Audits Provide Foundation for Business and Marketing Strategies

My belief in the value of marketing audits was reinforced recently after concluding a combination brand and marketing audit for a wine industry client, an international manufacturer of glass bottles. Using a combination of mail, fax and phone survey techniques, the audits took about a month-and-a-half to complete and netted some very interesting findings. I've written about this topic before, but thought it would be valuable to describe in detail what's involved.

Not to be confused with service, experiences, the authors argue, are the fourth economic offering: "When a person buys a service, he purchases a set of intangible activities carried out on his behalf. But when he buys an experience, pays to spend time enjoying a series of memorable events that a company stages . . . to engage him in a personal way." Remember the printers' roundtable to which I referred in my last column? Several participants said that their sponsored events were some of the most successful marketing programs they conducted. Why? Perhaps it's because they provide that new source of value which is otherwise missing in customer/printer communications.

Assignment

With corporate headquarters in France, our client had been frustrated by the lack of support for U.S. marketing efforts. All marketing programs emanated out of France, with little regard for the unique challenges each country presented. Heading up the company's U.S. marketing team, our client needed fodder to help convince headquarters that many opportunities existed in the U.S. market, but she was unable to pursue them due to inadequate and untargeted marketing materials.

She also knew from her dealings with customers that there might be confusion regarding the company's brand, since a sub-brand used in the U.S. market had recently transitioned back to the name of the parent company.

In consultation with the client, we determined the parameters: All surveys would be limited to approximately 25 questions and would take between 5 and 8 minutes to complete. To provide an incentive for completing the survey, we agreed on a donation to a charity well known in the wine industry. To contain costs, we also decided to limit the number of people to be surveyed. Selection of the customers and distributors to be interviewed became even more important in this case, since we wanted to make sure we were polling a representative cross section of each population.

Designing the questionnaires

Surveys were tailored to three constituencies: Customers and prospects, or those to whom our client sells directly; distributors, or those who represent our client; and management and employees in the U.S. offices. We first developed the internal questionnaire. Due to the small number of those to be surveyed, we settled upon a designed questionnaire that would be faxed. Questions ranged from open-ended questions, such as "Describe in your own words [your company's] mission statement," to multiple-choice brand questions, such as "What one color do you associate with [your company]?"

The customer/distributor surveys were set up in Excel spreadsheets and were multiple choice. The first half of the survey was "blind," meaning the identity of the sponsoring company wasn't revealed until mid-way through the survey at the brand perception questions. First portion questions ranged from "What's the first name that comes to mind when you think wine bottles?" to "Rank the most important factors influencing your purchase of wine bottles?" Brand questions corresponded to those asked of employees: "What emotion do you feel when you purchase a [company name] product?" "What personality traits would you apply to [company name]?" Etc. This enabled us to identify broad characteristics that played well both internally and externally.

To conduct the customer/distributor surveys, we contracted with a telemarketing service we'd used on prior projects, and created an Excel template, which was sent along to an online survey service to enable the callers to enter responses directly into the database. The service also allowed us to monitor responses and calls in real time.

Findings

Several golden nuggets of insight emerged when we tallied responses. There was near unanimous agreement among both customers and distributors that our client is perceived as expensive in price and premium in the categories of quality, design and customer service. Rather than being put off by the price point, all consider themselves "smart" and "confident" in their decision to purchase from our client.

Interestingly, both groups expressed interest in our client developing a mid-price product line. Distributors believed they could "turn" a much higher volume (a primary concern with this group) with a lower priced product. Customers said they already purchase a lower priced bottle from other manufacturers, but would switch to our client because of all the other benefits of doing business with them; e.g. customer service, quality, innovative designs, etc. Coincidentally, our client had just completed the design of a screw-top wine bottle for a customer. Both elegant in design and practical in price-point, we think this could be the flagship product of the new lower priced line. Segmenting and branding product lines enables our client to introduce products in a range of price points without compromising its well-established premium brand.

Other findings gave our client more ammunition to convince corporate that a U.S.-specific marketing program would be worth the investment. The first phase of our brand audit included surveys of competitors' websites and calls to get marketing materials for our review. Interestingly, none of our client's competitors, most of which are big international conglomerates, had any marketing materials other than the ubiquitous catalog. This fact, along with the finding that sales rep visits are most useful in both customers' and distributors' selection of a manufacturer, suggests our client could gain market share with well-conceived, sophisticated marketing materials. The ROI on the effort could be considerable given the fact that we also discovered that both customers and distributors rarely change manufacturers.

We also discovered that oil and vinegar bottles were second to wine bottles in customer and distributor purchases from manufacturers. While our client produces oil and vinegar bottles, they've never been marketed to wine customers, which opened another possible revenue stream..

As is the case with printing, designers (of packaging and labels) often will recommend manufacturers. This was reinforced by the survey, so we've recommended the client think about a targeted mini-campaign focusing on this market. Under discussion is development of designer resource materials: a case of sample glass chips; samples of etching, silk-screen, sand-blasting finishes; actual-size templates of wine bottle shapes for label designers; as well as separate catalogs for other product lines, such as oil and vinegar, perfume and spirits bottles.

Brand Discoveries

Perhaps the happiest news was that our client appeared to have successfully transitioned brand identification back to the parent brand. Equally pleasant news, our client appeared to have the high-end position in the market wrapped up, netting by far the highest scores, compared to competitors, from all respondents in quality, design, and reputation. Respondents also most often chose words like upper class, successful, imaginative and spirited to describe the company, which provides us with a solid foundation for development of a brand platform and marketing strategy.

Whether or not you conduct your own audits or outsource to an agency, do it. I just heard Bob Lindgren, Director of Printing Industries of Southern California, again repeat his oft-spoken wisdom: "Know your customers better than you know printing." A marketing audit is a good place to start.


Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.

© 2002 Charlotte Mills Seligman

January 2002
Print & Graphics
Col #34, 1/02
Printing Journal
Col #34, 1/02
Awesome Audits
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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