By Ed Pierce, President of ITA Communications. Fleet.
I have been privileged to write this Fleet Management Weekly column for several years now, and I always invite readers to drop me a line with any marketing questions or suggestions. I have gladly responded to individuals with the best answers to their questions, and I have learned from other expert marketers’ ideas.
In this column, I’d like to focus on several inquiries concerning news vs. promotion. As marketers, it is easy for others in a business to assume that marketing is analogous to selling. We know that it’s more complex, but sometimes face stiff resistance to the complexity and subtleties of an effective marketing program. Here is a great example of a challenge for marketers:
Question: Why can’t our company’s marketing department just provide an editor with our sales brochure copy or overt promotional messages from our management about a product or service since we are an advertiser?
Answer: Editorial coverage of a company, its innovations, its products or other news is an important tool in the marketing arsenal. It brings third-party objectivity that is much more credible than a company sales pitch, video, blog, social media post, or ad. It is a singularly effective opportunity to inform rather than sell to a target market. Think about your own desire as a businessperson to read thought leadership stories rather than to be huckstered by a blatantly self-serving opinion.
As an advertiser or sponsor, companies should expect coverage of legitimate news and story ideas pitched by the company’s media relations contact. It should expect to be contacted and quoted in round up articles on hot topics, trends, or issues. It should expect close working relationships with editors that result in regular pitches of story ideas that are meaningful for readers.
However, advertisers or sponsors should never expect an editor to be a conduit for the company’s sales and marketing message. Hyping a sales message or positioning a company or product while bashing the competition only engenders skepticism and indignation among readers looking to stay informed.
Interestingly, effective B2B sales people know never to denigrate the competition, but rather focus on how the company can resolve user pain, That truism is even more valid in publishing.
Editorial coverage that looks like advertising is anathema for both the company and the trade publication, harming the reputations of both. A knowledgeable marketer or experienced public relations consultant must dissuade management from conflating promotion and news.
Question: My company has an opportunity to speak at a trade association conference. As always, the association expects an educational session rather than a promotional one. We have a great topic that will interest our target market, but how do we avoid the perception of an “advertisement” and attract attendees who want an educational experience?
Answer: To get the most out of a conference speaking or panel opportunity – an important marketing pursuit that should be a part of every conference plan, a company should consider creating a panel comprising in-house experts, a satisfied customer, an independent topic expert, a strategic partner’s representative, and even a competitor or two. Competitors? Sure! As the session sponsor, a company is already positioned to be the thought leader. What better way to convince the audience that your company is the thought leader on a topic than to demonstrate the confidence inherent in bringing together a team of rivals in your presentation! Another advantage is that the crowd of attendees will be larger, drawn to the multiple panelists.
The answers to both of these questions prove that discretion is also the better part of winning in marketing. With an understanding of what your audience wants, you can make the best decision about when and how to sell, educate, and win customers.
As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and stories about marketing in the fleet industry. Reach me at (215) 839-1306, or at email@example.com