I love the New Year. It’s a fresh start. New beginnings. A clean slate. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a chance to learn from the past and put that to work creating success. Like many businesses, 2009 is one year we at PWB are happy to see in the rear-view mirror. We survived it, while many in our industry weren’t so lucky.

For myself, I’d like to see 2010 become a year of growth for PWB and our clients. With the recent economic correction/crash/recession the world of marketing changed yet again. PWB and our clients made some surprising discoveries. Some were the result of focused efforts to test and learn, others were simply happy accidents. In 2010, I think we can all start putting what we learned in 2009 to work creating success.

A couple of examples illustrate my point.

One of our clients enjoyed a rousing success at a series of regional trade shows targeting end-use markets. At one show, they found new prospects so numerous that they ran out of materials to give them (even business cards!). Trade shows are far from dead, but the ways we need to use them, and how we select which ones to attend have certainly changed.

Another client adopted extensive analytics tools for their online marketing efforts. The configuration and deployment were painful, but the resulting data is immensely useful in so many ways. In 2010, I hope to put this data to even more effective use in testing creative variations and media selection tactics. Without this data, much of the selection process was about gut instinct – now it’s about results delivered and cost metrics.

So, think about it, what did YOU learn in 2009 that you could put to work for you in 2010?

Brave New World

If you’re considering a technology shift in your product, take a moment to consider something most companies don’t – your customers. When I worked for a large chemical company years ago we were always changing some formulation without considering that many of our customers had optimized their processes for a modulus of X when running ABC123. Recent events with my cable provider have extended this into the brave new world of integrated communications.

These folk are currently doing a migration to a digital system in my area. I learned about it with a rather abrupt letter that arrived in my mailbox. No real discussion of benefits, only that I needed to get some new hardware, hook it up to all my TVs, and then activate with them.

This is a great example of where marketing communications can help. Instead of positioning this with customers through direct mail, spot cable ads, and online we get no communication of benefits, only what we’ll give up if we don’t migrate. Then when it comes time for the migration, I wait an hour in an understaffed office to get hardware. When I hook it up, only 50% seems to work and the support person on the phone has an urgency to get me off the phone quickly. Again, with no promise of benefit to me as the customer.

But, in today’s world of social media, the stakes are far higher. When I added a mention of my frustration to my Facebook page, it immediately lit up with comments (mostly critical) from friends. A quick scan on Tweetdeck shows pretty heavy traffic on this topic. The moral of the story? If you don’t handle marketing communications properly up-front, your customers may handle it on the back end, and you may not care for the result.

Story Telling

During a recent meeting with a partner we were discussing the shifts in media, the rise of social media, our thoughts on a print resurgence and more when I realized – it’s about the story, not the channel. With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is NOT the message. Yes, the medium influences how you deliver your message, but crafting a story that takes the buyer on the journey from awareness to purchase is key.

Think about it, as prospects become aware of and eventually consider and purchase your products they need different types of information. At the early stages they’re becoming family with your product and perhaps your company. Are you reputable? Do you have good quality? Are you priced right? Then as they move into selection they’re evaluating whether this product or service will meet their needs. Will it fit? Does it function like they want? Is it available in their favorite color? The story can even extend into repeat purchases (the best kind of customers) where they had still more needs for information. Have you improved the product or service? How? Does this present any challenges? Any benefits? Is it still affordable?

Whether you’re using advanced tactics like Twitter, or tried-and-true modes like print advertising or direct mail, spend some time thinking about your story BEFORE you invest a lot of time considering media channels. The story may even suggest the channel.

Balanced Diet

With the tightening economy and increased focus on ROI, we’re seeing a number of folks forget that integrated marketing is a real response to buyer behavior. Potential buyers make a journey from awareness to consideration to purchase. And they use media differently at every stage. So when you’re tempted to shift your entire spend into one channel, think about your own behavior as a buyer.

For me, sometimes I find things through online searches. Other times as a result of an e-mail. But when I form an impression of a company, it’s primarily driven by ads in magazines. I find that I only move online when I’m in the process of consideration. And, I tend to gravitate to the brands I have a positive association with.

The exception is really, really niche products. The SUPER small companies who make some sort of specialized gear that’s not available anywhere else. I’m talking left-handed springs for Ross fly reels made before 1987. For that oddball stuff, I go right to search engines, or sometimes forums.

The point is that different buyers consume different media in different ways. And those ways change as they move toward purchase. If you put all your focus into one channel, then you miss all the others. You could eat steak all the time, and it’s tasty, but it’s not a good idea. Balance is healthy, in diet and marketing.