By Peggy Bekavac Olson
Year-end is a great time to reflect on what's happened over the course of the current year and to prepare for the coming year. Many companies use this time to develop business plans, sales strategies and budgets; however, they often overlook creating a comprehensive, integrated marketing and communications plan to support their goals.
An integrated marketing and communications plan documents in detail the actions required to support reaching specific business goals and sales objectives. It identifies what to do, when to do it and how to do it, with all marketing tactics working together in a consistent, repetitive approach to reflect the same messages and visual clues.
This makes your company and messages more likely to be understood and remembered in a crowded, noisy marketplace.
For ISOs, an annual integrated marketing and communications plan should address a number of areas, including how to support your sales team to achieve revenue targets, new merchant solutions and services you will introduce during the course of the year, steps or campaigns to improve merchant acquisition and decrease merchant attrition, and actions that increase brand recognition and thought leadership.
Start with you business plan, and make sure you are clear on the overall goals and objectives for the coming year. Then review and assess the current year from a marketing and communications standpoint to document what activities, programs and materials you have in place and to identify what's working, what's not and any gaps.
Next, develop your marketing and communications plan by generating a comprehensive list of potential tactics to use in supporting your business today and throughout the coming year. You'll want to address a variety of topics as well as begin the process of estimating resource requirements, both in-house and agency, in addition to associated budget expenditures for each market vertical, segment and channel you do, or want to do, business in.
Primary areas to consider and questions to ask include:
Have you considered brandable materials for agents and resellers so they can insert their own logos and contact information? Are materials and tools available for download from your Web site?
How often and for what purposes will you employ lead generation techniques for merchant acquisition, merchant up-sell and cross-sell, agent recruitment or other reasons?
As a component of merchant service, do you regularly communicate with your merchants about such topics as company news, service metrics, new product and service offerings, card brand developments, Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard compliance and other pertinent industry and legislative news? Have you considered an electronic newsletter or e-mail blasts? Do you have a program to encourage continuing sales rep and agent interactions with merchants?
Is your exhibit booth worn out and in need of replacement? Does it properly reflect your brand identity so that tradeshow attendees can easily find and recognize your company?
Are your press release distribution process and vendor effective? Can your employees act as authorities or experts for speaking opportunities and provide quotes for news articles? Do you have relationships in place to make these industry and media placements happen?
What about volunteering on industry association boards and committees and the possibility of corporate sponsorship? Have you considered social media marketing (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) or implementing a blog?
This is a brainstorming process; your company doesn't need to undertake all of these tactics to be successful. Use this as a checklist or guide to develop a plan that is aligned with your strategic goals.
The next step is to prioritize the tactics of your integrated marketing and communication plan with the goal of matching them to your personnel resources and annual budget. This process will determine the most effective means of distributing your message to support your identified goals.
Also, define reasonable metrics that measure return on investment for key tactics. Once your plan is finalized, a marketing calendar should be created; then the real work of tactical execution can begin.
This process is probably far more complicated and labor intensive than what you may have initially thought, but there's no better time than right now to get started. It's a critical step toward achieving your 2010 goals and taking your company to the next level.
Peggy Bekavac Olson recently founded Strategic Marketing, a full-service marketing and communications firm specializing in financial services and electronic payments companies, after serving as vice president of marketing and communications for TSYS Acquiring Solutions for more than five years. She can be reached at 480.706.0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about Strategic Marketing can be found at www.smktg.com.
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