Management Perspectives: Marketing Programs
Jan 1, 2006 11:00 PM, By Don Kreski
Seven steps to implementing a marketing plan.
If you've never put together a marketing plan, don't feel bad. According to a survey by AT&T, about 60 percent of small businesses never do. Yet the most successful companies consistently write such plans, and they take a very organized approach to marketing.
A number of years ago, I was fortunate to take a class from Phil Koetler, former department head at Northwestern's Kellogg Graduate School of Business and one of the pioneers of modern marketing methods.
Koetler outlined a seven-step approach to creating a new marketing program. I was able to use the outline as marketing manager of United Visual in west-suburban Chicago and again with customers at Kreski Marketing Consultants.
1. The situation analysis
The first step in creating useable marketing plan, according to Koetler, is simply to analyze your situation. What are your competitors up to? Are new opportunities opening up because of changes in technology or in the ways potential customers do business?
Mike Alley, chairman and CEO of Electronic Evolutions in Carmel, Ind., likes this approach: "We monitor what takes place and obviously stay apprised of who we're up against and who we're facing. It's a tight community and you have to know who's out there."
Koetler suggested using a format called "SWOT," for which you list your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Here's a chance to dust off that SmartBoard demo and brainstorm with other managers or your sales force. Of course, the key to any list like this is what you decide to do about it.
The best analysis is never enough. You need to formulate a concise list of realistic objectives. Ideally, they'll be achievable, but enough of a challenge to stretch yourself and your organization. If you really hope to accomplish them, they should be measurable.
My first boss in the AV industry, Bob Walsh of Midwest Visual in Chicago, always liked to state his objectives in dollar terms, for instance, "We're going to grow our net profit by 15 percent." And he always would break these objectives down into smaller, specific steps. "Paul, you need to grow your territory by 20 percent. And Tom, I'd like to hire a new sales rep to specialize in XYZ systems. We'll aim for $100,000 in gross profit next year."
Of course, there are a lot of other ways to measure success. Larger firms like to look at market share. Some measure the effects of their advertising on awareness and brand loyalty. These kinds of studies are often out of reach of the typical AV contractor, but you may be surprised at the kind of marketing research you can do.
3. Marketing research
Koetler said he felt very strongly that research is critical for any successful organization. You may be blessed with an intuitive ability to know what your customers want, but most people do not have this gift.
If you don't, it really helps to ask your customers what they think and what they want, and then put your knowledge on paper in some organized fashion. I've done quite a number of small, inexpensive marketing research projects.
Here's an example. When Sharp wanted to start an email newsletter for AV consultants three and a half years ago, I suggested we do some interviews. We brainstormed questions, mainly about possible content for the newsletter, then I made some phone calls. I spoke to about 10 consultants, spending about 30 to 45 minutes on each interview, then wrote up a summary of their ideas. We designed the newsletter based on their comments.
Short interviews are generally well received by customers; if you have any kind of relationship they'll be happy to help you. Informal focus groups work well. Take five to eight people out to breakfast or lunch and bring a list of questions. Or perhaps start a customer advisory panel. This type of research will bring out lots of ideas and concerns that will help your SWOT analysis, objectives, and implementation. If you decide you need to measure how many potential customers share a particular opinion, you can do a survey.
4. Segmentation, targeting, and positioning
Once you have your objectives and some idea of your customers' thinking, it's time to focus on specific markets. Even if you're AVI Florida, you can't be all things to all people, so you need to put your money and energy into the areas where you'll get the best return. "We've become very aggressive in the commercial environment," says Alley, "and our primary focus is on the corporate and then health care markets."
As you start to implement your objectives, it helps to have a positioning statement. For example, Electronic Evolutions uses the tag line "Simplifying the power of technology." Such a statement can help you and your staff know what it is you're trying to focus on, and you can use it to tell your customers who you are or who you are trying to be.
5. and 6. Marketing mix and implementation
Now it's time to choose the marketing activities that will communicate your position and advance your objectives. Among the possibilities are website development, email and regular mail promotions, telemarketing, advertising, and shows. We'll spend a lot more time on these steps in the next few months, and we'll outline some areas where AV contractors have done well. I hope you'll keep reading this column to learn more.
It helps to be a control freak if your marketing program is going to work well. Koetler suggests writing up your finished marketing plan, at least in outline form, and making it available to everyone who will have a part in implementing it. The most successful companies include a detailed budget and a calender of the activity dates with all the key deadlines that must be met to get there. Koetler suggests meeting at least quarterly to review your progress and adjust your objectives and budget. Walsh used to hold my feet to the fire in a regular monthly meeting. We'd look at our YTD revenues and more specific measures of success that we'd devised.
So now you have it: the seven steps the big marketers use. They may seem obvious, even trite, but believe me, they're honored more in the breach than the implementation. If you buck the trend and follow them, I can guarantee that you'll make more money.
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