THE POWER AND PLACE TRADITIONAL MARKETING [Rural Telecommunications]
(Rural Telecommunications Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Blogging, tweeting, yammering, yelping. These may be some of the buzz words associated with social media, but some of us "older" folks (defined as anyone over 30) can't help but think they sound like the unfortunate symptoms of a nervous condition.
Social media-particularly when it comes to marketing and advertising-seems to get all the hype and attention. And while it's a growing phenomenon that certainly has its merits, it still represents only a relatively small part of most marketing budgets.
According to a joint survey by the business school of Duke University and the American Management Association, social media marketing accounted for only about 6.6% of marketing budgets in 2013. The survey forecasted this percentage to grow to 9.1% this year and to 15.8% within five years.
These numbers are not insignificant, but they boil down to the fact that traditional marketing (which spans everything from television commercials, radio spots, billboard ads, direct mailings and bill inserts to sign-up events, door hangers, cold calling and more) still represents the lion's share of the marketing budgets and efforts. By these tallies, traditional marketing will get more than 90% of the budget this year and will account for nearly 85% in 2018.
Talk to the marketing folks at small telephone companies and they'll tell you that this does not surprise them because they know that traditional marketing has its place and its power.
Customers With Hide
Missy Poje-director of marketing for Fidelity Communications Co. (Sullivan, Mo.)- is proud that her company's complete marketing campaign won an NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association TcleChoice Award last year, but she said she's more proud of her marketing team and the results they achieve.
"We use both traditional and online media," Poje explained. "Traditional includes TV spots, billboards, direct mail; online media is our search engines, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and sign-ups on our website. It's very integrated."
Poje said Fidelity most sees the value of its traditional marketing when it comes to reaching its more established customers. "We serve small-town America, and we have a lot of older customers," she said. "The sweet spot for us are our 35-year-olds to 54-year-olds. That segment generates our highest revenues."
That demographic has more disposable income because they're more established in their lives and their careers. They're also users of advanced telecommunications services. Poje said. "The [baby] boomers are very technologically savvy, and they're willing to spend the most money to get those services," she said.
Roger Gray-chief executive officer and founder of GKV, an advertising agency-pointed out that customers in the 3554 age group have different telecommunications needs. "They're likely to have kids at home," he said, noting that this alone drives up demand for products and services. "If they've got teenagers, that's more cellphone use, more Internet, different cable packages."
Even for customers older than 54, there's still a demand for advanced telecommunications services, Gray said. "Today's senior is not the senior of yesteryear," he said. "Today's seniors are much more active, much more engaged in life. This is not an old man sitting on a bench."
Poje agreed that Fidelity's older customers are a busy bunch. "They're watching TV. They're driving past billboards. They're reading the local newspaper," she said, noting that all of these activities play into traditional marketing, including radio spots for times in the car. "You have to have multiple solutions for multiple customers."
Gray noted that older rural consumers are more likely to have greater allegiance to local brands. "They are interested in what's homegrown in the backyard," he said, advising small telcos to play this up in their marketing efforts by using footage or photos of local landmarks. "It's not just about the services you provide, it's about the heritage of the company and its roots and the fact that customers will be dealing with local people."
Track Down a Tech
Most rural telecommunications providers have branded themselves as the local providers, Poje said. "That's what we are," she said. "Everyone knows that they can track down a tech or customer service rep at the grocery store or at church-and, believe me, they do."
Poje said this does not surprise her because there's a lot more need for handholding with advanced technology. "How do I hook up my laptop to the TV?" she said. "Our techs will run over to someone's house to reset the DVR [digital video recorder] box or even hit the power button on the TV. People still need a consultant and a guide for this technology."
But good luck finding that level of service and commitment from one of the big providers, Poje said. "If you're a Dish or DirecTV customer and you have a problem, it'll take them a week or a week and a half to come out and fix it," she said. "With us, we're out that day or the next day."
When it comes to comparisons to the competition. Poje said it's smart to make it more than just lip service. "In our mailings, we'll do a little chart to show how we stack up to the competition in our area," she explained. "We'll say something like, 'Here's how we're better: Better price, faster speed, no contracts, no caps on data, no installation fees.' Think about the message that your customer wants to hear. It's not just about who you are and what you're offering."
Gary Schotanus, sales manager with OmniTel Communications (Nora Springs, Iowa), underlined the importance of thinking about the customer's perspective. When OmniTel launched its fiber-to-the-home rollout in some of its communities, Schotanus said the telco made sure that its marketing campaign had an awareness and education portion to it. "We knew that our customers would soon be seeing the boring machines and crews and us plowing fiber," he explained. "We wanted to explain why we were doing it and go over the benefits and advantages to them so that the construction wouldn't just be an inconvenience for them."
A town hall meeting to give a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation and to answer questions goes a long way toward overcoming the grumble that "the phone company is tearing up my yard," Schotanus said, adding that he's been pleasantly surprised at the turnout at some of OmniTcl's town hall meetings.
In one town of 500 people, 75 came out to a town hall meeting on a weeknight, Schotanus said. "There were more who came but left because there wasn't enough room in the hall," he said.
Another successful marketing strategy has been holding four-day sign-up events at local fire halls or the American Legion, Schotanus said. "We'll put ads in the newspaper to advertise this and run ads on billboards in the area," he said, explaining that this allowed people to come in and talk directly to the sales reps. "When the sales reps had some downtime, they could be on the phone calling people in the area and saying, 'We're here. Come over and see us.'"
OmniTel also had giveaway items at its sign-up events, such as notepads and pens, as well as branded OmniTel water bottles with the company name, logo, telephone number and website. "We had free cookies, too," Schotanus said.
The sign-up events were especially useful in communities that were 30 miles or more away from the corporate office, Schotanus said. He also considered the weather and the age of his customers. Schotanus noted that a lot of OmniTel's customers are 65 and older.
"We held these sign-up events in the fall so the weather was nice, and it was easy for our elderly customers to come out. They want to have their questions answered face to face," he said, conceding that this takes extra time and manpower. "But it's well worth the investment because you have a much more content customer. If they have a name and a face, they feel they have a contact point if there's ever a question or a problem."
None of this effort was outsourced; instead the telco used its own salespeople. "You need the right people and we have them," he said. "When you take the personal route, your employees are the ambassadors for your company. You can't underestimate the value of that."
Research Before Rebranding
Shenandoah Telecommunications Co. (Shentel; Edinburg, Va.) also carefully considered the role and value of its employees when it rolled out its rebranding efforts a few years ago. "The minute the phone rings, you want your employees to know how to treat customers," said Willy Pirtle, vice president of wireless and the Shentel brand.
Shentel found it necessary to launch a rebranding campaign after buying three local cable companies, Pirtle explained. Fewer than half of their new customers had even heard of the company. Compounding that problem was the fact that previous cable companies had made promises that they were unable to fulfill.
The first step in its campaign was to conduct customer research, Pirtle said. "We found that they thought it was important that we are local. Our call center is not in India," he said. Reliability and dependability were also important. "If the power goes out, the phone stays on. They want to be able to call the electric company to tell them to restore power, and they want to be able to check on loved ones."
Armed with this information, Shentel's initial marketing efforts to the new customers did not focus on products or services. "Instead, it was all about who we are and what we do," Pirtle said, noting that Shentel ran a very traditional campaign using television, radio and direct mail. "We believed traditional methods would be more effective than social media because we were targeting an older demographic-35to 55-year-olds, the heads of the households. We also were not sure how many of our customers had Internet service. We certainly knew that they watched more TV than spent time on the Internet."
Later on, when the campaign did extend to speQ cific products and services, Shentel incorporated some of the same images and clips from its brand marketing as a tiein, Pirtle explained. Throughout the entire process, Shentel kept its employees in the loop. "We researched our employees-everyone from the executive team down to the janitor. Once we had a company mission statement and vision, we spent a full day of training all of our employees-700 people in four states-so they knew our mission and vision and could talk to our customers."
This shared understanding leads to better customer service, Pirtle said. "Telecommunications is a commodity business these days," he said. "The way to compete is to connect better to your customers."
Part of that customer connection also comes down to year-round communication and marketing, Gray said. "With something like telecommunications services, you never know when a customer is going to sign up," he said. "You don't know when their contract runs out or when they get disgusted with their current service. That's why you must maintain a constant presence."
For Shentel, this came down to running television commercials and radio spots, as well as doing two or three mailings a quarter, Gray said. "If you see a spot on TV, hear an ad on the radio, and get a piece of mail-that's three times a day, and that's a powerful message," he said.
For small telcos not certain if they have pockets deep enough for this level of marketing or to hire an outside advertising firm, Gray said the first step could be hiring a marketing consultant to come in and analyze the local market and to look at past marketing efforts in terms of what has and has not worked. "Once the analysis is done, the consultant can then make recommendations," he said.
If the decision is to hire a full-service ad agency to carry out those recommendations. Gray said the next step is to set a budget and find an agency that will deem that size of an account important and worthwhile. "Invite three agencies to meet with you and weigh the chemistry of the people," he said. "Do you like these people? Do they listen well? Do you have a good rapport with them? Do they have a passion for your industry? Will they be dedicated to helping you achieve your goals?"
In the end-whether it's in-house or through an ad agency-there's never been a better time to have a strong marketing message. "This is a tumultuous time for our industry because there are so many changes," Fidelity's Poje said. "The best thing we can do is create a solid, consistent, friendly brand that provides the high level of service that we're all known for."
FOCUSING ON FUN
Don't be afraid to have fun with your marketing and stand out from the crowd, said Missy Fbje, director of marketing for Fidelity Communications Co. (Sullivan, Mo.). "Everybody's advertising tends to look the same," she said. "You're selling fun services so don't be afraid to do something crazy." Fidelity has been using a superhero theme with its Captain Powerful mascot for the past two years, Poje said, explaining that the mascot is really an engineer with the telco. "Our TV ads with him are wacky and crazy and off-the-wall silly. At Christmastime, we had him wearing a Santa suit and dancing. In the summer, he was swimming with kids in a pool. People will tell us they're so corny, but they're laughing and talking about them."
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE
When thinking about marketing and advertising, small telcos would be wise not to overlook simple solutions, advised Charlene Taylor, chief executive officer and creative director of Chaz Taylor Inc. (Nashville, Tenn.), a marketing resource group. "Traditional marketing is the vanilla ice cream that everyone goes back to," she said, adding that telco customers still love paper and print. "The majority of customers who signed up for a new service last year were prompted by bill inserts."
Taylor said that bill inserts are a simple, nonpushy way to advertise a new service or product. "We call this the 'chicken and the egg' approach," she said. "It's not considered cool, but it's familiar and complete."
Gary Schotanus-sales manager with OmniTel Communications (Nora Springs, Iowa)-agreed, noting that the telco printed order forms and included self-addressed stamped envelopes in its second round of door hangers and that these proved to be highly successful. "Many were surprised when the mail came in the next week with all the sign-ups," he said. "This lets people do business with us immediately. We can't believe we didn't do this the first time."
DON'T FORGET FACEBOOK
Most marketing gurus agree that even if a company opts to spend the majority of its time and money on 'traditional marketing, it's still important to tie those efforts back into its online or social media presence.
"Everyone's always wondering what to post on their social media sites," said Jennifer Mehaffey, an independent marketing consultant. She suggested that posting traditional marketing is a smart business move. "Say you have a new billboard, take a picture of it, and post it on your Facebook page and ask your followers: 'Have you seen our new billboard? What do you think of it?"'
The same is true for TV commercials and radio ads, which generate additional interest while also providing feedback, Mehaffey said. "You can even do this with your direct mailers by including your Facebook logo on them," she said. "Traditional marketing is all about eyeballs. It's all about reach. Social media is another channel for that, one that we didn't have even five to 10 years ago."
Mehaffey pointed out that this reach can be extended even further by tapping into the social media sites of partner companies, as well as media outlets (newspapers and TV and radio stations). "If you're putting out press releases and new product announcements, tag those with the social media platforms of your partners and customers," she said. Most media outlets have their own Twitter feeds, so tap into those and tag it to do cross-feeds, she said.
While the sheer size of Facebook is staggering (1.26 billion users), it is still often viewed as a medium only for younger people. But statistics show this is changing. "The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 45- to 54-year-olds," Mehaffey said. "On Twitter, the fastest growing demographic is 55- to 64-year-olds."
Fbsting your traditional marketing on social media sites comes down to getting more bang for the buck, Mehaffey said. "In a small business, those marketing dollars are precious," she said. "Social media is an inexpensive way to extend your reach and capitalize on that investment."
Rachel Brown is a freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2014 National Telephone Cooperative
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