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The Top 5 Marketing Challenges Facing Brand Managers

August 11 2023 | By Rod Lowe | Blog

In late July, email marketers at the Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant chain urged valued patrons to lock in party dates for the upcoming 2023 holiday season: “Time is Running Out to Book Holiday Parties” read the subject line. However, Christmas in July is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg for brand managers planning marketing for the second half of this year and beyond. In a healthcare/insurance sector example, the annual Medicare open-enrollment period for Americans aged 65 and over commences on October 15 (and runs through December 7).

Those are dates marketers can count on. Whether they follow a calendar-year or fiscal schedule, businesses also face uncertainties during the remainder of ’23 and heading into the 2024 election year. Resource allocation always poses a challenge, and “a lot of marketers are keeping their budgeting dollars on the ‘sidelines’ until they can figure out what exactly they want their brands to be . . . ,” reports Corey Ciszek, an Emmy Award-winning creative director based in Chicago. “So many people are on edge not to offend, especially with the [U.S. presidential] election coming up,” he says, adding that lines in the sand seem to be drawn deeper these days.

Overcoming resource and budget constraints is one of five major challenges faced by people managing brands today in both the business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) space:

  1. Strategically timing up resources and budget dollars
  2. Efficiently managing multiple marketing channels—from direct mail to digital
  3. Keeping an open mind toward AI (artificial intelligence) trends
  4. Analytically tracking ROI (return on investment) of marketing spend
  5. Sophisticatedly testing different message versions

Election cycles also present opportunities and can add value to the printed mail medium, points out Chris Lyons, president and publisher of NonProfit PRO and Packaging Impressions. “The vast majority of political campaigns use direct mail exclusively,” he notes, “so mailboxes become more important to many consumers rather than online media or TV and radio [information] alternatives.” Lyons believes the timing is right for direct-mail marketers to leverage what he calls the channel’s “share of mindset.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge in these fragmented United States, Ciszek notes, is navigating brands within the context of today’s rampant “cancel culture.” Branding strategy often is a three-pronged pitchfork of:

  • What internal marketers want the brand to be.
  • What management team members think about that vision.
  • How it fits into consumerism.

Generally speaking, “smaller, niche brands are fine because they have a solid base,” he explains. Edgy firebrands such as Bombas socks/apparel, Liquid Death canned drinking water, and Red Bull energy drinks can take chances because they know their fans and followers so well. “But when larger, more popular companies like Bud Light or Nike take a stand, the waters get choppier,” Ciszek warns. The backlash can be merciless as brand names potentially suffer along with bottom-line profits.

Navigating Omnichannel Waters, ROI, AI, and Tracking

Besides differentiating from competitors, another big brand challenge is the effective management of multiple marketing channels. Despite some stiff headwinds, “direct mail still is an extraordinarily powerful marketing channel,” contends Lyons, the NAPCO publishing executive. First, though, marketers who use direct mail need to solve a skilled-labor problem. “Many marketing schools no longer teach copywriting to students, so the talent pool has declined,” he notes, cautioning that messages written for digital or social-media outreach may not be optimized for direct mail.

Also consider the three Ps: the cost-chain challenge of printing, paper, and postage expenses associated with direct mail. This is where technology comes into play and “can eliminate lower-performing campaigns,” Lyons explains. “By refining and tightening lists and data, fewer pieces actually need to be printed and mailed–but these pieces can be more specific.” The more efficient the mailings, the better the return on investment (ROI).

An increasing number of brand managers are embracing artificial intelligence (AI), such as ChatGPT, to create marketing campaigns. “This AI trend extends to integration with production capabilities in the vendor community,” observes Lyons, who adds that direct mail still is the leading fund-raising tool for the not-for-profit sector. From solicitation correspondence to thank-you letters, “nonprofit executives are finding that the technology provides them with scale and speed,” he adds. “The key is that, while AI-driven, it still needs to be human eye-approved to ensure that the right tone and industry jargon are communicated.”

For digital marketing spends, monitoring analytics from tech partners such as Google and HubSpot can help to justify ROI, too. “Trackability has become a huge metric,” says Ciszek, the seasoned creative director. “Ad performance can be measured day-to-day and even hour-to-hour.”

In his vast experience, media buys often come in short bursts based on product launch dates. Especially with direct mail, “larger clients constantly evaluate their marketing using A/B versioning tactics and testing different messages in different markets,” he concludes.

Brand managers will face a myriad of challenges in the coming months. From the complexities of media buying, the need for in-depth market analysis, to the delicate balancing act of constantly evaluating marketing strategies; these obstacles necessitate a multifaceted approach to brand management. This will not only ensure the successful launch of products, but also the sustainable growth of the brand. It is an enduring task, but one that offers immense rewards for those who can successfully navigate these hurdles.