but less than a year later, the firm was revealed to be underpaying its own female employees. State Street Global Advisors agreed to pay $5 million to settle the claim (Stevens, 2017). The disconnect between the firm’s publicly promoted belief in women’s potential and its own internal compensation and hiring practices garnered negative press and damaged the company’s perception of authenticity.
Field Trip 6.2: Ruby Coffee Roasters
Jared Linzmeier launched Ruby Coffee Roasters to share the coffees from around the world that had become his passion as a Seattle barista. He builds his company’s brand through a lively presence on social media, especially Instagram. Linzmeier writes the posts and takes the photographs himself, seamlessly merging his own personality with the brand personality of the company he founded.
Follow this link to view Ruby Coffee Roasters’ Instagram feed:
Managing the Brand
The point of coordinated marketing communications is to generate interaction between brand advertising in traditional message channels and the ongoing consumer conversation about the brand in social media. Today “managing the brand” means marketers are participating in consumer conversations, not just producing traditional advertising.
Also important is consistently delivering an excellent consumer experience. Rose Cameron, chief strategy officer with Euro RSGC Chicago, said in an interview with Megan O’Malley (2011) of the Journal of Integrated Marketing Communications:
If what you design only lives in your outbound communications, but customers don’t experience it in your customer service level or product level or retail level, etc., you’re dead. If, on the other hand, your brand vision lives across all levels, you flourish. You can see this manifested by Apple . . . they’ve incorporated it in the DNA of the brand. (p. 14)
We recognize that now, customers create the brand through their experiences and conversations. What, then, can organizations do to manage brands over which they do not have ultimate control? Marketers can help consumers have positive experiences by satisfying their expectations of authenticity, transparency, consistency, and commitment to trustworthiness. The most effective brand conversations help consumers see that they share beliefs and passions with the companies that serve them. Brand narratives nurture that feeling of shared values.
Measuring Brand Performance
Ideally, every promotion has performance measures built into its design. Pretesting before launching the promotion provides feedback that allows marketers to make modifications to improve the campaign’s effectiveness. Posttesting measures the impact of the promotion and gives insight into its contribution toward achieving marketing objectives. Marketing metrics such as pre- and posttesting, which can measure either communication effect or sales effect, are discussed in Chapter 9. Listening to the consumer conversation provides additional information that answers questions research may have failed to ask.
Tracking performance over time is an essential component of marketing management. By comparing how each iteration or evolution of the promotional program affects the brand narrative, marketers identify the most effective appeals, message channels, and consumer communities. Marketers should gather and aggregate data in a manner that allows them to compare the relative impact of various mixes of promotional tools, execution choices, and situational factors.
Carrying out promotional campaigns is expensive and time consuming. Measuring return on that investment is crucial not just to justify that investment but also to gain top leaders’ support for the cross-functional organizational collaboration required to execute promotional campaigns.
In summary, the implications of branding for marketers are many, but they can be understood in two main categories: the aspects under consumers’ control and those under marketers’ control. Customers experience the brand through many diverse points of contact, ranging from traditional advertising messages to conversations in which everyone from advocates to dissenters have their say. Marketers’ positioning strategy creates the identity consumers experience. Marketers’ measurement of brand performance (including listening to consumer conversations) provides the feedback necessary to keep the brand narrative alive and aligned with its target market.
Questions to Consider
“The chief function of Marketing Communications is the creation and perpetuation of deep meaning through narrative,” proposed Terry Smith (2011, p. 26) in the Marketing Review.
Do you agree?
Call to mind a brand about which you feel passionate. Describe its brand narrative and what it means to you.
6.2 Using Promotions to Strengthen Brands
Consumers are receiving messages constantly; some are welcome, but most are easy to tune out. Marketers must break through all those messages if they are to achieve their communication objectives. Positioning strategy is the chief method by which marketers attempt to penetrate all that noise. Effective promotions position brands in ways that trigger emotional connection, stimulate conversation, and ultimately lead to a loyal bond between company and customer.
Therefore, it follows that the ultimate mission of promotions is to strengthen brands in order to draw consumers into the brand narrative with companies that share their passions. Under that broad mission, there are usually more specific promotional objectives to be served.
Objectives of a Promotion
Promotions strengthen brands by conveying messages to consumers, directly or indirectly, via marketing communications. Messages that are specific and highly focused are more effective than general statements. Marketers should choose a specific task to accomplish with each promotional campaign. Some common objectives, with examples, are included in Table 6.1.
Table 6.1: Promotional objectives
Promotional objective Example
Provide information Auto advertisement featuring fuel efficiency
Increase demand Product category advertising by an industry’s trade association
Differentiate a product Advertising by a company illustrating its brand promise
Highlight a product’s value Advertising favorably comparing a company’s product to a competitor’s product
Stabilize sales Tourist destinations running ads to increase visits during off-peak seasons
Position Advertising by a company emphasizing its value proposition
Note. Marketers target a promotional objective for every marketing campaign.
Consider how the objectives in Table 6.1 differ. Once, providing information was all advertising was expected to do. Messages let consumers know what was available, supported with details about how to take possession of it. The directness of this approach is still useful when the authentic personality of a brand demands an atmosphere free of “advertising hype.”
Increasing demand is the objective of most promotions. The aim can be to stimulate primary demand for a general product category, such as when members of the Self Storage Association advertise to encourage the public to “Declutterfy!” Or it can be to encourage selective demand (also referred to as secondary demand) by increasing the appeal of a specific brand, as in the PODS company’s ads that feature the slogan “PODS: moving and storage, solved.”
Creating primary demand works on consumer interest in an entire class of offerings, while selective demand leverages the differentiation of a product or service to make it stand out from others in its category. It is a common marketing practice for groups of advertisers to pool funds to increase primary demand for a product category in which they share a common interest. The California Milk Marketing Board’s Got Milk? campaign presents an example.
Compare the ad from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board promoting cheese consumption with the ad for Perdue Farms’ chicken. The cheese ad is designed to create primary demand for the general category of cheese, with the hope that cheese purchased will come from Wisconsin producers (whose efforts are supported by a state check-off program whereby Wisconsin dairy farmers contribute funds to promote Wisconsin-produced dairy products through the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, an organization overseen by a 25-member board of Wisconsin dairy farmers). The Perdue Farms ad is designed to create selective demand for Perdue Farms’ brand of chicken products.
Differentiating a product requires finding the value proposition that makes an emotional connection with potential customers. The advertiser must promise a specific benefit that no competitor can claim, in a way that compels potential customers to take action. The Avis We Try Harder campaign is credited with causing the company’s market share to grow from 11% in 1962 to 35% in 1966 and was so effective that the slogan became the company’s motto and remained in use until 2012—50 years later (Parekh, 2012). Differentiation can be conveyed in many ways besides advertising slogans and jingles, of course. Design elements such as fleet vehicles, retail ambience, and website design all contribute to differentiating a product or service. Highlighting a product’s value differentiates it on the dimension of price, emphasizing the greater service utility provided when compared to competitors charging the same price.
Stabilizing sales is a helpful goal when demand for a good or service fluctuates. Seasons, usage cycles, and even weather events can cause changes in demand. Tourist destinations like Las Vegas run ads to fill hotel rooms during off-peak times of year.
In Chapter 2 you learned about a method of business portfolio analysis called the BCG Matrix. This tool, which visualizes the relative market share of products and the growth of their market by assigning them to quadrants labeled stars, cash cows, dogs, and question marks, can also be applied to assess how a company might match different promotional objectives to different offerings, using the same vectors of market share and market growth. A promotional objective of providing information might be all a company’s cash cows need, while its fast-growing stars might justify strategic investment in differentiating a product/service, thereby anticipating competitors’ countermoves, such as introducing “me too” offerings.
These promotional objectives are not mutually exclusive. For example, a campaign can be primarily about increasing demand but also accomplish product differentiation. Nor is this list of possible objectives complete. A look back at Ansoff’s Matrix (also in Chapter 2) might suggest more promotional objectives, like launching a product in a new geographic market or to a new customer segment.
Components of the Promotional Mix
Message channels carry marketing communications. The choice of message channels to be used is a key component of the promotions aspect of the marketing mix.
Promotional strategies will typically emphasize either personal selling (which can be face-to-face or via technology) or nonpersonal selling (through …