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?"
1. Always have a "Plan B."
Better put, always have a Plan B that you are confident will work.
2. When sales momentum slows.
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 review impossible.
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.
3. When no measurable results are identified within a 50-day window.
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.
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 in sales.
4. When all of the feedback is "they just haven't figured it out yet."
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!
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 recovered.
5. Any time you speak "down" to your consumer.
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!
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.
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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.