Marketing I, Mass-Market Promotion Strategy: Part X of "Learnin's From My MBA" Series


This series takes concepts learned in an MBA program and adapts them for easy comprehension by scientists without a management background. This is currently the 10th part of the series and the third in an introduction to marketing.

In our introduction 2 weeks ago, we discussed "Promotion Strategy" as one of the four major facets of marketing. We defined Promotion Strategy as figuring out how you were going to advertise and sell your product. This week, we look at Promotion Strategy in more detail: specifically, the concept of mass-market promotion.

The first choice you have in defining your promotion strategy is figuring out whether you are going to concentrate on a "personal selling" strategy -- going door to door -- or a "mass-market" strategy -- announcing your product to the world. When given this choice, most people say "I want to do both." However, it's important to figure out the relative weight of each, given a limited marketing budget. This weighting will largely depend on the product you are trying to sell.

Let's say, for example, that you want to set up a company that does protein sequencing. Your company is going to have protein samples sent to you by mail, then you are going to run them through a bunch of analyses and have the results sent back to the client faster than anyone else. In this business, you are offering a fairly standardized product, and one of the keys to your success is to have as many clients as possible. This type of business might want to focus on a mass-market strategy -- advertising in Science, sponsoring a conference, and the like.

If, on the other hand, your area of expertise is electronic imaging, and you had a specialized machine costing millions of dollars that had a very specific application in the operating room, you might want to take on a personal selling strategy. Because each sale is very important, often customized, and to a very small, easily targeted audience, you would probably choose a strategy involving a specialized sales team going out to the three or four hospitals in each city that were large enough to buy your product and try to sell it to them directly.

This week, we tackle mass-market strategy.

There are several things you must keep in mind when designing your mass-market strategy. The first is that your promotion must complement the product you are trying to sell (explained in detail in last week's segment). The promotion strategy should only be designed after clearly figuring out what your product is. Then, depending on how new or unique your product is, the mass-market strategy should emphasize one of four things: increasing customer awareness, explaining the benefits, explaining the value of your product, and convincing the customer to purchase the product.

Let's take the protein sequencing analogy and apply it to these four emphases. If you were the first company to ever offer protein-sequencing services, your emphasis would be on increasing customer awareness. You have to make sure the customer gets an idea of what your product is. An ad would specify "can sequence any protein" or "peptide analysis -- up to 400 amino acids sequenced" or some such thing. The idea would be to get the customer to understand what it is you are selling, because they've never seen it sold before.

Even if you weren't the first company to ever offer protein-sequencing services, but your company was brand new in the field, you would want to focus your efforts on increasing customer awareness. However, instead of customer awareness of the product, you'd want to focus on customer awareness of your brand. This would include getting the public to associate your name with protein sequencing, or building a reputation for yourself. In these kinds of ads, your company name would predominate.

If there were several protein sequencing companies out there, and you were a fairly established company and were making yourself popular with customers because you were the fastest, or you had the easiest to read results, you would want your ads to explain the benefits of your product. Your slogans would include "24-hour service guaranteed," or "Results e-mailed in Excel format." These mass-market ads tell the customer why your product is better than the rest. Here, the emphasis is on explaining the benefits of your product.

However, if instead of offering a special service you were competing with other companies based on price, you would emphasize that in your ad: "$2 per base," or "Lowest price in Western Canada" would be the emphasis in your ad. Although there are more ways to measure value than just price, any time you advertise in this manner, the emphasis is on the value the company is giving the client. Another ad that would emphasize value would be one that says "why waste your time doing boring protein sequencing when we can do it for you better and cheaper, because it's all we do." Here, the value isn't necessarily the price of the item, it's also the convenience of having someone else do something boring for you.

Every ad (or commercial, or other mass-marketing campaign) will also have a component convincing the customer to buy the product. This is usually implied from the rest of the ad, but it could be quite explicit as well, especially if the point of the ad is increasing short-term revenues. Typical "convincing" ads will say "Buy Now!" or "for a limited time only," for example.

Once you have the ad message figured out (through the emphases chosen), you still have many issues to deal with. First, how much money should be devoted to mass-marketing? When figuring this out, a second, related question should immediately pop into mind: How do I figure out if I'm getting my money's worth from all this promotion? These questions and many others (including "what time of year should I place my ad?" and "where should I place my ad?") will be discussed next week.

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