Promotion Decisions Tutorial

Those unfamiliar with marketing often assume it is the same thing as advertising. Certainly our coverage so far in the Principles of Marketing Tutorials has suggested this is not the case. Marketing encompasses many tasks and decisions, of which advertising may only be a small portion.

Additionally, when non-marketers hear someone talk about “promotion” they frequently believe the person is talking about advertising. While advertising is the most visible and best understood method of promotion, it is only one of several approaches a marketer can choose to promote their products and services.

In this tutorial we begin our discussion of the third major area of the marketing mix – promotion.

Many view promotional activities as the most glamorous part of marketing. This may have to do with the fact that promotion is often associated with creative activity undertaken to help distinguish a company’s products from competitors’ offerings. While creativity is an important element in promotion decisions, marketers must also have a deep understanding of how the marketing communication process works and how promotion helps the organization achieve its objectives.

Promotion is a form of corporate communication that uses various methods to reach a targeted audience with a certain message in order to achieve specific organizational objectives. Nearly all organizations, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, in all types of industries, must engage in some form of promotion. Such efforts may range from multinational firms spending large sums on securing high-profile celebrities to serve as corporate spokespersons to the owner of a one-person enterprise passing out business cards at a local businessperson’s meeting.

Like most marketing decisions, an effective promotional strategy requires the marketer understand how promotion fits with other pieces of the marketing puzzle (e.g., product, distribution, pricing, target markets). Consequently, promotion decisions should be made with an appreciation for how it affects other areas of the company. For instance, running a major advertising campaign for a new product without first assuring there will be enough inventory to meet potential demand generated by the advertising would certainly not go over well with the company’s production department (not to mention other key company executives). Thus, marketers should not work in a vacuum when making promotion decisions. Rather, the overall success of a promotional strategy requires input from others in impacted functional areas.

In addition to coordinating general promotion decisions with other business areas, individual promotions must also work together. Under the concept of Integrated Marketing Communication marketers attempt to develop a unified promotional strategy involving the coordination of many different types of promotional techniques. The key idea for the marketer who employs several promotional options (we’ll discuss potential options later in this tutorial) to reach objectives for the product is to employ a consistent message across all options. For instance, salespeople will discuss the same benefits of a product as mentioned in television advertisements. In this way no matter how customers are exposed to a marketer’s promotional efforts they all receive the same information.

The most obvious objective marketers have for promotional activities is to convince customers to make a decision that benefits the marketer (of course the marketer believes the decision will also benefit the customer). For most for-profit marketers this means getting customers to buy an organization’s product and, in most cases, to remain a loyal long-term customer. For other marketers, such as not-for-profits, it means getting customers to increase donations, utilize more services, change attitudes, or change behavior (e.g., stop smoking campaigns).

However, marketers must understand that getting customers to commit to a decision, such as a purchase decision, is only achievable when a customer is ready to make the decision. As we saw in the tutorials covering Consumer Buying Behavior and Business Buying Behavior, customers often move through several stages before a purchase decision is made. Additionally before turning into a repeat customer, purchasers analyze their initial purchase to see whether they received a good value, and then often repeat the purchase process again before deciding to make the same choice.

The type of customer the marketer is attempting to attract and which stage of the purchase process a customer is in will affect the objectives of a particular marketing communication effort. And since a marketer often has multiple simultaneous promotional campaigns, the objective of each could be different.

The audience for an organization’s marketing communication efforts is not limited to just the marketer’s target market. While the bulk of a marketer’s promotional budget may be directed at the target market, there are many other groups that could also serve as useful target of a marketing message.

Targets of a marketing message generally fall into one of the following categories:

  • Members of the Organization’s Target Market – This category would include current customers, previous customers and potential customers, and as noted, may receive the most promotional attention.
  • Influencers of the Organization’s Target Market – There exists a large group of people and organizations that can affect how a company’s target market is exposed to and perceives a company’s products. These influencing groups have their own communication mechanisms that reach the target market and the marketer may be able utilize these influencers to its benefit. Influencers include the news media (e.g., offer company stories), special interest groups, opinion leaders (e.g., doctors directing patients), and industry trade associations.
  • Participants in the Distribution Process – The distribution channel provides services to help gain access to final customers and are also target markets since they must recognize a product’s benefits and agree to handle the product in the same way as final customers who must agree to purchase products. Aiming promotions at distribution partners (e.g., retailers, wholesalers, distributors) and other channel members is extremely important and, in some industries, represents a higher portion of a marketer’s promotional budget than promotional spending directed at the final customer.
  • Other Companies – The most likely scenario in which a company will communicate with another company occurs when the marketer is probing to see if the company would have an interest in a joint venture, such as a co-marketing arrangement where two firms share marketing costs. Reaching out to other companies, including companies who may be competitors for other products, could help create interest in discussing such a relationship.
  • Other Organizational Stakeholders – Marketers may also be involved with communication activities directed at other stakeholders. This group consists of those who provide services, support or, in other ways, impact the company. For example, an industry group that sets industry standards can affect company products through the issuance of recommended compliance standards for product development or other marketing activities. Communicating with this group is important to insure the marketer’s views of any changes in standards are known.

The possible objectives for marketing promotions may include the following:

  • Build Awareness – New products and new companies are often unknown to a market, which means initial promotional efforts must focus on establishing an identity. In this situation the marketer must focus promotion to: 1) effectively reach customers, and 2) tell the market who they are and what they have to offer.
  • Create Interest – Moving a customer from awareness of a product to making a purchase can present a significant challenge. As we saw with our discussion of consumer and business buying behavior, customers must first recognize they have a need before they actively start to consider a purchase. The focus on creating messages that convince customers that a need exists has been the hallmark of marketing for a long time with promotional appeals targeted at basic human characteristics such as emotions, fears, sex, and humor.
  • Provide Information – Some promotion is designed to assist customers in the search stage of the purchasing process. In some cases, such as when a product is so novel it creates a new category of product and has few competitors, the information is simply intended to explain what the product is and may not mention any competitors. In other situations, where the product competes in an existing market, informational promotion may be used to help with a product positioning strategy. As we discuss in the Targeting Markets tutorial, marketers may use promotional means, including direct comparisons with competitor’s products, in an effort to get customers to mentally distinguish the marketer’s product from those of competitors.
  • Stimulate Demand – The right promotion can drive customers to make a purchase. In the case of products that a customer has not previously purchased or has not purchased in a long time, the promotional efforts may be directed at getting the customer to try the product. This is often seen on the Internet where software companies allow for free demonstrations or even free downloadable trials of their products. For products with an established customer-base, promotion can encourage customers to increase their purchasing by providing a reason to purchase products sooner or purchase in greater quantities than they normally do. For example, a pre-holiday newspaper advertisement may remind customers to stock up for the holiday by purchasing more than they typically purchase during non-holiday periods.
  • Reinforce the Brand – Once a purchase is made, a marketer can use promotion to help build a strong relationship that can lead to the purchaser becoming a loyal customer. For instance, many retail stores now ask for a customer’s email address so that follow-up emails containing additional product information or even an incentive to purchase other products from the retailer can be sent in order to strengthen the customer-marketer relationship.