Bad marketing, good company

The signs are clear: Your sales force is confused, your CFO is anxious, customer service problems are mounting and manufacturing is angry.

All fingers point blame at the members of your marketing department. But is it their fault? After all, the department whose job is to make sense out of confusion and spend money makes a great company piata. Yet, when you start asking questions about how the marketing department is doing, their answers wear on your nerves.

If you are like most business owners, you’re tired of complaints about budgets too small, expectations too high, an economy too slow, competitors too aggressive and the high cost of products. All companies face similar challenges and use marketing departments to overcome them. So why, then, is it that your company seems to have so many marketing issues?

Unless you’re a marketing expert, it’s hard to tell the difference between good and bad marketing. Most likely, your problem has one of two causes: a poor plan or a poor leader. Either is deadly. Here’s how to tell which is the culprit and what the solution is.

Lay out expectations

A marketing plan has three basic goals:

  • To clarify and convey your company’s best qualities so they meet the needs of a specific target market.
  • To become your organization’s blueprint for pricing, product development, promotion, packaging, distribution and targeting decisions and activities.
  • To give your executive committee (including the marketing executive) a framework for making decisions and allocating resources.
  • The role and responsibility of your marketing executive is to execute the plan. That job is also three-pronged. He or she should:

  • Interpret the needs of the marketplace, create a practical marketing plan and sell it to your company.
  • Implement approved programs and tactics through inside and outside resources.
  • Resolve threats to completing the marketing plan.

  • How and why efforts break down

    No plan is foolproof, but you know you have the wrong plan when your organization isn’t focused on leveraging its value and the company cannot profitably find, keep and grow customers.

    You know you have the wrong executive when, after two years, he or she still doesn’t understand your business or implement your vision, cannot adapt skills and experience to meet the challenges of the business and has not efficiently used staff, budgets and time to generate reasonable results.

    Fix the problem

    Once you determine where the problem is, act. If it is the marketing plan, then with your executive committee and other experts, audit and refocus. Retool the marketing strategy so your company is better able to find, keep and grow customers. And take a close look at how your company is organized and resourced so profitable products and services are sold.

    If the problem is your marketing executive, replace him or her with someone who has executed a marketing plan like the one you have or need. Consider someone who understands the marketplace, distribution, products and technology and can better fit into the existing organization.

    Keep marketing fixed

    Good marketing programs and executives are like a fine Chardonnay. Both seem pretty good at the start but are best after two to four years. After that, they don’t improve further and usually grow stale. Even if your marketing executive and plan seem on the ball, your firm’s changing capabilities, customers and competition call for new approaches to pricing, promotion, packaging, distribution and targeting.

    If you sense your marketing is out of touch, ask your employees and your customers. If the answers are not comforting, decide if it is the plan or the executive. And fix the right problem.

    Andy Birol ([email protected]) is president of PACER Associates Inc., a Solon-based firm that provides expert advice to owners and leaders who need to grow their businesses. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970.

    Pacer Associates website