Effective marketing campaigns begin with channel clarity.

With service providers all selling their particular specialism to SME business leaders as ‘the’ solution to their marketing, I am not surprised by the confusion. However, understanding the differences, and the role that each one plays, is vital to building effective campaigns.

My advice is to think of ‘marketing’ as an all-encompassing umbrella for everything that touches your consumer. Under this umbrella, you have all the different marketing channels (PR, advertising, social media etc) and each one is a different way to reach customers. By thinking in this way you can create one consistent way for all your ‘marketing’ to speak to consumers – making it more effective – and then build a marketing plan with the most suitable channels to reach them. Making the right choice requires a clear understanding of the roles each channel can play:

Building your brand and business profile through public relations
Public relations has always been an important marketing tool when properly utilised but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s just about gaining column inches in the press, managing a crisis, or – as many believe – instantly driving sales. Public relations done well will consistently deliver coverage that builds awareness and enhances the reputation of your business. But it is a game of relationships, and relationships take time. As a business leader you are in the optimum position to lead these relationships, from attending the right networking events to building your influence in key channels.

Thanks to our increasingly digital world this reputation management must also be done online: Your customers, whether you like it or not, have the opportunity to discuss and evaluate your business 24/7 and share their opinions with a global online audience. It has reengineered the media landscape and driven the need for a holistic approach to your relationship with your customers. Digital PR – which includes social media, online review sites etc – should feature heavily when thinking about how you want to represent your business.

Utilise advertising to reach new audiences
Advertising is primarily used by younger brands to drive awareness of their business and by bigger brands to steal share of voice from their weighty competitors. As one of the more expensive marketing channels business leaders need it to demonstrate ROI and understanding where and when to place your adverts is vital to this. Pick your media based on where your potential customers ‘hang out’, i.e. what publications they read, which radio they listen to, which websites they visit, and then build a media plan accordingly.

Having revolutionised the bespoke tailoring market much of A Suit That Fits growth over the last six years had been driven by consistent PR. However, to maintain growth a wider audience needed to be reached, so we set about building a plan to reach their niche audience on a budget. The result was to utilise very specific print advertising in the shares section of national newspapers to reach the target audience with little audience wastage to deliver ROI.

The growth in highly effective online and social media marketing provides an exceptional opportunity for businesses with tighter budgets to advertise. Channels such as AdRoll offer highly targeted online display advertising, and with detailed reporting capability you can quickly ascertain ROI and manage your campaign accordingly.

Harness creativity to inspire others to share your message
Social media advertising has a similar ability to deliver ROI – but the challenge in this space is to stand out and be heard: Anyone can now create a campaign in minutes – so yours has to be remarkable to be effective.

Ultimately in social media you want to inspire people to share your message – and to do that you need to be creative. Sharing has become a new currency: A consumer shares content because it says something about them to their peers or network, so your social strategy needs to consider what content is most likely to gain the reaction that both you and they desire. US start-up DollarShaveClub.com famously launched through the power of social media sharing by tapping into this desire.

Creating a successful campaign
The key to a successful marketing strategy is to understand what you want to achieve: Understanding who your target customers are, and where you can reach them, enables you to choose the most suitable channels for the job and create a clear message that will be effective with them. By making these messages easily sharable, you reach not only first level connections but magnify the reach of your message to wider audiences. At The Nurture Network we have shown that if you can do this, with an emotive brand and a tenacious team to bring it to life, you don’t need big budgets to cut through the noise.

Christina Richardson is a business marketing specialist and Founder of The Nurture Network, the on-demand marketing department for ambitious SMEs. With a proven track record in leading high profile marketing campaigns for entrepreneurial brands, The Nurture Network are a partner of GrowthAccelerator, working with business leaders who are passionate about growing their business. GrowthAccelerator matches businesses with experts to define a tailored growth plan to accelerate and realise their growth potential – opening the doors to external funding, new business opportunities and boosting innovation and leadership. Christina’s extensive experience working with entrepreneurs and dynamic businesses mean she is a much in demand thought leader, a business mentor at University College London and regular speaker at industry events including The British Library.