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Can Your Marketing Pass the Test?

Copyright 2005 Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

With the billions that is spent on marketing each year, in a country where sales and marketing has been raised to almost an art form, why is it that most marketing really doesn't work? By saying it doesn't work, we mean the number of new product failures and unmet revenue goals. For some companies, this is almost an annual ritual - leading to an average tenure of approximately 22 months for a typical marketing VP.

The causes of poor marketing are many - poor corporate leadership, lack of a marketing or product vision, unclear or conflicting objectives, anti-marketing (introverted) corporate cultures - the list goes on.

Whether you are a customer or a marketing professional, determining the root causes of poor marketing is not a very good use of your time. A more effective approach is to recognize the symptoms of poor marketing - and then decide if you want to do business with that vendor, or continue to work there. In other words - what are the chances that you can change the status quo?

In assessing the marketing process, a key point to remember is that the evaluation of marketing can be broken down into two areas: visualization, and the marketing process.

In the visualization stage - the vendor's marketing messaging should serve to quickly create a visualization of who they are, whether you are a possible customer for their services or products, and the benefits accruing to the use of their products or services.

Some of you may recognize these objectives as the same as a ‘60-second elevator speech', and in effect, they are. Whereas an elevator speech is one-on-one, marketing messaging is one-to-many. With one-to-many marketing, you can't make as many assumptions about your audiences' knowledge and level of understanding (since you don't get immediate feedback), and have to structure your messaging accordingly.

Unfortunately, many attempts at one-to-many visualization result in the marketing equivalent of a poorly written resume - you really can't tell what the candidate is capable of. In trying to be all things to all people - they are nothing specific to anyone. Like it or not, it often leaves the impression of uncertainty and confusion - as does poorly structured one-to-many marketing visualization.

The assessment of the visualization component of marketing is to determine whether you have a clear understanding of where the company sits in the universe that it occupies. A quick test for this is if you, in turn, can describe to someone else what the company does, for whom, and why they are different. Rather interestingly, this is also a technique used in performance-based instruction (e.g., flight instruction) to determine if the student understands the maneuver (that is, the task they are being asked to perform). It is also one of the first steps in professional sales training - requiring the sales team to articulate their opening statement - and surprisingly - one that many struggle with - even those with years of experience.

If the visualization step in the marketing effort is inadequate or non-effective, then the rest of the marketing program is crippled from the get-go, a lot of sales opportunities will be lost, and a lot of marketing resources expended to make up for that initial deficiency.

Another aspect of the visualization process is competitive inoculation. In other words, positioning your company, products and services in such a way that you anticipate competitive messages and innoculate the prospect from them - all without mentioning your competitors or their products by name.

This is slightly easier with products or services that have a unique design element or custom development philosophy, as opposed to commodity items. With commodity items - it can often be done with education. An example would be high-definition television. A large specialty electronics retailer, Crutchfield's of Charlottesville, Virginia, dedicates the first several pages of their catalog to a discussion of high definition television, the different technologies and their respective strengths and weaknesses. After reading all of that - you have a much better understanding of high-definition television, and can make a far more intelligent choice. Crutchfield's has also established itself as a vendor of information - a critical distinction for many buyers. Rather interestingly, Crutchfield has long been known as a quality provider of after-market car radios and installation kits (where they provide similar information), and still has a significant presence in that market.

Once the prospective customer gets through the visualization stage, then they are introduced to your marketing process. This is the series of steps whereby they engage with your company, preferably (but not always) leading up to a sales (customer) relationship.

The first step that usually follows the visualization is the validation stage - consisting of customer utilization profiles (or hypothetical if a new product) that serve to reinforce the product visualization and validate your claims by actual usage narratives provided by your customers.

Many companies mistakenly think of these as pabulum-filled "success stories" that are often counter-productive, in that they are almost immediately dismissed or ignored as not credible. The true test is if the customer narrative provides the customer's competitive analysis and decision making process for the purchase, and discuss the inevitable trade-offs that have to be made. Since the end decision is in favor of your product - the realism tends to ad a lot of credibility to the narrative - especially if it mirrors the new prospect's (that is, the reader's) experience.

The next stage in the marketing process is to help the prospective customer know how they will engage with you - in other words, what the buying process entails. As a variation of this, some Boston-area dentists are using radio commercials that describe their treatment process. Apparently, they have made the decision that the best way to establish competitive distinction is to quickly describe what is involved in routine treatment. They also offer sedatives, which may be an appeal.

For technical services or business-to-business products (such as ERP software) an up-front needs analysis or diagnostic technology survey may be required. This represents the steps toward commitment, and should be expressed as such.

Once the prospect gets through the visualization stage and the introduction to your marketing process - if they still engage - there is a very likely possibility that you have a sales prospect that is ready, willing and able to buy.

And that is the best answer you can get to your marketing messaging.

© 2005, Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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