Marketing and Marketing Communications for Small and Medium Businesses: Important Forecasts for 2017

2016 ended with Americans exhausted by emotionally harrowing politics, stories of entanglements abroad, and violence at home. Companies have also struggled with modest economic growth and a turbulent stock market. As 2017 begins, everyone, consumers and organizations alike, is facing uncertainty in a variety of scenarios.

Against this backdrop, companies have yet to develop, plan, and execute strategies for profitable growth. After speaking with a number of colleagues and clients, and reading feedback from various experts and forecasters, here’s my take on what’s in store for B2B and B2C small and medium-sized businesses in the coming year:

1. A significant number of marketers, both large and small, will be conducting agency reviews in 2017. The current Advertiser Perceptions report (based on 420 marketers representing about 90 percent of the top 100 US advertisers) reveals a staggering number of planned revisions:

66% plan creative agency reviews;

· 65% plan to review search agencies;

· 64% plan to review media agencies;

61% plan to review digital agencies.

Why? Beyond the lack of trust in the authorities of society as a whole, rightly or wrongly there has also been a loss of trust between marketers and their agencies. So if you’re feeling concerned about your relationship with the agency, recognize that you’re not alone.

two. There will be significant increases in the number of companies hiring “contingent workers”, ie freelance contract workers and freelance specialists. Faced with increases in the minimum wage, increases in health care costs, and rising payroll taxes, companies are obviously doing everything they can to reduce their fixed labor costs. But the ability to hire top-tier talent for the short or long term is also a practice that is gaining momentum. In fact, a recent survey by Deloitte University Press showed a “significant 7 percent increase” plus a “44 percent increase” in planning to hire contingent workers in the coming years.

Keep in mind that these “outsiders” bring fresh energy and fresh ideas to any type of organization, and at the same time, just maybe provide you with some savings on your bottom line.

3. Media fraud and ad blocking will increase in 2017. Much was uncovered by the Association of National Advertisers’ eight-month investigation of undisclosed rebates flowing from digital media companies to agencies. However, there is an incentive for fraudsters to keep doing what they are doing due to the ability to bypass fraud detection systems. This widespread practice can influence agency media recommendations (and bottom line results), while obviously not in the best interest of clients.

Perhaps most importantly, the staggering growth in ad blocking across all markets poses a major threat to digital media. At least 419 million people around the world are blocking ads on their smartphones, almost double the number of blocks on desktop computers. That’s 22 percent of the world’s 1.9 billion smartphone users (PageFair – Ad Blocking Goes Mobile).

Digital and mobile media are not going away, but using them effectively is challenging. Find trusted professionals to make sure you get what you expect.

Four. Since customers and supporters are the lifeblood of any business or nonprofit organization, organizations will need to significantly increase their efforts to gain insight into their real-world wants and needs. A recent McKinsey & Co. study of about 700 top executives found that: 1) only 6 percent of companies felt they understood their customers’ needs very well; and 2) seventy-two percent considered customer knowledge assumptions inadequate.

There has been an explosion in the amount of customer data available, with new software programs mining all kinds of shopping information and reviews, including from social media. To be competitive, organizations will need to continue to expand their knowledge using this new information. It just doesn’t seem smart to even consider developing a specific strategy or plan without knowing your customers, so make sure you have the skills to gather and interpret the right information.

5. Developing and maintaining a positive customer experience will become the new king of marketing. Distrust in institutions seems to be rampant: products are recalled, passwords stolen, online tweets carry as much credibility as government agencies. Starting with employees, ensure they have the knowledge and tools to better serve the customer, create a positive experience, and advocate for repeat purchases and customer referrals.

Trust is the new black. All aspects of a brand’s life must convey reliability, consistently delivered in a credible manner, at every touch point.

6. The acceptance and use of direct mail by millennials will continue to increase. Yes, millennials. And, yes, postal mail. This demographic is the most likely to open and read direct mail. In fact, 63% reported that they made a purchase based on a direct mail piece they opened in the last 3 months (Info Trend Study of direct marketing in the US).

Maybe your inundation with spam, interrupted ads, and nonsensical content leaves them tired of staring at screens and searching for a “new” medium. After all, it’s not about technology; it’s about effectiveness.

7. While online media spend will tie with TV for the largest spend in 2017, more marketers will recognize that the majority of top media spend is still on traditional media (65%). Spending on television will rise 1 percent, out-of-home 4 percent, as radio stays flat with only magazines and newspapers showing declines (by 5 and 9 percent, respectively). In addition, the Marketing Services category will increase 2.8 percent to $237 billion, led by sales promotion, telemarketing, direct mail and event sponsorships. (Age of advertising)

It goes without saying that determining where to spend your marketing communications dollars is becoming more complex. The key to doing this successfully is understanding the difference between selecting the newest “efficient” tactical tool and selecting the most “effective” one. This is increasingly important for small businesses, which cannot afford costly mistakes.

8. Much more time and smart thinking will go into strategy development, marketing positioning and planning, and marketing communications. A 2015 “Meaningful Brands” study by Havas reported that most people wouldn’t care if three-quarters of all brands were gone forever. Also, most brands haven’t updated their strategies to satisfy today’s internet-enabled shoppers. These buyers have access to a wealth of information and have a wealth of purchasing options at their fingertips. It is more vital than ever that, in order to survive, you must continue to maintain the meaning of your brand to your constituents.

Both for-profit and non-profit brands need to make it absolutely clear how they are different from the competition and make their value proposition fully credible at every opportunity. Once your plan is implemented, you also need to know what is working and measure everything.

Value Marketing and Marketing Communications Consultants

2017 brings with it a considerable number of unknowns and concerns facing your customers, prospects, and even your employees. They are clearly more cautious about what to believe and who to trust in the coming year. All organizations are faced with these issues and the dilemma of how to run a successful business in this climate.

Many small and medium-sized organizations are partnering with established, independent high-level consultants to help them with marketing and marketing communications budgets and plans: evaluate, develop, refine and, if appropriate, implement. If this is something you might consider, look for people with extensive B2B, B2C, and nonprofit experience across all industries and brands. Look for consultants who are media neutral and don’t sell a particular discipline. And make sure they’re passionate about results analysis and willing to “say it like us” so candor can flourish.

Improving profitable ROI from sales and marketing communications is a daunting task. Finding the right consultant to partner with you can take a bit of searching, but as Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

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