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Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

The New Cause And Effect Of Promotional Marketing

Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

B usiness promotion is a simple definition of marketing. For many, promotional marketing refers to the mugs, magnets or personalized mints given away at a trade show booth. The face of promotional marketing has changed dramatically since early newspaper owners began supplementing revenues by taking jobs to print company names on burlap bags, calendars and fans.

Free demonstrations are a good way to promote your company’s products. For automobile manufacturers, a test drive is the free demonstration necessary to make the sale. In the real estate and home building industries, open houses are the equivalent of free demonstrations.

Trade show exhibitors were among the first to develop the showmanship of free product demonstrations. Newspaper stories of old Southern Textile Expositions in Greenville tell of looms producing the likenesses of presidents and American flags. What better way to promote your product and your patriotism?

Being creative with your demonstrations will help cement the benefits of your product in the mind of the potential buyer. For example, a countertop manufacturer exhibiting at a home and garden show employed tap dancers to dance across the kitchen counters — a creative way to demonstrate the scratch-resistant durability of the building materials used to manufacture the countertops, and a sure way to draw a crowd.

Free Consulatations

Another effective promotional marketing tactic is to offer free one-hour consultations to your hottest prospects. Make it clear the offer involves no pressure or commitment, and when the prospect takes advantage of the offer, don’t make a sales pitch. During that meeting, ask questions about the prospect’s business, listen closely to the answers and offer suggestions and solutions for improving business processes.

This is an opportunity to prove your expertise and establish a relationship while giving your prospect a good idea of what it would be like to do business with your company. And all you have invested is your time.

Promote your company’s free consultation offer in e-mails, on the company website, in direct mailers — wherever and however you market — understanding that “free” is one of the most powerful words in marketing.

Hold A Free Seminar

Consider offering a free seminar to potential clients at your place of business or a local meeting place.

Like free consultations, a seminar should not be a sales pitch, but rather an educational session that gives prospects solid information that can help them improve their processes and make them more efficient and effective. A soft sales pitch at the end of your presentation is usually well-received if valuable information has been disseminated during the seminar.

Free seminars can be marketed in association newsletters or through on-line newsgroups, or with a simple direct mailing. Try offering the seminar in the morning and at lunchtime to determine when you get the best attendance. A continental breakfast or light lunch is always a good way to boost attendance, especially if prospects are giving up their lunch hours to attend.

Create Credibility As A Columnist

If you enjoy writing and want to establish credibility among your prospects, offer to write a free column or article for trade magazines, business publications, or newsletters published by the trade and professional organizations with which your company is affiliated. Tell the editor you will be a regular contributor at no charge as long as you can include your name, company name and website address. Some publications also will publish a brief biography of the writer at the end of the column.

Remember, this form of promotional marketing is an educational article, not a free advertisement. The more useful information you provide in these columns, the more business you will attract. Once the columns have been published, order reprints and include them in your marketing package.

Window Dressing With A Homepage

For years, retailers have used window displays to lure passersby inside their stores for a closer look. Your website’s home page is the equivalent of a retailer’s store window. The beauty of a website is that it doesn’t have to be static, and it can be changed frequently at minimal cost.

Videos of your product in action, animation showing a special offer or a customer testimonial crawling across the page all can be used to create interest. Change your home page on a regular basis to keep it fresh. Visitors will check in again and again to see what’s new. 

Cause-Related Marketing: Connecting With A Purpose

Promotional marketing tied to a specific cause can provide a powerful marketing edge that positively differentiates your company from its competitors. Embracing a cause and contributing time and money to it is one of the fastest-growing areas of promotional marketing. Cause-related marketing activities can enhance a company's reputation and customer loyalty, and lead to increased awareness and visibility of the company, as well as positive media coverage and increased sales.

If your cause resonates with your target market, your activities will generate tremendous goodwill, with media attention being a beneficial side effect. It also is a way to merge your profit center with your passion center, building a business that mirrors your personal values and benefits.

The phrase “cause-related marketing” was first used by American Express in 1983 to describe its campaign to raise money for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. Every time someone used an American Express card, the company made a one-cent donation to the restoration program. The number of new cardholders increased by 45 percent, and card usage grew by 28 percent.

Textile and apparel companies embraced cause-related marketing with the Made In the USA and Crafted With Pride campaigns of the 1980s.

“Look for the union label” was the refrain in a series of famous television and radio ads that touted the virtues of US-made apparel in the face of sweeping changes in the industry. US apparel manufacturers still on the scene in the wake of 9/11 experienced renewed interest from consumers who were looking for US labels.

When exploring cause-related marketing, look for partners with a similar agenda whose goals might be better achieved by partnering with your business. There are many types of mutually beneficial relationships you can form with your cause-related partner, including special events and sales promotions. An easy way to embrace a cause is to team up with a charity.

In April 2004, Reebok announced its Wear Your Heart on Your Feet! campaign in support of the nationwide fight against heart disease. The company announced in a news release that it would give away $1 million worth of its new VersaSport DMX Max walking shoes beginning in May 2004 to consumers who made a $25 or more donation to the American Heart Association via Reebok’s new walking website.

When launch day arrived, response to the promotion was so overwhelming that Reebok's website crashed during the first 20 minutes, as did its backup center, according to the Cause Marketing Forum. When fulfillment resumed, 14,288 consumers quickly claimed their share of Reebok's $1,000,000 worth of donated walking shoes.

You might also consider volunteering with an organization. You never know where your volunteer service may connect you — and, indirectly, your company — with bank executives, investors or others who may assist your company down the road.

As your cause-related marketing partnership progresses, become ambassadors for each other. Talk up the charitable organization among your employees, customers and prospects, and have information available. Promote the organization and your partnership on your website, in newsletters and in other communication vehicles produced by your company. Ask your partner to extend the same courtesies to your business.

Finally, always remember the marketing focus of your community partnership and cause-related marketing efforts. While the work is philanthropic, the cause you select to support should generate interest in your company and motivate people to buy from it. Choose a cause that is important to your target market, and make sure your target market sees and understands the connection.

June 2005