Marketing Audits

Changing times, Changing Minds

That old tune "What a Difference a Day Makes" has taken on new meaning in this digital age. How long ago was it when dot-coms were the hot, new business model? Six months later, the dot-com honeymoon is over as venture capitalists migrate to bricks-with-clicks companies in an effort to realize some return on their investment.

The short-lived dot-com boomlet is indicative of today's frenetic pace of change. Brand allegiances are quickly broken as the latest, greatest product hits the market. Loyalties are increasingly tenuous as customers select suppliers based on technological performance as much as on relationship. And, of course, instantaneous communications enable these attitude reversals to happen at breakneck speed.

What's to be done?

Some research a day keeps the competitors at bay

Research is to marketing as water is to life. It's essential and fundamental. And it's even more critical given today's fast-moving and volatile business climate. I've written about focus groups and customer surveys in previous columns, so I'd like to discuss marketing audits here.

While we most often suggest a marketing audit prior to designing a marketing program, we also conduct audits to monitor results of programs. In either case, their value is undeniable, enabling management to benchmark buyers and buying patterns, identify new markets with similar characteristics, and prepare for future needs and demands.

So it's always surprising that so many companies undertake marketing activities without laying the proper foundation. While much has been be made of the fact that our industry is built on customer relationships, few take the time to analyze those relationships in database marketing terms. Instead, management relies on hunches, statistics pulled from industry polls, and feedback from sales reps.

However, careful research cannot be overlooked for very long without adversely affecting a company. As printers adopt advanced equipment and technologies and add to their suites of services, they begin to change themselves in ways often not immediately apparent. Certainly not to customers.

What's an audit ?

The marketing audit is a systematic review of a company's current marketing and sales efforts. Deliverables for an audit generally include: a report evaluating a printer's current situation, past marketing activity, competitors' marketing activity, as well as a detailed description of a recommended marketing program accompanied by a budget. Typically beginning with interviews of appropriate executives, department heads and selected sales representatives, the audit evaluates:

  • All equipment, gaining a thorough understanding of the company's production capabilities.
  • All printed materials (ads, sales literature, newsletters, etc.)
  • Sales data to gain an understanding of the company's market segments.
  • Direct competitors' marketing materials and websites.
  • Use of company logo and associated graphic identity materials.
  • Website and visitor records.
  • Signage (trucks, building, uniforms, etc.)
  • Uses made by the sales force of communications materials.
  • Publicity and public relations activity.
  • Use of electronic communications and other media.
  • Marketing infrastructure (contact management and database systems, IT/production systems, etc.)

What's learned ?

Findings in each of these areas reveal a company's strengths and weaknesses in terms of its position in the marketplace and its ability to maximize the effectiveness of a systematic marketing program, from lead generation to customer relationship management.

This point has been driven home over the last year. Since we're at ground zero in dot-com territory, we get calls from start-ups needing marketing services. While some executives are more experienced in marketing, there¼s an alarming number of others who think marketing is a simple matter of sending out press releases, designing some ads, and slapping up a website. While I can't lay all the blame at the execs' feet, many of these companies are the same ones that are struggling or have closed down in the last two months.

Systematic marketing entails not only careful research, but also well-oiled sales and IT systems. Before spending money to purchase a list of leads, you must think through the following:

  • Can everyone in your organization clearly articulate why a prospect should do business with you as opposed to your competitors?
  • Do you have contact management software and a well-defined prospecting system?
  • Does sales management enforce the system?
  • Have sales reps bought into the system? If not, why not?
  • Will the leads come in a format you can import into your in-house database?
  • How will the leads be qualified?
  • What happens to warm and cold leads? What¼s the best way to continue communications with them?

And let's not forget the Internet, where websites will play an increasingly vital role in marketing strategies. As I mentioned in an earlier column, databases are all-important in e-commerce utilization of sites. How will a converted lead get from sales into estimating and, finally, into accounting? Hopefully, not with multiple entries into three (four if we count production) different databases. Of course, many of our dot-com colleagues are trying to address the front-end of this problem, some with more success than others.

Marketing audits, like their focus group cousin, are essential marketing tools. They should be conducted before launching any marketing campaign, and similar evaluative research should be incorporated into annual marketing budgets. These days, change is faster than constant.

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 Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte

© 2000 Charlotte Mills Seligman

August 24, 2000
Print & Graphics
Col#17, 8/00
Printing Journal
Col #17 8/00
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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