Based upon my experiences working with companies,
the toughest decision I ask CEOs to make is changing a winning marketing
plan while it is still working.
The secret of great marketers is not only knowing
when to "hold" and when to "fold," but when
to revise successful marketing strategies.
Marketing is the ultimate game of modifying human
behavior. However, Americans tire very quickly today. As a matter
of fact, strategies that once worked for two years now have a mere
six month life span.
Corporate marketers must adjust to this new fluid
consumer who can turn on or off very quickly. Those companies with
the luxury of moving from a very successful strategy to an even
more successful strategy are rare.
When I was writing my book, Predatory Marketing,
I searched for companies to use as examples to illustrate points.
It became apparent to me that few companies really know their customer
well enough to make this leap of faith of moving from one dynamic
strategy to another unless the first strategy was showing serious
signs of weakening. And the biggest reason why most corporate executives
delayed their decision to change was either their fear of "breaking
something that was not yet truly broken" or they were not confident
of how effective their next new strategy would be.
This rationale for not changing a strategy, even from
one that was not truly effective, forced me to study, and hopefully
answer, the very important question "when is the right time
to change the corporate marketing direction?"
- Always have a "Plan B."
Better put, always have a Plan B that you are confident will
Even the greatest marketing strategy will tire, but business
executives rationalize to let it run longer because "Plan
B" is not yet ready. Ever heard those words?
Every marketing manager must be more proactive today because
maintaining momentum is crucial to the sales success of every
business. The best time to develop a second phase is at the
time the first phase is being created.
One thing I have learned is never wait! Taking a serious
look at a successful strategy will always uncover mistakes.
However, waiting too long will allow egos to rise and take
ownership of the latest marketing success, making a serious
- When sales momentum slows.
In the past when sales dipped for a week or two, most retailers
would cite a multitude of possibilities for this unexpected
decline, while in their gut they were hoping these sale drops
would be short-lived and better sales would return.
There is no easy solution to this dilemma. However, we do
know that today's consumer will tire more quickly so whatever
standard your company used in the past to justify a change
in marketing, cut it in half!
Previously if you had to see a sales decline for eight consecutive
weeks, make the new standard four weeks. If you had to experience
a slowing of orders for six weeks, a manufacturer should move
his new standard to three weeks or possibly four weeks.
But keep in mind, if you don't have a Plan B in reserve
you will never be able to respond under this new reduced time
standard for strategy modification.
- When no measurable results are identified within a 50-day
Today, no strategy can be described as "effective"
if no significant results can be measured for a quarter. Based
upon our research, no strategy that is consumer based can
have momentum when a full quarter has passed with no improvement
This formula is good for new strategies that need to produce
some sales improvement or for strategies that have worked
well in the past.
Ten years ago a strategy that slowed could be "jump-started"
if sales dipped for 60-90 days. Today that is very unlikely
unless the company has major advertising resources at its
disposal which it is willing to commit.
Our research shows that a store opening in a new market has
just 90 days to make its imprint on the market, because what
that store creates in the first 90 days, it has to live with
for the next seven years!
- When all of the feedback is "they just haven't figured
it out yet."
One of the more famous advertising failures was the "misunderstood"
advertising for Infinity cars when they introduced their new
cars to America. The ineffective campaign put Infinity cars
behind their luxury car rivals, like Lexus. They have never
The "Herb" campaign from Burger King also falls
into this same category.
Both of these campaigns were defended vigorously by their
respective marketing managers and by the advertising agencies
that created these "lemons."
It was interesting that both used the reason, "consumers
will come around when they better understand the total campaign"
or they said, "just give them a little more time, consumers
are just now figuring out what we are trying to communicate."
The problem with these two explanations is that the consumer
is not patient. They are not willing to give a company a second
or third chance to capture their attention.
Often, the consumer figures it out very quickly and their
answer is no!
- Any time you speak "down" to your consumer.
Corporate arrogance is not limited to large businesses.
Small businesses are also guilty of criticizing their customer
for not "appreciating" all they do for them.
Companies offer new services to their customer, but still
consumers are not shopping at their store. Manufacturers initiate
new programs, yet few retailers race to change resources.
All too often the response from the company is: "customers
want to pay the lowest price and nothing else."
Consumers and companies want to pay as little as possible,
but few are purely price driven. However, the blame-your-customer-for-your-failure
approach is used by many companies to justify or to validate
their existing or new marketing strategies.
Marketing is more challenging today because fewer companies
really know their customer. Knowing your customer is always
the foundation for the most successful marketing strategies.