Mar 2 2010

Tactics Without Strategy

by Andrew DiFiore

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

There has been a lot of noise these days. Everybody clamoring for the quick fix. Today it is social media, tomorrow it will be something else.

Who has time for market research? Why bother with brand development? Quite frankly, who understands this stuff anyway? Let’s just throw <kittens> against the wall and see what sticks.

Ah, here’s the rub: tactics without strategy just don’t work! I’m sorry, did I stutter? Tactics without strategy do not work!

There is a “perception” that strategy costs money but in reality strategy is an investment that makes a business successful. It is not an exact science and often requires experimentation to get right but without it no business can grow.

Sure, you can discount your product or service but statistically this tactic fails to retain any kind of real market share after the “sale” if over. Customers (and clients) always return to the names they trust and in the end all you’ve accomplished is to lose money and cheapen your brand.

Last week, Millward Brown released a study of the top performing brands in the US based on “trust” and “recommendation”. scored the highest with 123 while FedEx was a close second with 122 and UPS rounded out the list at #10 with a score of 118 (two strong B2B brands). You can view the full report here.

So, what makes these companies so trustworthy in their customer’s mind?

What strategies and tactics are you employing?

Jul 29 2009

Innovation in Today’s Economic Environment

by Bill Amirault

Innovation is the lifeblood of any business, especially in today’s economic climate.  The word has a different meaning and a greater sense of urgency attached to it today than it did even a few years ago.  In the past it often involved updating or tweaking product and service offerings, but today it may mean completely reinventing your business by whatever means necessary to ensure survival and growth.

The core requirement of any business is filling a need, and then profitably delivering the goods and/or services the meet this need.  This can only happen when needs are correctly identified.  Technology can be a catalyst, but it’s not a substitute for truly understanding key customers in a target market.  That means talking to them, directly whenever possible, to find the hidden niches you may have overlooked  (see Innovation).   There’s tremendous value to true customer insights, and it’s the only real way to know if what you (can) offer will be right.

Other questions to consider as you develop, or refine, your company’s innovation process include:

  • Are there markets and applications for my company’s capabilities that haven’t been considered?  What’s the most effective way to find that information?
  • What % of your business is products or services introduced 1, 2, or 5 years ago?  Is this similar to your competitors?  Compare these %s to the resources (human, capital, R&D) you allocate to new product development
  • What is life cycle of your products/services?  Is it 6-12 months like cell phones or automobiles?  Longer? Shorter?
  • Does your business require blockbusters, or tweaks to current technology? Or, is your company spending too much time and resources on low-impact projects?
  • Do your initiatives support your overall strategy? Or do you need to reinvent how the company innovates to ensure consistency?

A great book for determining which projects to pursue and which to cast aside is “Winning with New Products” by Robert G. Cooper.  As the creator of the trademarked Stage-Gate product development process, he provides time- and money-saving approaches to make sure your organization is on the right track with innovation, so you’ll ultimately reap the harvest of smart introductions.  The goal is doing the right projects, and doing them right, quickly!  His message must work because over half the companies in the U.S. are using some version of this methodology.

Another key to successful innovation is making sure the right message is delivered in a timely manner to the right audience.  A mix of traditional and e-marketing solutions is best.

Finally, along with developing the right products and services you need to make sure the timing is right.  AT&T once had a patented audio/visual telephone that included video images of each caller, but the market wasn’t ready for that level of intrusion.  Compare that with how widely used web cams and on line conference calls are today.

No matter what your circumstances are, successful innovation is readily available.  When Steve Jobs was asked how Apple systematized innovation, he replied, “you don’t.  You hire good people who will challenge each other every day to make the best products possible… Our corporate culture is simple.”  This philosophy provides the right environment for breakthroughs like the iPod.

Innovation — keep at it and you’ll see the results.  Tough times force entrepreneurs, and many others, to be more creative and resourceful, and to focus on those things that matter most.  As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said centuries ago, “the only constant is change.”  A recent billboard ad says a variation of that theme;

“Recession 101:  Bill Gates started Microsoft during a recession!”

What’s your experience with innovation? Anything you’d like to add?

Jul 27 2009

One great tactic?

by Jeff Propper

It seems that more and more b2b marketers are foregoing strategy and planning in favor of a single breakthrough tactic. Naturally, the tactic has to be web-based, viral and incorporate social media— and be practically free to produce, while delivering a high return on investment.

Whatever happened to developing a marketing communications strategy?  Goals and objectives have turned into a quest for the next cheap tactic.  I’m not against developing breakthrough marcom tactics. But I do think it should be the result of a sound, intelligent strategy.

Shoot, ready, aim
If we consider the marketing goal as the destination, then the strategy serves as the roadmap to get there.  Naturally, every tactic — whether print advertising, direct mail, e-marketing, etc. — must be examined against the strategy to gauge its validity. In other words, if the tactic doesn’t fit the strategy, it doesn’t belong in the plan. It seems to me lately, that we’re in a shoot, ready, aim mindset.

What about developing a unique selling proposition?
After much struggling against Mac, and it’s brilliant marketing, Microsoft has developed a simple, powerful and effective advertising campaign focusing on price and value.  The campaign is well produced, has great casting and a clear, concise selling proposition that resonates like crazy in this woeful economy. I love my Mac, but I really applaud Microsoft’s powerful strategy.

Common sense doesn’t always prevail.
Ultimately, marketing and advertising communications is about persuading more people to buy more products and services more often. Easier said than done, but to create long-term success, we must spend the time and energy upfront to properly develop a strategy and plan. When we don’t, we get that box of chocolates where you never know what you’re going to get.  Instead, a sound strategy, coupled with intelligent planning and on-target creative can deliver successful and repeatable results. Such a process reduces risk and maximizes the return on your marketing investment. It may sound like common sense, but lately, it’s not common practice.

Jun 29 2009

Managing Business in this Economy

by Bill Amirault

You just found out your staff and budget are being cut, a common reality in this economic climate. This scenario is the norm at most companies, it just depends on the severity and duration. If the reductions are 10-20% (you can manage it), 25-40% (it will hurt), 45-60% (brace yourself), 65% or more (you may be the one turning off the lights). So to chart the proper path forward, you need to take stock of the situation and the company on several levels.

1) Does the company philosophy and competitive situation indicate that marketing dollars are (a) an investment like R&D or (b) an expense like paper clips? It’s always some of both, but the former situation provides much more flexibility and opportunity with future programs than the latter.

2) What’s the actual or perceived ROI for each Marketing program? This is ultimately the litmus test for any advertising, promotion, PR, sales and/or e-Marketing event. The better you can measure this, the more likely your programs will have continuity.

3) What % of sales are normally devoted to R&D, Marketing, Sales, etc.? What will those percentages be after budget changes? If R&D receives funding any time it’s requested and you have to conduct a mid-Eastern bazaar for every dollar, it will be an uphill battle.

4) Where are the majority of your customers in the purchase cycle (awareness, consideration, trial, repeat, loyalty) and how are they faring in this climate?

For your loyal and repeat (meaning somewhat loyal) customers, make sure they don’t find a reason to go to a competitor at this time. Since you have established relationships, you may be able to cancel an expensive convention or road show, but still have to keep communications open by phone, email, blog, etc. to ensure they know any developments in your business that can benefit them.

If the purchase cycle is long enough so that your customers are effectively new each time, cutting back now could be disastrous, no matter what the CFO says.

5) Is this downturn really an opportunity to take a long a look at current and previous programs and either refresh them or overhaul them completely? Technology has helped make communications and even promotion programs more cost effective. But, before jumping on the social media bandwagon, for instance, make sure there’s a real business reason, and return, for everything you do.

6) Are there real customer opportunities out there that you may have missed because your message and targeting have been slightly off line, or just focused on customers who aren’t supporting you as they have previously?

So, what to do?  Your answers to the above questions will go a long way toward refining your strategy in the best possible way.  Here are some additional guidelines:

* Focus on those programs you know have a guaranteed return, with a caveat…  Familiarity can lead to complacency and mediocrity, even with reasonable returns.  One B2C company I worked with got so enamored with Sunday newspaper coupons (they’re easy to see, measure and bring instant spikes to weekly sales — like a direct mail program may be for your) that they didn’t realize how much overall returns had declined through the years.  These promotions also missed a very large % of the real target audience.  Make sure your programs are updated from a messaging and a delivery standpoint.

* Tighten up your strategy, positioning, branding, communications and media to ensure consistency and proper targeting.  Can’t emphasize this enough!!!  Though it’s easy to rely on those inside the company to chart the course, the far better approach is to focus on what the market needs are, and how your company best addresses them.  The B2B Marketing Posse is an excellent resource for developing these insights.

* Spend 10-20%, or more, on breakthrough (for you) test programs that have been proven elsewhere.  This may seem like the last thing to do in a downturn, but if you don’t create fresh programs, you can become stagnant.

Finally, keep your chin up!  Though this economic period has been difficult for many, but as has been true in all other downturns, this too shall pass.