Midsized Company Marketing Communications Budget Planning

This is the time of year when most companies, brands and nonprofits are involved with developing their marketing communications plans and budgets for next year. This is not an easy task in any year but, whether you’re already deeply involved in the process, or just starting, the task is even more challenging this year given the continuing global and economic uncertainties.

More than ever, increased accountability and scrutiny of the decision-making process is a necessity for improving marketing communications ROI. Customers, whether existing or new, have a multitude of choices for evaluating and selecting a product or service, so it’s extremely important to be on the same page with them.

What follows recommends a three-pronged approach to help you develop a budget and plan to profitably impact your marketplace.

Understand Your Customer Target Audience
Like most managers, you probably believe you fully understand the wants and needs of your customers, as well as their knowledge of your brand. But with so many new methods available to customers for comparing your brand to competition, are you really sure?

Is it smart to plan and commit your precious marketing communication dollars to what you think you know about customers? Maybe it would be a lot smarter to learn directly from them what they want, and how you stack up to their needs.

Ultimately, that means market research. Whether you’re a B2B, B2C or a nonprofit marketer, now is the time to learn from your customer.

  • What attributes or qualities are important to them in selecting a brand? Beyond price, what other factors influence their purchase decision?
  • How do they rate your brand versus competition? What are your strongest and weakest attributes, and what do you need to improve?

Wouldn’t you feel more secure in your decision making if you had concrete answers to these questions before you develop, much less commit to, budgets? And don’t forget about making sure you understand your employees or distributors. They’re your first line of brand advocacy. Their beliefs may not line up with your customers’ beliefs, and could lead to lost opportunities or lost sales. Look before you leap.

A Marketing Communications Audit Can Sharpen Your Message
Once you completely understand your customer, the next step is to focus on your message. The single greatest source of leverage you have is the quality of messaging, whether it’s a television commercial, a post on a Facebook page, your website, articles, blogs or whitepapers. When messaging fails to deliver, it’s usually not the platforms that fail, but rather the lack of integrated focused brand communications.

A marketing communications audit, conducted by outside consultants who don’t have a vested interest or an ax to grind, can – like a financial audit – be an enormous benefit. It will tell you whether all of the creative elements you employ – subject matter, graphics, copy, and tone and manner – are working together with one clear and meaningful message to your customers, as well as your employees.

An additional benefit of a marketing communications audit is its ability to help determine your communications mix and resulting budgets. For instance, based on customer needs, perhaps more should be spent in content marketing, with articles and blogs, and less in paid advertising, consumer promotions or coupons. Just make sure all of your messaging is saying the same thing to meet those customer needs. It’s a matter of reinforcing the image you want to convey and trust in your brand.

Consider Marketing Communications Consultants
No one is doubting that smart, dedicated people have been involved in developing your marketing communications budget and plan. But, if you’re like most midsized companies, your people are probably stretched to the limit.

Consider partnering with an established, senior level consultant to help your team develop, refine and, if appropriate, implement your programs. Above all, make sure a consultant has extensive experience across disciplines, industries and brands, and isn’t trapped by “this is the way we’ve always done it” thinking. An apolitical team, with a willingness to “tell it like it is”, with fresh eyes can be a major asset to your profitable growth.

In today’s unsettled environment, an upfront focus on developing budgets and plans can go a long way to improving marketing communications ROI.

Affiliate Marketing 101 – What You Need to Know

What would you like to promote? Affiliate marketing is no stranger to the Internet, and certainly no stranger to network marketers and article marketing is still a successful way to promote your online business or blog. Affiliate marketing offers a phenomenal opportunity for people who do not have a lot of start-up capital or a lot of time to put together a giant campaign. Affiliate marketing has some very good advantages which include no product of your own, no inventory, no shipping or overhead and no real sales force. For the merchant it can also be a cheap and effective marketing strategy.

What are Affiliate Programs?
Generally speaking affiliate programs are marketing programs offered by web advertisers or merchants that recruit website owners and bloggers. The merchants provide banner ads, links and buttons for website owners to place on their website to market the merchant’s products. In turn, the website owner or blogger will receive a referral fee or commission when a customer purchases a product that is delivered via an affiliate link. One of the most common types of affiliate links are pay per click (PPC – Pay Per Click) however, increasingly now have been intertwined with email and content marketing.

The Product:
When you are looking for an affiliate program there are some things you need to consider before choosing which company you are going to take arms with. The product should be one of quality can also be a service. As long as it’s a product viable service and it offers something of value to the customer.

There are several types of compensation plans built into affiliate marketing programs, and one of them can be a residual program. However, not all affiliate marketing programs have residual programs built into them. If you can find one with residual funds, then that would be the way to go. However, there are some that actually offer a significantly high commission rate that may make up for the loss of the residual income. There are also others that offer a multilevel marketing structure of compensation. Now if you’re familiar with multilevel marketing than that may be an avenue that you would choose to examine.

But before jumping into any multilevel marketing program, you should read up on it and do a thorough analysis. The last thing you want to do is jump into an affiliate program that is going to be a serious waste of time.

Choosing an Affiliate Program:
Back in 1994 there weren’t very many affiliate programs to choose from and most of them were revolved around offensive content websites. Today, affiliate programs have a higher standard and it is a new way of doing business. There are many companies that have affiliate marketing programs lime Amazon, web hosting companies, domain name registrars, and electronic websites, Apple iTunes, bit defender, panda security, PC health boost, Commission Junction, eBay Partner Network, Google AdSense, VistaPrint and the list goes on and on.

You can find an affiliate program for almost anything you want to sell. It is a good idea to sell something that is related to your website, providing you have one. Not everybody that signs up for an affiliate program has a website to run it through. There are some that actually write articles and direct the URLs to their affiliate program.

Becoming an Affiliate:
If you want to become an affiliate it’s not that hard. You simply go to the website of choice and look for their affiliate link program. Usually what will happen is you will sign up and get a unique affiliate ID along with some banners and links. You then place these on your website so that your potential audience can click on those links which if they purchase, you will receive a commission. Just because you signed up for an affiliate program doesn’t mean that you’re actually going to drive traffic to your website. You still need to do something about driving traffic to your website or affiliate link like write compelling articles and become an expert in your field. These articles can be placed on article databases and are a sure way of driving traffic to your website or affiliate link.

What You Should Look For:
When you go shopping for an affiliate program, try to look for high affiliate commissions, long cookies and of course you would want to get a great conversion rate. Two-tier programs which have the same structure as a multilevel marketing organization and can be quite lucrative. Such organizations that earn billions in multilevel marketing and direct sales is companies like Amway which has been in business for 53 years, Nu Skin started in 1984 and Nature’s Sunshine started in 1972 so multilevel marketing has been around for some time. Residual affiliate programs is definitely the way to go. You continue to make money on that visitor month after month. The advantage here is that eventually your sales start accumulating where you’re making more and more money as opposed to the individual sale where you have to continuously make money to stay at the same level.

Where You Can Go:
There is services out there that have a database of a lot of companies that are doing affiliate program so you do not have to run around and seek out each individual program themselves. Companies like ClickBank where you sign up and select the affiliate program you wish to support.

Marketing Your Link:
Now let’s talk about that affiliate link for a moment. Most affiliate links are extremely long, hideous and some of them have special characters in them like a “?” or “=” sign. These links will not rank on search engines like Google very well and definitely cannot be added to pay per click like Google AdSense. What I would suggest is getting yourself a domain name and rerouting it to your affiliate offer. Let’s take for an example if I wanted to become an affiliate of a cell phone electronics company and I had a website I can actually write a review on a particular cell phone that I’m trying to market. If it’s more than one, then I could just pick a product or two to write my articles on. Anyway, I would try to register a domain name that may have something in it like cheap cell phones or something along those lines to help the search engines determine what your product might be.

Increase Your Sales:
What if you don’t have a website and you wish to increase your sales with affiliate marketing; what would you do? One way to market an affiliate program I briefly touched on is to write quality articles about the product that is being marketed. I truly suggest this strategy to increase traffic and sales. There are several article directories that you can post your articles to, but do not post the same article to multiple sites other than the article directory and your own site if you have one. Article directories can be a very good source of traffic because of their reputation and the amount of visitors they have each month reading your article. Of course, some of those readers will click on your affiliate link driving traffic to your affiliate program. I like Ezine Articles as an article directory, but there are others like; Goarticles, ehow, Examiner, Technorati, Thefreelibrary and much more, but that’s a good start. Don’t just read one article when doing your research and regurgitate the content from that one article. Try to do some in-depth study to get a complete understanding of what it is you’re writing about. Once you have that understanding, try to simplify your article by using either bullet points or topic list. To get people to click on your link you need to be compelled to do so, but the only way to do that is to write compelling articles.

Making money on the net with affiliate programs can be a rewarding experience if you know where to go the fine the right affiliate program and how to do the research needed. Just locating an affiliate program is not all you need to do, you need to weigh the gravity of that affiliate program. First determine what it is you would like to sell and do your research. Hopefully, you will look for something that accents your website or if you don’t have a website, something that you know a lot about so that you can write your reviews.

Explaining Customer Communications Management Technology For Marketing Communications Professionals

Customer Communications Management is a term highlighted by research companies such as Gartner Group, Forrester Research and Madison Advisors to define a convergent set of Information Technology solutions that together provide marketing communication professionals the ability to advance the way that they communicate with their customers.

Advocates of Customer Communications Management and its definition include Gartner Group, Forrester Research and Madison Advisors as well as a host of vendor organisations such as Pitney Bowes Group 1 Software, HP Exstream Software, Thunderhead, Xenos and EMC Document Sciences.

Initial Customer Communications Management concepts were focused upon the utilisation of company transactional documents. These documents such as bank statements, statement of account, invoices and other customer transactional documents were viewed as an ideal location in which to promote company products to customers.

The rationale behind this was cited in analyst research by Info Trends that, “transactional documents are opened and read by more than 90% of consumers. Because the average consumer is bombarded with advertising, e-mail, direct mail and other forms of solicitation each day, TransPromo can help you cut through the clutter and stand out.”

Not only are transactional documents more likely to be opened and observed than other types of document, they are also more likely to be studied for longer than say a direct mail piece. Thus, a company has an opportunity to communicate and promote its message to the customer.

The technology that supports customer communications management also allows sophistication in the content of the messages. Customer communications management technology may consist of the following components (of which you’ll find plenty of information on this site):

1. Data Extraction, Transform & Load software.
2. Data Management, Analysis and location intelligence software.
3. Data Hygiene database software.
4. Document composition software.
5. Electronic document archive software and perhaps payment processing functionality.
6. Print Stream Engineering / Post Processing Software.
7. Mailing compliance database software.
8. Printer Management Software.
9. High and medium volume production printers.
10. Envelope inserter machines such as those manufactured by Kern, Bowe or Pitney Bowes.
11. Email Marketing Software.
12. SMS Communication Software.
13. Mobile Media based content distribution software.
14. Entering the frame more recently social media distribution software.
15. Document Production Reporting Software

There are a number of key factors concerning the way in which the software assists the marketing communications professional.

The data extraction software presents marketers and business with an opportunity to combine data from multiple systems to enable a customer analysis. Through this customer analysis process it is possible for marketers to evaluate the marketing mix and position individual products to the customer in respect of relevance to the customer or the results of purchase propensity model.

The end result of this process will be the creation of a data model, data acquisition and decision rules that enable a document composition engine to follow its own set of document application rules to construct individual documents on the basis of data items contained within an individuals data record.

Thus the concept of one-to-one marketing is born.

It is theoretically possible at least that for a run of 100,000 statements, no statement will contain the same set of offers. Thus, clothing for women would not be marketed to men whilst ‘male gadgets’ would not be marketed to women.

But Customer Communications Management is not just about making offers to customers. It also provides companies with the opportunity to improve the clarity of their communications. Rather than producing line driven data in which it is difficult for a customer to extrapolate trends and a deepening of understanding in respect of his or her relationship with the supplying company, Customer Communications Management provides the opportunity for a company to deliver visual analysis through clear graphics and highlighted content.

The Document Composition engine is responsible for interpreting data and following a set of rules to create a set of documents that can either be printed or distributed electronically. The Document Composition engine usually produces either a print stream or, XML data.

Print streams are languages that printers use to instruct the print process. They are known as PDL’s or Page Description Language. Common print stream types include AFP, Xerox Metacode, VIPP, PCL and Postscript. There are numerous others but, in production printing environments these are probably the most common.

Sometimes the Document Composition Engine will output XML. The advantage of XML is that it may be repurposed either to print or to various electronic formats. Thus, XML provides a standard of interoperability between various computer software systems.

As documents move from the virtual data environment into becoming something physical, the may first need post processing. Post processing can be utilised to prepare a print job for production and distribution. This may include tasks such as the application of barcodes to deliver individual mail piece instructions to the inserters and to vary these in terms of the actual inserter being used. For example, one manufacturer’s inserter may require different barcode instructions to complete the same task than another.

Post processing does not only cover production preparation. One of the key cost considerations in Customer Communications Management is the cost of mailing. Various postal operators throughout the world offer discount schemes if a volume mail producer pre-sorts mail before despatch. As this process saves the postal operator considerable effort and cost, a discount is passed to the mail producer. Where mailing volumes are high, this discount figure can be significant to the mail producer where for example the Royal Mail in the UK will offer 18% discount to customers who pre-sort their mail into 120 ‘pots’.

Post processing may not suit all mail sortation needs however and for organisations who produce many smaller jobs, a Mail Sortation machine, situated as the very last element of the production process may be more suitable. Many smaller jobs can be aggregated through the day and then bundled together for a physical mail sortation process.

Sometimes, Post Processing may be an integral part of the document composition process and this may be more efficient from a production point of view because rather than creating a two step document creation and processing process, it can be delivered in a single step and as part of the major document application. This may save production time.

Print Management software controls the routing and distribution of print jobs to either a single production printer or a fleet of production printers. Print management software does not just provide routing as a benefit though, it also provides a mechanism for assured delivery (ensuring that all pages get printed) through communication and feedback from print devices and also provides management information that is useful for Document Production Managers.

Production printers in themselves have been a key driver in the development of Customer Communications Management as a concept. The advent of high speed, 90 page per minute and faster economic colour production printers in recent years has driven the usefulness and power of Customer Communications Management meaning that a company can produce ‘print shop’ quality documents ‘on the fly’ utilising data that may be infinitely variable as in one-to-one customer communications documents.

The final step of the process and the final major utiliser of data derived upstream in the inserting / mail finishing process. This is where paper documents are combined with envelopes and sealed. The inserter uses camera technology to read a barcode that provides a Piece ID, often combined with a data file produced by either the document composition application or the post processing engine.

By obtaining the Piece ID and performing a data file look-up, the inserter is able to determine factors such as the number of pages for a particular mail piece, whether any additional physical inserts are required (such as leaflets)and whether or not a piece should be out sorted for special human handling.

Thus the inserter is able to determine what should go in each envelope. Through further downstream cameras and sensors, it is also able to determine the integrity of a particular piece.

But this is not where Customer communications management ends. The provision of a document archive means that after a document has been created by the document composition engine, it can be made available to a company call centre or website. Call centre users benefit from being able to engage a customer by seeing the document that the customer has in his hand. This saves money in call centres speeding up call centre client query resolution times and meaning that call centres can handle more customers with fewer staff.

The delivery of documents via electronic channels is also seen as favourable, giving consumers a choice of document receipt method that suits their lifestyles. Combined with electronic payment, this may accelerate cash collection and thus improve a company’s cash flow position.

Relevance of communication is seen as key in overcrowded, competitive markets where service differentiation can be difficult. Documents that add value to the customer relationship add to differentiation and for many service oriented businesses and be a major factor in improving customer retention and acquisition.

Chief Marketing Officers are adopting Customer Communications Management because it heralds a world of new opportunity and a new way in which to develop customer relationships.

Highest Profitable Affiliate Program – Best Affiliate Marketing Networks Online

What are the best affiliate programs with the highest profit potential? Believe it or not, there are tons of them, but you have to start with the one that’s best for you, especially if you’re a beginner.

Many beginners are wondering what affiliate marketing is, and how much they can earn from it. Affiliate marketing is simply promoting someone else’s products. Let’s say you have a friend named Bill selling a product and an acquaintance named Sally that is interested in the product.

You simply send the acquaintance, sally, that is interested in the product over to your friend, bill’s, store and when the person you referred buys – you and your friend split the commission, it’s that simple.

There are actually people earning anywhere from flat zero dollars a year to millions annually. It all depends on how you go about doing it, you can definitely be a successful affiliate in due time!

To be honest, most programs are essentially giving you access to unlimited profits, it’s just a matter of how you market it, how interested you are in the particular product you are attempting to promote. There are just a number of factors that play into the highest profitable affiliate program.

What to Look for in an Affiliate Program

When we refer to affiliate program, we are talking about affiliate networks or affiliate websites that give ordinary people such as you and me, extraordinary access to tons of products that are out there to promote.

Here are some of the qualities of the best programs:

o Wide variety of items to promote
o Great commissions
o Recurring products (products that pay on a schedule, using monthly)
o Different Payment Options
o Stat tracking
o Quick and Consistent Payments
o Easy to Use interface

These are just some of the features that you should look for, and there are affiliate programs that have all these features and more! So you should look into it. One of the most highly recommended and best programs out there is known as “Click-bank”, as there are already thousands of affiliates who were complete beginners and are currently earning “full-time income”.