You've slashed expenses and reduced investments to deliver your current profitability. But your sales growth is marginal at best, and you know this is not a sustainable model.You're not alone. According to Frost & Sullivan's CEO Choice Growth Survey, ninety-three percent of Chief Executive Officers consider "growth" their number one objective over the next five years. And with an ever increasing need to use the latest "sales deal-of-the-day" to meet quarterly goals, you know you can't profitably continue this course much longer. Further, and perhaps of even greater importance, marketing budgets have also been cut drastically, impacting brand value for the short, as well as long, term.One tactic you should consider to begin "righting the ship" is to invest in and improve marketing and marketing communications to grow both the top and bottom lines. But where to begin? How to do this? Using which marketing tools? And with whom?Understand The Changing Marketing EnvironmentFirst, you must recognize that there is a changing marketing environment. Businesses and consumers are learning to "do more with less", while also having less time to evaluate choices and make purchase decisions.Therefore, the most fundamental change revolves around one word - trust.With all that has happened, people distrust not just the most traditional of institutions - banks - but business in total. According to a survey by Edelman, only 44 percent of Americans said they trusted business in the Summer of 2009, down from 58 percent in the Fall of 2007. Whether you're a b-to-c, b-to- b, or even a nonprofit, how you act and communicate in this environment is vital to your success.As a first step, employ market research. You probably think you know everything about your existing and potential customers but, other than price, are you really sure you know what's important to them? And do you know what factors are critical to their purchase decisions, and how much trust they place on you to deliver versus your competition? And with downsizing affecting everyone, and new faces in many positions, what do your new purchasers and prospects know about you to begin with? It's time to find out.And these changes are taking place not just in the outside world. Your internal corporate environment has changed as well. With already stretched marketing and sales departments, are the leads generated by marketing actually being followed up by sales? A recent study by the Kern Organization estimates that up to 80 percent of b-to-b leads are not followed up by sales, and only 13 percent are followed up in the first 90 days. Why? Because sales doesn't trust the leads from marketing as being qualified.Whether you're a $35 million organization or a $350 million organization, without recognizing and developing solutions to meet the needs of a fundamentally changed environment, your growth and brand will stagnate.The economy may improve and help you, but it most probably will also help your competitors as well. So, now is the time to get an edge on them by improving your marketing and marketing communications.Determine Your Best Marketing Mix And Measure ItThere isn't any boilerplate answer to determine which marketing communications disciplines to employ, much less whether your brand position is right for today's marketplace. But there are steps you should take to answer these questions.Focus your attention on being media neutral or at least find advisors who are, and are seasoned professionals with broad experience across industries and companies who don't have a vested interest in promoting a particular marketing communications discipline.And recognize that all of the hard work that goes into today's marketing and marketing communications needs to be measured to make sure you're on the right track. Find an individual or company that really understands analytics and what it means for the future.Which Media To Employ - New Or TraditionalThe next question is how to effectively and efficiently reach these customers and prospects. Professional marketers have spent countless hours addressing this; take advantage of their knowledge and expertise.For example, your website is probably heavily branded, but did you know that less than ten percent of your visitors will actually click through to see the important message you're putting out there?You're probably sending out email newsletters, and may even be blogging and tweeting to your important audiences. But, when was the last time you handed something to your customer or prospect, and looked them in the eye? There's no question that webinars, for example, are effective and cost efficient, but what about in-person events, seminars and trade shows?Much of today's marketing dilemma is appropriately focused on media fragmentation and the resulting difficulty of efficiently and effectively reaching a prospect. Newspapers and magazines are clearly losing ground, but they're still important channels of reaching certain demographics (such as the ever growing older demographic). Contrast that with the fact that the fastest growing segment on Facebook is women, aged 55 to 65.Determining which media alternatives to use to reach any key marketing or demographic segment means that you have to consider both efficiency and effectiveness. Traditional media and social media should be able to co-exist in your marketing communications plans. It's just a question of when and where to use them.The Marketing Communications End GameWhich leads us to the ultimate dilemma - how to obtain and evaluate the creative work that will impact and move your customers and prospects. Recognize that whether you use television, radio or billboards, or emails, blogs, Facebook or tweets, they are only tools to deliver your message. The strategic thinking and outright "creativity" that you employ with these tools will ultimately determine your success.Look for strategic and creative partners, with demonstrated ability; people who are genuinely interested in profitably increasing your sales, not just trying to garner the latest industry awards.There is much to think about, especially for a mid-sized company. The dilemma is trying to understand what to do, how to do it, and finding people you trust to help you accomplish this. But, standing still clearly isn't the answer.Find a senior professional, or group of professionals, whom you can trust, who can not only improve your marketing ROI but will also be willing to help you evaluate your on-going marketing communications efforts.Don't try to go it alone.
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