Using pyramids to plan promotions

Everyone wants to find an edge over the competition. Marketing departments tell operations folks that success always comes back to the "Five P's" of Promotion, People, Place, Product, and Price. Unfortunately, in times of tough economic conditions, the promotions piece is often the very first investment to go. This is especially true in smaller companies where tracking advertising expenditures is a difficult, if not impossible task. I say unfortunately, because in tough times, the promotion of your business might just be the edge you need.

The focus of this article is a look at the how the whole Promotions effort is related to the development of your business. "Promotions" can be defined as the entire effort to advance your enterprise. Within the promotions area advertising, public relations and merchandising each take a role. These three activities are uniquely different, serving to help you promote the products and services you sell. We will call these the "external pyramid" of promotions. These external activities should be focused, and created with the phrase, "How much will it cost?" as a guiding principle.

But, the "internal pyramid" of promotions also needs to be considered. This relationship is made up of the employees who are going to implement your promotions strategies, the customers who need to be convinced that they should take advantage of your offerings and adjust their purchasing behaviors accordingly, and you or your owners who must see the bottom-line benefit of any promotional endeavor. In this case, the phrase to keep in your mind when creating any promo campaign is "What's in it for me?"

The External Pyramid

Advertising is a promotions effort that comes with the most impact. You, as the purchaser of advertising have complete control over the content of your message and where you want to place it to reach your target market. Though, keep in mind that this control comes at a high cost. Because you pay directly for it, advertising is the most expensive leg of the pyramid.

Public relations is a promotions effort that requires more background work, homework if you will. It requires building contacts in the media, and the ability to write and edit suitable material. You, as the supplier of information, have control of the message you create but not the placement of your material. If you write a press release it may or may not be used by your local media. Because you are creating the content of your public relations pieces, you may influence the message. Unfortunately, since you don't pay for it directly, you do not have control over whether your message will actually appear as you intended, if at all.

Merchandising is a promotions effort that is created by you that comes with both total control over its content, and is intended to influence a purchase behavior. Merchandising is your "in-house" activity, whether it is your menu board design, staff up-selling script, point-of-sale material, or pizza display case. Merchandising is how you, as a retailer, display and show your products to your existing customers. You pay for this material, and because it is on your own premises, you have complete control over how and where it appears.

The Internal Pyramid

Your employees are a crucial component of implementing any promotional plan. As a manager you might come up with the most incredible new advertising/public relations/merchandising program in the history of your company. But if the front line employees don't see any benefit in putting it to work, your plan is doomed to fail (and quite possibly so are you). If the servers or your cooks see your promotion plan as requiring them to do more work with no real personal gain, they will (at best) quietly let the program die. You could have the most loyal employees in the country, but they will still ask that question, "What's in it for me?" when you explain your program.

Your customers are also going to be your "partners" in a promotional campaign. You have to create your advertising, public relations message, and your merchandising to entice and encourage them to participate. Failed promotions efforts come about primarily because the consumer doesn't buy into them. Not unlike your employees, your customers will look at your offering and ask, "What's in it for me?" Plans must be easy to understand, easy to use, and have high perceived value.

Obviously, the owners are also interested in how your promotions plan will be created. When you took the external view above, it was about cost. Here, your internal view has to consider what the gain will be for your campaign. You, the owners, even your managers who are on a bonus system will all be looking at the "top-line" impact, and will also ask "What's in it for me?"

The Promotions Pyramids

In the most simple of terms, no promotions strategy can succeed if it does not include a total packaged plan. Both the External Pyramid (advertising, public relations, merchandising) and the Internal Pyramid (employees, customers, owners) must have their specific issues addressed. To be complete, the two questions, "How much will it cost?" and "What's in it for me?" will need to be answered. Using this approach will help you in planning for successful promotions every time.