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Promotion: The Battle for Your Customer's Mind

In many respects, marketing promotions are the most visible part of the mix, and the activity people most associate with marketing strategy. While promotional activity is usually initiated to achieve business goals—e.g., to introduce new products or to "build sales"-—well planned promotions usually have a broader mission.

The essence of a good promotion is one that communicates a specific message to the customer and does so in a way that is meaningful, long-lasting, and which strengthens or causes a change in the customer's behavior or perceptions. When the right message "sticks" or the behavior is changed as intended, well planned promotions achieve their intended business results.

In foodservice, the marketer's objectives depend on where he or she is in the channel. For a manufacturer, marketing goals will often focus on "moving more cases of product."

The best promotional strategies involve big picture goals.
They are balanced, consistent and evolve over time to keep their message from growing stale.

Typically, this effort is undertaken either by establishing price or other incentives for the distributor (so-called "push-through" strategy, thus identifying the distributor as the customer, and making it his job to sell product into the market) or by recognizing end-user operators as the primary customers and promoting the use of the product by them (typically, with " pullthrough" strategies to increase product usage and demand).

The typical food manufacturer brings many products to market, and the overall marketing strategy is often complex, involving both pull-through and push through activities and a full range of promotional tools: advertising, sales promotion, public relations, personal selling and so on. Marketing and sales activities often overlap, and sometimes even conflict with one another in their execution.

As an operator, you will use the same tools, but will have your own business complexities. Your menu and products change every day. You are limited in your ability to pick your customers, with the customer universe you do have typically constrained by the campus or environment in which you operate. Price point limitations are often the result not only of competition ( usually by nearby commercial restaurants) but also by guidelines established by your institution.

In your case, too, sales and marketing goals can conflict. Price promotions may build business for the short term, but reduce profitability and set lower price-point " benchmarks" in your customers' minds, which can work against you later.

That's not to say that price-based promotions are not useful, only that they must be implemented within the larger context of a marketing plan. The best promotional strategies involve well thought-out, bigpicture goals: for example, to establish a better image of the corporate cafè and its offerings in the minds of target customers; make your department's catering services the preferred provider in the minds of other departments and administrators; build breakfast traffic by promoting breakfast service as a healthful way to start the day, etc.

These examples are all communications goals with specific objectives and associated messages. Once clear promotional goals and message have been established, programs to employ advertising, PR, special events and so on in support of them are much easier to plan and coordinate.

It's also important to note that effective promotions are almost always informed by well thought out research into customer perceptions, wants and needs and are coordinated with other parts of your marketing mix and plan.

Even if a promotion is limited and short term (like a price promotion to clear out a discontinued line in a c-store) it can often be made more effective if it is coordinated with other promotional activities (for example, a new product introduction: "Help us make room for our new smoothie machine!")

The most successful promotional programs are balanced, seeking both long-and short-term impact, focusing on both new customer acquisition and existing customer retention, and so on. They are consistent, sending the same message via different media and tools. And they evolve, building on their message and keeping it from growing stale.

We'll talk about pricing next, and then conclude with some thoughts on how the marketing mix can best be integrated for the most effective long term impact.

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