For most brands looking to promote themselves to prospective audiences via marketing and advertising, the world is their oyster. Sure, there are some limits; creativity and budgetary constraints are two of the most obvious restrictions, while bodies like the Advertising Standards Authority exist to ensure that integrity is maintained. However, broadly speaking, they can position themselves as they wish, advertise where they like, and market themselves to the audiences they choose.
Note the caveat – most businesses. Organisations within certain sectors, such as the tobacco and alcohol industries, various aspects of financial services, gambling and online dating alongside less obvious industries such as healthcare, charities and, transport are obligated to follow strict rules and regulations. This is due to the nature of their business and duty of care to consumers; it can make achieving a good return on marketing and advertising investment a real challenge.
What, then, are the key strategies brands should employ to ensure they stay both ahead of the competitive curve and on the right side of the law? We’ve provided a few top tips to help navigate the rough regulated terrain.
Understanding regulated industries and the challenges for businesses
The simplest definition of a regulated industry is one that is subject to sector-specific government rules. This may be because the sector’s products or services are deemed to be potentially harmful to the consumer, or they are not controlled or restricted in certain ways. Or it may be because those products or services are complicated or specialist enough to be potentially misleading to average consumers, for example, legal or financial services.
Regardless of the precise motivations for regulations, specialist bodies are generally in charge of the rules pertaining to each sector. For example, the Financial Conduct Authority oversees regulation in the financial industry, while the Portman Group oversees the alcohol sector. When it comes to marketing and advertising, these are the bodies that need to be satisfied.
Typical rules include the restriction or complete prohibition of certain advertising channels - think about restrictions on the times of day that sugary food can be advertised on TV, or the total prohibition of cigarettes and e-cigarettes on television advertising - and requirements for certain information or warnings to be included in all adverts. Keywords may be restricted or banned in search marketing campaigns, and certain claims may not be allowed.
Five key strategies to overcome the ‘red tape’ regulations
If you’re a brand operating in a regulated industry facing those challenges and want to deliver the best possible return on your marketing and advertising spend, what can you do? Here are five key strategies to bear in mind:
1. Education and awareness of the law
The obvious starting point for all brands in a regulated industry has to be a thorough understanding of the rules and regulations pertaining to that industry. Remember, education and awareness isn’t just an internal matter – it also applies to every external agency and freelancer you use to assist with your marketing and advertising. If they don’t have a textbook knowledge of the frameworks you need to operate within, there’s a risk of you shelling out for unusable work. They have a responsibility to educate themselves, but you have a responsibility to check that knowledge, to ask for appropriate points of reference and, where relevant, examples of previous work.
2. Robust planning processes
Next, you need to think about the workflows that sit behind every marketing and advertising project. Careful project management and a comprehensive series of checks and sign-off procedures are more important in regulated industries than any others. There should never be occasions where a single stakeholder is able to sign off on a piece of creative, or a marketing campaign approved without agreement from lawyers and other regulatory experts. But to avoid wasted investment on unworkable campaigns, this care and attention should start long before sign-off, back at the planning stage. A range of different stakeholders should confirm the workability and restrictions related to a particular strategy or approach long before you start generating creative ideas or purchasing media space. Following a consistent, well-thought-out approach will also streamline the process through your legal channels and avoid your campaign start dates and ROI being delayed.
3. Effective storytelling
Storytelling is, of course, a crucial element of marketing and advertising in all industries. However, when you are operating in a world of tight rules and restrictions, it is even more important to ensure that a slick and consistent story is told across all of your marketing channels. This enables each separate marketing channel to draw on the success of others, helping to mitigate the impact of restrictions in individual channels.
4. Artful SEO and PPC
Keyword restrictions, whether in general online content as part of an organic search strategy, or in pay-per-click advertising, can be one of the trickiest aspects of marketing and advertising for regulated brands to navigate. It may be that certain keywords are banned outright, making it impossible for you to bid for certain terms in Google AdWords. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of ways of making search marketing work for you. Tactics such as cleaning up the links on your website, tagging all visual content, and, of course, identifying and replicating the existing high-performing keywords on your site are all helpful.
Creating optimised content related to consumers’ questions can also be beneficial, helping brands capitalise on the intrigue that consumers may have on topics related to their products (e.g. health concerns) and take control of the narrative by providing an affirmative answer.
5. Handling public criticism
The fifth string to your marketing and advertising bow is a proactive and predictive one. Obviously, the hope is that your business will never face public criticism but for this to be an assumption is a risky strategy. Preparing a crisis communications strategy for dealing with potential marketing emergencies, as well as a softer strategy for responding to lower level public criticism, is a sensible rule of thumb for all regulated businesses. While a precise approach will, of course, be built on your own brand personality and values, principles of clarity and integrity apply to all regulated brands.
By Paul Bullock, digital marketing manager at Fast Web Media
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