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The Green Sheet Online Edition

December 14, 2009 • Issue 09:12:01

The annual marketing and communications plan

By Peggy Bekavac Olson
Strategic Marketing

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.

An integrated approach

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.

An essential checklist

Primary areas to consider and questions to ask include:

  • Brand image and corporate identity: Are your company's logo, brand look and feel (style and coloring), and business templates up-to-date, professional and uniform across all communications vehicles? Are you interested in consolidating multiple brands from previous acquisitions or rebranding to create a totally new image?

  • Positioning and messaging: Do you succinctly articulate your company's promise of value and the value propositions for each of your products and services? Do you clearly differentiate yourself from the competition?

  • Marketing collateral: Do your materials consistently represent and reinforce your corporate identity and brand messaging, or are they a bunch of one-off, disparate pieces? Are they easy to grasp or filled with meaningless gobbledygook and techno speak? Are they being used effectively, or are they just taking up shelf space?

  • Sales materials and tools: Are your sales reps and resellers armed with appropriate materials (quality and quantity), including presentations, brochures, data sheets, handouts, testimonials, case studies, demos, return on investment calculators, pricing sheets and white papers, or are they left to figure out how to create their own?

    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?

  • Merchant materials: Do you have materials like quick reference guides, terminal overlays, installation and implementation guides, acceptance signage, POS signage and merchandising materials readily available in print and downloadable PDF format?

  • Lead generation: Do you know your lead-to-sale conversion rate? Are you doing enough to fill your sales funnel or pipeline adequately? What lead generation vehicles will you employ - direct mail, telemarketing, e-mail marketing, social media, merchant referral campaigns, or Web and print advertising?

    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?

  • Merchant retention programs: How can you enhance your company's image in the minds of your merchants? Should you offer special promotions, incentives or pricing schemes?

    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?

  • Product launches: Based on your business plan, what new POS or back-office solutions will you roll out? What new value-added products and services, such as mobile payments, remote deposit capture, electronic bill pay, data-breach insurance and chargeback insurance, will you introduce? How and when do you plan to launch these?

  • Events: Do you want to hold meetings and training classes for your sales force in person, via webinars, through online tutorials or other mechanisms? What topics are of critical importance to cover? Do you want to hold meetings and educational sessions for your merchants? If so, what delivery vehicles will you use and what topics will you cover?

  • Tradeshows: Have you evaluated all the tradeshows in the payments industry and across all of your market verticals? Which ones make the most sense to participate in as an exhibitor or as an attendee? What are your objectives for the tradeshows you will exhibit at and attend? How many prospect and customer meetings can you set up?

    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?

  • Web site: What does your Web site say about your company? Is it professional and informative, as well as easy to understand and navigate? Does it turn visitors into prospects and then customers who respond to your calls to action?

  • Advertising: Which trade publications does it make sense to advertise in? Have you considered the pros and cons of print and online advertising? What is the purpose of your advertising - brand awareness, promoting one or more products and services, or something else?

  • Publicity: What do you project will happen in your business in the coming year that is worthy of media coverage - a portfolio acquisition, a key executive joining the company, a new product or service, a new large customer, or a company award?

    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?

  • Crisis communication: Do you have an up-to-date crisis communication plan that can be readily executed in the event of a data breach, business downturn, legal incident, natural disaster or other unfavorable or catastrophic event?

  • Sales commission, incentives and residuals: Do you have competitive commission and residual plans in place? What types and how many incentive programs or sales contests will you employ?

A valuable process

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. end of article

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 peggyolson@smktg.com. Information about Strategic Marketing can be found at www.smktg.com.

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