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MARKETING IN THE TRENCHES

Lesson 1: Know the road you want to take

"If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there."
This phrase on the need for clear thinking became one of my first key professional insights. What makes it practical is its simplicity. You can apply it immediately and frequently to your marketing pursuits.
We will go on a step-by-step journey through "Marketing in the Trenches" - reviewing the applicable aspects of six key marketing concepts: (1) Thinking, (2) Researching, (3) Deciding, (4) Planning, (5) Doing and (6) Managing. The six ideas above form the basics of the marketing game. Learning the realities of how to apply them is what "Marketing in the Trenches" is all about.



"If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there."

This phrase on the need for clear thinking became one of my first key professional insights. What makes it practical is its simplicity. You can apply it immediately and frequently to your marketing pursuits.

We will go on a step-by-step journey through "Marketing in the Trenches" - reviewing the applicable aspects of six key marketing concepts: (1) Thinking, (2) Researching, (3) Deciding, (4) Planning, (5) Doing and (6) Managing.

The six ideas above form the basics of the marketing game. Learning the realities of how to apply them is what "Marketing in the Trenches" is all about.

Thinking

Where do we want the road to lead us? The ability to ask the two simple questions listed below is all we need to arrive safely.

(1) "What are we trying to do here?"

In Slovakia I attend many client meetings that seem to go on endlessly. This is nothing new: "infinite meeting syndrome" plagues most of the world.

However, having a short attention span, I get fidgety quickly and invariably pose one question to the group, "What are we trying to do here?"

Said differently, "What is the one thing we're trying to accomplish?" This is the absolute essence of clear marketing thinking.

Let's take some real life examples - situations that I've been involved in with marketing decisions by different companies (who will remain nameless for confidentiality's sake).

Case One: A large Slovak food company was evaluating new flavor options for one of its products. We tasted the new variations; the company felt one was good enough to market.

An unending conversation ensued. I interrupted, "What are we trying to do here?" Fortunately, we had just completed their first-ever marketing plan - including the all-important strategy section. "We're trying to communicate 'close to nature' in every element of our marketing mix," the General Director read from the plan.

"Well, if that's what we're trying to do," I countered, "while all of these new options taste better than what we currently have, none of them deliver on 'close to nature' and none are acceptable." We directed the supplier to improve the flavor options in order to deliver on the strategy.

Case Two: A Slovak beverage client was evaluating new packaging designs. It did an amazing job upgrading its entire line to incorporate a brand name and a family feel, except for one very problematic product version. While the product looked better in its new package compared to the old one, it paled next to the rest of its improved siblings.

A drawn-out battle of opinions followed, one side saying "It's OK," the other offering a resounding "Nie." So I volunteered the question: "What are we trying to do here?"

The marketing director read the answer from the firm's marketing plan: "Develop world-class packaging throughout the product line, in order to help drive in-store sales, especially vital given the company's limited ability to advertise broadscale." Discussion over. We decided not to accept mediocrity but to keep on working to deliver a "world-class package."

(2) "What's the Principle?"

After you figure out where you are going conceptually, you need to establish the principle(s) to decide how to get there. You need rules, benchmarks, guidelines, yardsticks in order to see which road is right.

Case One. I remember sitting in a meeting taking place in the United Kingdom with a large multinational consumer products company. While all of the brand managers understood the marketing objective for this well-known toothpaste brand sold throughout Europe, we had trouble agreeing on alternative advertising concepts to test among consumers. We knew where we needed to go, but the roads were foggy.

The general manager listened to the confusion then asked one simple question, "What's the principle?" Said another way, "What was the one or more criteria on which we should base our decision?" We agreed on the rules. Re-focused, we quickly decided on concepts for testing.

Case Two. Recently, I met with a large central European consumer products company that marketed two brands of a similar household product (only the colors differed) in a second country. "With such limited advertising and sales resources, why not put all the colors under only one brand name?" I asked. The client claimed that both brands enjoyed high consumer awareness, and, therefore, it was too late to change. "What's the principle?" I inquired. "If it's high awareness, then let's test it. Ask consumers if they know the brands."

"If yes, we'll keep the two," I continued. "If no, let's simplify the lives of our consumers and trade customers, not to mention our own, and go with one." Settling on the principles, we were ready for research.

Classic definitions of marketing thinking - one can gain those from any textbook. However, the ability to apply the concept rests in these two questions: "What are we trying to do here?" and "What's the principle?" Ask them often - you'll know the destination and the road to get there.

"Marketing in the Trenches" appears monthly. Next month's column will focus on "Researching: Tell Me Why." Stewart Glickman is Practice Leader, Marketing and Sales Consulting, at the USAID-funded Slovak Business and Banking Advisory Center (SBBAC). He can be reached at: tel: 07-366-355. fax: 07-366-384 or e-mail: stewart@sbac.sk

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