Marchand--Assessing Parts, Developing Programs
Here's an idea for a marketing activity so obvious, it's easy to overlook. So basic, it works for all kinds of graphic arts operations.
Most companies define their programs as the sum of their marketing activities. Asked about programs, more than a few marketing and sales executives respond with a list: a company brochure, several mailed pieces, a Web site, a newsletter, lead generation activities and an annual open house—programs found at many companies. Do these add up to a marketing program? Maybe so, maybe not.
It's not the items on the list that determine whether the activities constitute a program. The activities are tactics. What they add up to is seldom articulated and frequently unclear.
Much Ado About Nothing
For example, someone makes the case that heightened visibility would be a good thing for the company. Who could disagree? A publicist gets coverage for the company in trade and business publications read by its customers. A good thing, we all agree. But toward what end? How do we use the coverage and how exactly do we evaluate the outcome?
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, sums are not inevitably greater than their parts. In fact, they may add up to less. Much ado about very little (if not nothing).
Building a program is about more than piling up activities. It requires the articulation of a strategy. What are the company's objectives? What are the goals that can serve as mileposts—measurable accomplishments, previously agreed upon steps—on the road toward realizing our objectives?
However valuable our marketing activities may be, they have much less value than they might if we don't ask these questions. Answering them is the first step. Next comes the central element of the audit process: a review of existing activities. This entails the asking of second-level questions, specific to the activities. Here are seven questions you might ask about your company's marketing activities.
1. Is our brochure more than a vanity piece? A company brochure is a strategic piece, so we should ask what objectives it accomplishes. Specifically! What are the intended audiences? Does it speak to them in their language; does it define value to them? (These last two questions are also relevant to numbers two and four, below.)
2. Does the newsletter address particular goals (stimulate demand for use of an FTP site, for example, or increase use of mailing capabilities)? Do we get more than complimentary feedback from the newsletter? Does it contain a response mechanism that allows us to evaluate its effectiveness?
3. Why do we provide reps, CSRs and planners with Internet access? How do we evaluate what we're accomplishing via e-mail?
4. What's the purpose of our Web site? How does its navigational structure (and its graphics) accomplish these goals? What do we do to support our presence on the Internet? How do we get customers onto the Web site and what are they supposed to do when they get there? Do we have in place a method of evaluating the results—the accomplishment of specified goals?
5. How are the qualified leads created for us being used? Handing them out is a first step only. How are the reps trained and managed in their use of the leads? How is the marketing communication activity targeted to the leads in support of the efforts of sales reps to convert them into new customers?
6. How do the elements—each of the above activities, for example—reinforce or support one another?
7. What is the return on investment? Few marketing programs for printing companies can withstand the asking of this question. It is answerable—but only if built into the plan from the start.
Assessing Your Needs
At this point in the audit process you have good information about what's working and what's not, what should be changed or dropped altogether and what must be made more readily subject to evaluation by critical criteria—quantitative whenever possible, qualitative when not. (You'll actually be surprised to discover how few activities are not subject to quantitative assessment.)
Articulating a strategy, defining objectives and determining goals must be done in writing. Out of this process comes the assessment of needs: The identification of the marketing activities tied to the realization of goals.
For maximum impact, each activity must be integrated with the others. That's what makes a list of activities into a coherent program. The program should be presented with a budget that, upon approval, becomes a line item in the company's larger operating budget. It should share in the annual evaluation process to which all line items are subjected. To make this possible, the plan must be submitted for approval with its own evaluation criteria as a specified marketing activity.
There's a final benefit I don't want to overlook. In printing and the graphic arts, many sales and marketing executives find the struggle for any kind of budget to be an uphill battle. Try starting over with a proposal that moves from audit to needs assessment to plan development.
You will be surprised at the many places where you get support and dollars for the idea.
About the Author
Jacques Marchand may be phoned at (415) 357-2929. His firm, Marchand Marketing, provides strategic consulting services, positioning and marketing communications to help companies in the printing industry increase sales. E-mail may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the firm's work for clients is also available on its Web site, www.marchand.com.
REMEMBERING THE OBVIOUS:
USING A PRO: WHAT" IT COST?
The reasons to hire an outside organization for a financial audit go well beyond questions having to do with honesty, the lack thereof and the risk of fraud. An evaluation of how financial resources are being used and recommendations for their more efficient deployment almost inevitably require the efforts of an outsider who's a professional. So too with a marketing audit.
If the audit includes a needs assessment (it's not worth much if it doesn't) and the development of an integrated plan with a budget (it's worth a lot more if it does), the fees will range from $6,000 to $15,000.
The price depends upon the size of the company, the extent of the marketing and the availability of data.
Don't overlook the obvious. Whatever dollars your company may spend for marketing, the opportunity to spend them wisely—controlled, purposefully, integrated and evaluated—is well worth the modest cost of an audit.