In Vancouver, several companies offer marketing and communications services. Upon closer examination, these companies turn out to be advertising, PR, graphic design, web or copywriting firms. And that’s great if you’re looking for a communications company. But marketing means more than just marketing communications. True marketing involves connecting buyers to sellers. Yet, because of their specific expertise and positioning, many “marketing companies” push customers to put together ads, brochures, websites, press releases and other promotional materials — before they even have their marketing in order.

As I say on my website, most marketers are skewed toward communications and sales. And sales and communications are important parts of the marketing mix. If you’ve covered your 4P’s — product, price, promotions and place — then it’s okay to start working with a communications company. Unfortunately, a lot of companies start up and hire a graphic design firm, ad agency or direct mail outfit right away. This is often because there’s a push to show senior management that marketing dollars are going to something tangible.

But those marketing dollars should be going to support a sustainable return on investment, based on developing profitable relationships with the right customers. Having a great-looking direct mailer, brochure or website won’t save you if you’re going after the wrong customers.

For example, a few years ago, I worked with a company that had ear-marked $100,000 for marketing. The company was spending a fortune on mailing brochures to healthcare professionals. But when I examined their marketing needs, I determined that most buying decisions in this industry were made by people in another department. And, more importantly, those buyers worked with big medical sales agents, which could offer a wide variety of products. Drawing from my experience with the full marketing mix, I worked out a marketing plan to help the company distribute its products through sales agents, develop programs to help hospital buyers make decisions, and come up with marketing campaigns that would lead healthcare professionals to influence those hospital buyers. Today, the company sells a huge proportion of its products through sales agencies.

Numeracy and a business-oriented approach help too. One company asked me to help them with their direct mail campaigns. I pointed out that, because their graphic designer had opted for heavy “durable” card stock for the one-page product sheets, it was costing up to $7 to send a set of product sheets to prospective clients. By changing the product sheets and opting for new stock, I helped the company free up money for value-added marketing activities.

Marketing and communication companies can play an important role in bringing your products and services to market. But, before you sign a contract, consider whether your full marketing needs are being met. You should be opting for value-added marketing decisions that help you achieve a positive ROI — not just producing brochures and websites, so it looks like you’re getting something done.

(c) 2006 by Andrea Coutu. Vancouver Marketing Consultant. All rights reserved.