Ray Sheehan, the owner of Old City Media, knows the importance of creating a diverse slate of marketing initiatives from his personal experience. When COVID-19 hit, he had been focused on producing large in-person gatherings. The pandemic forced him to cancel all these, bringing his business to an abrupt and painful halt.
“It was a big problem,” Sheehan said. “I’m the most optimistic person you’ll ever meet, but I started thinking that, worst case scenario, this could destroy my business.”
But Sheehan didn’t waste time dwelling on his problems. Instead, he got to work solving them. “I got into solution-based thinking,” he explained. “That’s just kind of how my DNA is.”
Demonstrating business acumen and agility, he successfully pivoted to providing marketing solutions that took the pandemic into account. “So what I did was I said, ‘Hey, listen, there are ways to go out into the market and still market your brand in a socially responsible way. We need to play within the lines. We need to play within the framework of what’s happening in the world today.’”
Now that the virus is becoming endemic, live events are returning, and Sheehan’s 20 years of experience includes more tools and resources than ever. Accordingly, USA Wire turned to him for expert guidance on balancing experiential marketing with other outreach initiatives.
For Sheehan, the first step to diversifying marketing strategies effectively is defining your business’s goals.
Define goals the SMART way
“Clearly define what you want to achieve with your marketing efforts,” Sheehan said. “This will help you determine the right mix of experiential marketing and other marketing initiatives to reach your goals.”
What’s clear to one person might be murky to another, however. That’s why Sheehan advises a particular process for arriving at these definitions: the SMART process. He explained what each letter of this acronym stands for, starting with the “S.”
“The definition needs to be specific,” he explained. “This means that every goal should be as concrete as possible. What is its purpose? Who is involved? What are the steps? What resources do you need to complete it?”
The “M” stands for “Measurable.” “Each goal should have a quantifiable outcome,” he stated. “The results or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) must be measured somehow.”
“Achievable” comes next. “Goals should be the right balance of challenging and practical. That means you should be able to do them with all your available assets and on time.”
Next, ask yourself if the goal is relevant. “Why are you setting this goal?” he asked. “Does it align with your team’s vision, mission, or company culture? Does each individual have some ownership or responsibility in the goal?”
Finally, the “T” stands for “Timely.” “Like ‘measurable,’ your goal should always have a deadline,” he explained. “This will keep everyone on the team highly accountable and motivated.”
Understand your audience
“If your marketing program doesn’t win with the customer, then it doesn’t work for anyone,” Sheehan said. “That’s why it’s important to understand who your target audience is. Once they’ve been identified, research them to understand their preferences and behaviors.”
According to Sheehan, this market research points businesses toward the most effective channels to reach the target audience and the type of marketing initiatives that will resonate with them. “Ask yourself: How can we engage them?” he suggested. “Where and when is the best time to get their attention?”
Appealing to different audiences requires changing the balance between various forms of marketing.
“If you are trying to reach an older demographic, you might want to consider more traditional forms of marketing,” he said. “While a younger demo might see more value in a social media influencer promoting or endorsing a product or brand. The same goes for experiential marketing. You want to fish where the fish are. For example, trying to engage a homeowner would make perfect sense at your local hardware store. That EDM show coming to town next weekend… might not be the best arena / platform to promote gutter protection on your home.”
Allocate your budget
Sheehan advises organizations to be “realistic” with their marketing efforts. Not all forms of marketing lead to the same kinds of results. The business’s goals, therefore, should guide which forms of marketing are prioritized for funding.
“For example, a billboard is great for brand building,” he said. “However, is that going to drive sales or leads? Probably not. However, when brands participate at a live event and engage with consumers, lead generation becomes much more realistic. It should be a goal to sell that consumer on your products or brand. At a minimum, the company should use that opportunity to educate them on your point of difference.”
When allocating your budget, he recommends determining how much you can budget for marketing efforts and splitting funds appropriately between experiential marketing and other initiatives. This requires having a plan.
“We’ve all heard that saying ‘People don’t plan to fail – they fail to plan,’” he said. “The plan is super important. Whenever we plan our budget, we have an initial spend. We use this to run multiple campaigns and programs. After that, we test and measure, test and measure. You need to see what’s performing and what’s resonating with your target audience. We determine the rest of the budget based on what performs best. We put the remaining funds into those strategies.”
Adjust your strategy
“It’s okay to fail in the beginning, but it’s not okay to continue to fail,” Sheehan said. “With that initial spend, make sure you generate real data to make smarter business decisions.”
He recommends regularly reviewing and adjusting your strategy to maximize your marketing efforts impact. “Marketing plans should be based on performance,” he said. “The numbers don’t lie. If things are performing well, that’s a great sign.”
When asked what red flags indicate a plan that needs adjusting, he listed “low performance” and “no engagement.” “With time and experience, you will also develop gut instincts,” he said.
Marketers should also make adjustments to stay in tune with current events. “What’s trendy? What’s relatable?” he advised asking himself. “How can you weave that messaging into the brand organically?”
Finally, he advised avoiding the pitfalls of ego. “Listen to people,” he said.
With Sheehan’s decades of marketing success, even under the most unexpected and trying circumstances, one thing is clear – savvy business leaders and marketers should listen to him.