Archive for February, 2009

Marketing Plans: Don’t fail to plan

February 20, 2009

There’s an adage that if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. I wholeheartedly support this point of view when it comes to marketing plans.

Why? Because without a marketing plan and without marketing goals you are 100% assured you will be investing your time (and perhaps a lot of money) in random acts of marketing.

True confessions. There have been times in my career when I didn’t do the marketing planning I needed to. Why? No doubt there are many lame excuses… too busy, nobody else saw the value in it, too early in my career to know better, and on and on.

I have worked for companies big and small and what I’ve learned along the way is that you must have a marketing plan. The plan needs to have measurable goals. And the strategies and activities in the plan should focus on accomplishing the goals. If you follow this formula you will make wiser investments with your marketing resources (both money and people.)

So what lessons have I learned along the way that are worth sharing?

  • Take time to build a marketing plan.
  • Before creating your plan make sure you’ve done your market intelligence. What are the current dynamics in your market? What is the competition doing? How have customer needs evolved? What are industry experts predicting?
  • Include clear, measurable goals/objectives in your plan. Associate metrics with the goals and monitor the metrics on a frequent basis.
  • Be sure your plan and goals are aligned with the overall business objectives as well as any plans and goals that your sales, engineering, finance and other teams have created.
  • The repository of your plan can take many forms. I’ve seen PowerPoint, Word and Excel all used effectively. And there are many off-the-shelf planning tools that can also be of help.
  • Socialize your plans with key stakeholders as it is being built (not after it’s completed.) You want their input. Make them part of the planning process rather than an audience.
  • If your company is a larger company with many products or divisions make sure the plans somehow connect and flow up into a master plan.
  • In a larger company there often can be an “infrastructure” of meetings or processes meant to build cross-functional alignment. If your company has one of these infrastructures, make sure the active use of your marketing plan is part of this process.

The timing of your marketing planning is a topic in itself. I’ll leave it for another post, but let me point out that if you plan on a calendar year and it’s mid-February and you still don’t have a plan, you’re not headed in the right direction. It’s time for a course correction.

Now, here’s the $64,000 advice. Perhaps one of the hardest parts of creating and then using your marketing plan throughout the year is the need to keep it current. The market in which you compete is dynamic and so should be your marketing plan. I have seen too many situations where a plan is created in Q4, approved in January, and then sits on a shelf for the next 11 months and is largely ignored. This again results in random acts of marketing and leads to frustration by all involved. As part of your plan, make sure you have a built-in mechanism for keeping your plan updated throughout the year as you execute on it.

Don’t fail to plan. Make this a good year with your best, most dynamic marketing plan yet.

Position your Company: Do it or it will be done for you

February 14, 2009

First of all, you must take the time to knowingly position your company. You can’t overlook it. You can’t put it off until 2010. You can’t delegate it to your mother-in-law. You need to spend the cycles on this effort. This is how your company will stand for something unique.

Why is this important to do now? Because if you don’t, the market place, your customers and your competitors will do it for you. And you may not end up in a place where you want to be.

Stated simply, positioning is the perception that exists in the minds of your customers. (The important part of that sentence being “in the minds of your customers.”) It is the relative competitive comparison associated with your company and/or solution.

For example, Volvo owns the position of safety in the automotive market. Apple owns the position of creative and innovation in the computer market. These companies stand for one thing, and time after time in customers’ minds all over the world these companies hold a unique position.

To be skilled at positioning you must be able to look at your company from the customer point of view. It has to be unbiased. If you can’t do this yourself, get some help from somebody who can be more objective.

Now, how should you get started? First, take a fresh look at how the market perceives you today. Do an unbiased audit – include customers, journalists, key industry influencers. Conduct a survey. Solicit feedback through your website. Get input from your customers as well as those who use your competitor’s products. Then, identify what within this current position you want to keep and what you want to change. This should be based on a deep understanding of customer needs.

Next, take time to understand what position your primary competitors own. Again, do this from the customers’ perspective – not from your internal (employee) perspective. Once you have completed this groundwork you have the basic building blocks to make an informed decision about the position you want to own.

Remember, if you choose not to position your company, the market will do it for you. Take control of your destiny. Spend the time on this. Spend a half day next week. Spend 90 minutes a week for the next two months. Somehow, some way, find the time and determine the position you want to claim. Determine the one thing you want to stand for. Then go for it! Be religious about cementing this position in the minds of your customers. You’ll be glad you did.

Good Use of Time

February 11, 2009

I hate to waste time.  I’m a nut for starting a meeting with “what are we here to accomplish today and what will we decide?” If we can’t answer those questions, we should not hold the meeting.

So, in the spirit of not wasting your time or mine, I want to document the purpose for this blog. I have long had a mantra that we should have “no random acts of marketing” and now, as a 40-something marketing professional located in RI of all places I want to share some of the wisdom, or at least perspectives and lessons learned through the years.

After spending more than 20 years in high tech marketing, including 11 years in Silicon Valley, I believe these lessons can help entrepreneurs and other technology leaders think a little differently about the marketing of their companies and solutions.

Many entrepreneurs don’t have enough time to dedicate to marketing. They are too busy worrying about the bits and bytes, and increasingly important today – the cashola to fund their enterprise. So, if taking a few minutes to read this blog can give you one lesson learned or one actionable step you can take, your visit here will have been a good use of time.