Fill and Turnbull (2016) explain that the marketing Communications Mix provides detail as to precisely how an organisation can promote its goods and services. The communications mix can therefore be considered as linked to the 4Ps of marketing via the 'promotion' element. Within the communications mix there are usually said to be five elements: (1) advertising; (2) direct marketing; (3) personal selling; (4) public relations; and (5) sales promotion. More recently, some practitioners have suggested that there can be additional elements to the Communications mix, such as events, sponsorships and word of mouth marketing (Keller, 2016).
Elements of the Marketing Communications Mix
Advertising is one of the most obvious examples of marketing communications, but it is important to recognise that advertising and marketing are not one and the same thing. Marketing is a broader term used to describe the collection of tools and approaches adopted by an organisation to promote its products and services. According to Andrews and Shimp (2017), advertising specifically refers to paid content or materials, traditionally recognised as radio or TV advertising, but now more likely to include online advertising and also utilising paid influencers and sponsorship deals. Advertising is typically costly, but its benefits are that whoever is paying for the advertising has complete control over the content, and a high degree of control over the channel of communication and the target market.
Clow (2016) asserts that improvements in digitalisation and analysis of marketing data make it easier to craft a targeted advertising message to a very specific consumer niche using digital means. One of the limitations of advertising is that it can be difficult to directly identify any Return on Investment (ROI). In other words, there can only be limited confidence that specific advertising activity has directly generated sales, unless organisations ask the question of where advertisement was seen, or a very specific strategy of advertising price discounts provided that consumer offers a specific code reference at the point of purchase.
2. Direct Marketing
Direct marketing refers to marketing communications which are directly presented to a target market (Baker, 2012). Typically, direct marketing includes what is known as a 'call to action' and this is a technique which is designed to stimulate the consumer to make a purchase decision. A call to action might be delivered through targeted emails, or direct postal mail. Direct marketing through mass customised print media (i.e. direct mailings) and their digital equivalent is likely to be more cost-effective than personal selling (see below), and can be refined through marketing analytics (Clow, 2012). Direct marketing is also one way of beginning to build a relationship with the consumer through carefully targeted marketing content. An example of this is the way that Amazon recognises previous purchases, and then suggests similar items for a consumer.
3. Personal Selling
Personal selling, also occasionally referred to as in person or face-to-face direct selling is more likely to be associated with high-value items such as cars or houses. According to Antczak and Sypniewska (2017), in person direct selling is also more likely to be retained in a commercial environment through sales representatives who offer specific knowledge on specialised products. Some retail environments do retain personal selling executives, but with the shift to online retail there is less demand for personal selling in this way. Skilled sales executives are usually very good at building rapport with consumers and establishing their wants and needs in order to then present them with a product or service which has appropriate features and benefits and which would encourage a commitment to purchase.
4. Public Relations
Public relations refers to the public image or public face of an organisation in the wider market (Grunig, 2013). Public relations may or may not involve paid content, but in common with advertising usually involves a mass communication medium such as news stories, physical newspapers or online content. Typically, public relations are unpaid, but there are rare occasions when, as a proactive communications strategy, an organisation might choose to pay for content in a prominent location in order to control public image. Examples might include an organisation which has made a mistake such as using unethical business practices, to take out an advert in a prominent location such as a major newspaper or on public transport apologising for their poor decision-making (Ferguson, 2018). Public relations can therefore be a way of mitigating any negative stories. There is a controversial school of thought which informally suggests that there is “no such thing as bad publicity”, the rationale being that if there is publicity around organisation or brand, whether it is good or bad, this is stimulating discussion which helps to fix the organisation or brand in the mind of the consumer. Some marketers might agree with this view, but it is a high-risk approach.
5. Sales Promotion
Sales promotion can be linked to both advertising and personal selling, and describes a situation where an organisation typically engages in some form of pricing or discount strategy in order to encourage consumers to purchase (Fill and Turnbull, 2016). Popular examples might include percentage discounts, multi-buy purchases, free delivery and flash sales. The strategy underpinning sales promotion activity might be to increase cash flow, or sell-off old, out of season or obsolete stock. Sales promotion can also be used to raise the profile of an organisation and attract new customers and/or new markets. There are differing opinions amongst marketers as to whether sales promotions are a good long-term strategy (Buil et al., 2013). Whilst sales promotions are popularly used to attract attention, it can give the perception that the organisation is overcharging if it can afford to offer discounts and thus it can devalue a product or brand. Sales promotions can also be subject of derision if they are overly used - for example certain high street furniture retailers are often socially ridiculed for their overuse of sales promotion tactics, which means that sales promotion loses its impact as marketing communications tool.
6. Event Sponsorship
An additional sixth aspect of the marketing communications mix which is occasionally included is that of event management or event sponsorship. Cornwell (2013) explains that typically this includes having a presence at an event which might include attending a trade fair (thus overlapping with physical evidence in the 7Ps), but is more likely to involve some activity such as branding or advertising at an event. Lunt and Nicotra (2018) reveal that event sponsorship has become particularly popular at sporting fixtures, with high profile brands regularly sponsoring sports teams, with their logo and advertising content being prominently displayed, either on the sports kit of players, around the grounds, and even on the pitch itself. Event sponsorship works effectively, because it forms an association in the minds of consumers with events that they are particularly invested in, thus creating a positive image.
Some brands also choose to sponsor particular players, sportspeople, or athletes individually because of their specific skill or reputation. Smart (2018) provides an example of multiple Olympian Usain Bolt and his memorable collaboration with Virgin Media built around Bolt’s reputation for being the fastest man on earth - the advertising was designed to encourage consumers to think of Virgin Media as being a fast and high-profile entertainment service.
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- Smart, B., 2018. Consuming Olympism: Consumer culture, sport star sponsorship and the commercialisation of the Olympics. Journal of Consumer Culture, 18(2), pp.241-260.
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