How to get the biggest ROI on your marketing communications dollars

While it might not be the first question a CEO, practice manager or physician asks me, the one thing that's really on their minds is how to get the most for their marketing and communications efforts and budget. Or simply put, “how do I get the biggest bang for my buck”?

There are so many ways that you, and a host of other people in your practice, can spend money on marketing. Advertising, social media, public relations…and the list goes on forever. Determining the right mix of strategies and tactics to deliver the best return on investment (ROI) can be overwhelming. Tracking and measuring the effectiveness and success of your efforts can be confusing as well. How do you measure awareness levels? Is social media even necessary? How does all of this work together? Is my brand effective?

While planning isn't always the "sexiest" part of marketing communications and most of us creative beings want to move quickly to the concept and development phase, effective marketing communications are always a result of a sound strategy. No way around it -- the planning and strategy has to come first. If you don't proceed this way, then you run the risk of building your program on a bad foundation. This can be costly and very time-consuming. It’s always more efficient and effective to do it right the first time developing the strategy prior to the creative development or outreach. Putting dollars toward building on a solid brand is much more efficient, for example, than having to spend resources on undoing inappropriate messaging or bad public relations.

Essentials of a good plan incorporate analysis (including target audience identification), measurable objectives and strategies, messaging, tactical plan with rollout strategy, and metrics. There are a number of ways to develop your strategy or plan. I’ve found the most effective approach to be one that starts with leadership and then involves key staff members to build consensus and ownership along the way. Some of our must successful campaigns and brands are ones that incorporated facilitated meetings to not only arrive at important messaging such as the brand positioning statement, but also to build consensus and ownership around the strategy and emerging brand.

And yes, the tactical options can be overwhelming especially if you haven’t clearly defined your target audiences or what you’re trying to achieve. The best plans, by the way, integrate all marketing and communications activities and utilize a number of strategies and tactics to get results.

It’s not uncommon for the ROI question to get lost in the fray of all the excitement and "trying on" of different ideas within a company. The hype around the latest greatest tactics, such as social media for example, or great creative concepts or ideas from well-meaning staffers can capture even the most grounded company leader's attention and focus.

Successful integration of tactics to connect you with your audience have to be carefully evaluated and integrated into the overall bigger picture, which starts with a clear understanding of “where you are, where you’re going and how you’re going to get there”.

Cindy Thomas Wright has practiced marketing and communications for more than 25 years. She owns a strategic marketing and communications firm, Thomas Wright Partners, that works with leaders in healthcare, industry and government to develop brands and programs that build consensus, grow business and affect change.