What To Do When Your Marketing Is At A Crossroad

Every business hits stages where they meet what I call an inflection point - a time in their lifecycle when either the market or a set of internal conditions required an organization to make a strategic decision that will take them down one path or another.  This will change the course of the business from that point forward and could require a fundamental restructuring of your plans.  It affects every department in the firm, but it probably hits marketing the most.

In this situation, marketing is generally charged with leading the charge through the new fork in the road, which places a lot of pressure on marketing to get things right.  If you're in this position here are a few tips to help get you through that crossroad:

  • Have a solid understanding of the strategy and where it's leading you - marketing will never be able to be completely effective in this situation unless it begins with the end in mind. The change has to lead somewhere and having a good idea where that somewhere is will help you lay the groundwork for your marketing plans.

  • Look to other companies that went through something similar and see what they did right and wrong - a lot of companies have gone through transformations as business conditions have changed. Some survived and some didn't. Look for case studies for companies like yours that went through a similar transition and learn from their successes and mistakes. Obviously look to the ones in your space first but there is great learning by going degrees of freedom out from your core.

  • Embrace the excitement of the change and use it to fuel your creativity - although change is always scary, the chance to reinvent your company (either in part or in whole) is a rare opportunity, so get your team fired up about what they are doing and push them to think outside the box so that new ideas are created and the best ones get executed.

  • Be honest with senior management about time, impact and budget - most non-marketing executives think that perception and awareness changes happen with a snap of the fingers. Depending on the size of the change and the mountain you are climbing it could take years for all the changes to take effect. In order to avoid being the sacrificial lamb make sure you have what you need to do things in the timing by which leadership wants them. I always used the phrase, "You can have it good, fast or cheap - pick two." You can't have all three, so make sure they know that going in.

  • Look back only when it's relevant - a lot of things will change in your marketing, but in all likelihood the fundamentals of what you do will not. If you have measurement models and solid KPIs you will know what is working and what is not. You will have to adjust depending on the scope of the change, but knowing what has worked will help you move forward. Beyond that keep your eyes on the new strategy, not the old ones as it will only hold you back.

Times of change are both challenging and thrilling.  It causes us to get out of our comfort zone and stretches our skills and strengths.  Let the crossroad meet you as a great opportunity and take the path with vim and vigor and it will take you places you never thought you would be.

Using The Five Forces In Your Marketing Strategy

Let's get this out of the way first - this is not about Star Wars of the infinity stones from The Avengers.  This is about Porter's Five Forces Framework, a strategy tool developed by Michael Porter of Harvard University.  Dr. Porter is one of the world's most renowned minds on business strategy and his outlook on strategy can help your marketing stay on target despite changes in market forces. 

The Porter Five Forces Framework is a tool for analyzing competition of a business. Per everyone's favorite source Wikipedia, Porter's Five Forces "draws from industrial organization (IO) economics to derive five forces that determine the competitive intensity and, therefore, the attractiveness (or lack of it) of an industry in terms of its profitability."  As marketers, you may say, "Profitability...that doesn't concern us.  We focus on brand awareness and interest."  That's the wrong way to approach this.  Profitability and business success are directly correlated and if you are in a situation where profits can't be achieved you won't be a brand for long.  Therefore you have to take these kinds of factors into account as you are developing and executing your marketing strategy.

Here's a breakdown of the Five Forces and how you apply them to marketing:

  • Threat of new entrants - there are always competitors you know and ones that show up to disrupt the landscape of a business.  You see that a lot in technology but it extends to other industries as well.  Effective marketers deal the new ones quickly and try to be as proactive as possible while still moving the market in their direction through positioning and messaging.
  • Threat of substitutes - what products or services can replace what you are doing in part or in total?  This is where brand equity and differentiation really come into play.  You have to make the case about why you are better than any other choice and have a brand that delivers whatever level of cache your market demands.
  • Bargaining power of customers - the power of the customers in your market is absolute, and how much power they have is derived from the number and quality of the companies that are serving them.  If your customers have a lot of choices reinforcing the benefits of your product or service without creating a price war is critical to profitability and value.
  • Bargaining power of suppliers - probably least important force of the five for marketing purposes but how you deliver your product or service to the market can help or hurt your image.  Remember the hit Nike took when their low wage overseas work conditions were made public.  It can also impact supply issues that you are working to create demand for so be aware of these conditions where they impact your ability to market.
  • Industry rivalry - the hub of the Five Forces wheel that the other four revolve around.  This is the area where the other four forces converge and provide coverage on the competitive landscape and where the real battle for business lies.  As marketers we know we are in the middle of that battle everyday, looking for advantages to gain share of mind and share of market.  If you don't get this one and understand where your company uniquely fits, you will never be effective regardless of how sound your programs and tactics are.

If you are responsible for driving marketing strategy, I highly recommend picking up some Michael Porter.  It provides a great high-level perspective on business strategy that can positively impact your marketing strategy and in turn your business.

Building Marketing Analytics That Matter

Analytics is one of the biggest trends in marketing today.  The main reason for it (aside from additional visibility and understanding about marketing performance) is that executive management is looking for ways to justify marketing spends in ways that show top-line growth or at least the ability to contribute to it significantly.  That means as marketers we have to invest in tools and come up with measurement models that show that what we are doing matters beyond generic improvement of brand awareness.  I think we all know that all of this is leading to how our marketing budgets will be shaped now and into the future so it's important to get it right.

Marketo uses the following definition of marketing analytics - "marketing analytics is the practice of managing and studying metrics data in order to determine the ROI of marketing efforts, as well as the act of identifying opportunities for improvement."  Building off that definition, here are some key parts of getting your marketing analytics strategy right:

  • Understand the goals of the business - knowing what your business is trying to achieve is important. Everyone wants growth, but what type of growth does your company want? Is it in a specific section of the business or are there new targets or opportunities where you have to extend the brand? What if improved profitability is the goal? Marketing can still help with that by identifying more profitable segments and tailoring efforts towards them. The more you understand what the organization is trying to achieve the better off your marketing efforts will be.

  • Create marketing goals and KPIs that correlate to business objectives - now that you know what the business wants you have to create goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) that tie into them. Some of the goals can be qualitative and early on some will have to be, but the more quantitative goals you can make the more specific you can be and the leadership team will understand the commitment you're making. Just saying you are going to increase the number of leads isn't enough anymore. Specify a number and put it down so everyone knows the bogey they have to hit.

  • Create analytics that actually matter - when analytics first became a thing, we all locked into web traffic numbers, likes and follows on social media, and views of videos. All are great thing to see increase over time. But the days of those things actually mattering to how your business is doing are gone. If you want more money for these and other marketing items you have to begin to show how everything marketing is doing is moving customers through the pipeline and ultimately to sales. Everything else is window dressing.

  • Buy tools and build systems that support measurement - the sophistication required for today's marketer to effectively measure and analyze performance require something more than a spreadsheet and a couple of graphs. If you really want to have marketing analytics that are consistent and accurate over time invest in the tools and systems required to do it. By creating this infrastructure you can tap into data from IT and accounting that will give your data the heartiness it needs to survive the boardroom.

  • Build your team with analytics in mind - an analytics-centric team may look different than your current team of what you have hired to historically. Look for people that want results from their marketing efforts and not just things that look pretty. This is such an important part of marketing's long-term value that everyone on the team needs to grab an oar and paddle in the same direction. That doesn't mean go hire a bunch of quant jocks - find the blend between left and right brained folks and you will see your marketing efforts progress in a new and exciting way.

Marketing analytics have shifted the landscape of what marketers do and will do moving forward.  If you haven't embraced the trends you need to step up or you will get left behind.

Getting Your Marketing Planning In Order

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”   - Benjamin Franklin

Marketers are not always known for their planning skills.  We are great at reacting to problems and crises as they come up, but we are often lacking in our ability to plan for the future of our department much less the business we support.  Some of that is organizational - most organizations don't do a good job at planning anything other than budgets - but some of that falls on us.  We can help set the tempo for the company as it relates to marketing by building a process and deliverable cycle that puts things in order and create a pattern of behavior that makes marketing a priority.

If you are stuck in a firm with little to no marketing planning, here are some things you can do to improve it:

  • Set a schedule and stick to it - if you want to have a comprehensive plan for your brand by January 15, work backward to see when you need to start and what gates have to be hit to get there.  Beginning with the end in mind will help you know what needs to happen and when.
  • Create templates and a process - consistency and clarity are important to planning regardless of the function, but marketers need to create templates as well as a process for getting their plans done.  Accounting for each section and area plus a defined, detailed approach to getting it done will make it easier and more efficient.
  • Get buy-in for the annual plan - this area has two parts.  The first is getting senior management to accept the fact that a marketing plan (and by default a strategy) is a good thing and will make sure the company will support it.  The other critical path is a formal acceptance of the plan once it's complete.  That way you have affirmation of the plan and acceptance of its contents, which will help marketing execute with minimal static.
  • Do quarterly reviews of the plan - the best way to make sure your plans are in line with the business as it moves is to have a regular review of the plan and its progress.  That way you can correct the plan if things have changed and adjust strategies and tactics If you can't get quarterly try and get one at the 6-month mark.
  • Be quantitative and qualitative - these days a marketing plan must have both qualitative and quantitative information in order to really add value to the organization.  Gone are the days where marketers can just put up pretty slides with ads and tell someone where they are running.  Each component in a marketing plan that is executed with a return in mind should have that built in.  It puts more pressure on us as marketers but this accountability is critical to getting budgets as well as showcasing that marketing is adding and enhancing revenue.

This may be a tough climb if your firm has not had this kind of planning architecture before but promise me that it will pay dividends in the short and long terms.  With a plan, you can budget, hire, train, develop and execute properly and give everyone a real sense of what marketing is doing to help the organization.  All of that will create opportunities for you and the team, which helps everyone grow and prosper.  Embrace the planning journey and it will take you far.







How To Make Your Small Brand Look Big

Not all of us have the luxury or opportunity to work with a brand that everyone knows.  I've been lucky to work for some big brands but also had to manage smaller brands that didn't have the awareness, reach or budget that a big brand has.  Although there are certainly some great advantages to having all those things with a brand, you can still make your brand have an impact regardless of its size.  Here are some keys to make sure you are on the path to thinking like a big brand:

  • Be consistent - smaller brands are often at some early stage of maturity, trying to figure out their place in the market.  Moving as the market moves is fine and you will always make some adjustments during this phase, but it is critical that all your messaging, channels and positions be in lockstep with one another.  Without that consistency, your customers and the market won't know which way to go.
  • Be clear - most smaller brands get caught in a trap of complicating their message either to be different from their big competitors or make themselves sound smart.  The challenge is they may shoot over the market and not get the heart of their message across.  Clarity is something all marketers should strive for and it's especially true for smaller brands.
  • Move in small steps - every big brand once started as a small brand and made there way up the ladder.  You may catch a break and jump a rung or two but the good brands that work over time and are of quality methodically grow and build as their company grows.  If you try to jump too many steps on the ladders you'll end up falling off.
  • Embrace the path - I would submit it is a greater challenge to build a small brand than it is to manage a big brand since you generally have fewer arrows to shoot at the target and almost all of them have to be accurate.  Regardless, as a marketer take on the challenge of dealing with smaller brands with excitement because the experience is great and you never know where it will lead.

I hope that everyone gets to have the opportunity to have their brand on the big stage at some point, but even if it doesn't get there that doesn't mean you are not successful.  Niche brands and brands in smaller market spaces can be just as successful as big brands and sometimes even more so.  Take your brand down the path you have and watch it grow and flourish.