Saturday, January 28, 2006

Three Approaches to Your 2006 Marketing Plan

With the start of the New Year, marketing executives are busy crafting new plans. The easy way out is to copy last year’s plan, move some dates around, and call it a day. However, this approach will not work if you operate in a dynamic environment, as most software companies do.

Here are three approaches you can use to come up with new and improved marketing initiatives for your 2006 plan:

1. Analyze and Repeat Success

A clear-cut strategy for generating more leads is to do more of what you have already been doing. This does not necessarily mean that you have to spend more money. By analyzing the results of your past activities, you can focus on those that worked best and fine tune your marketing mix moving forward.

There are three things to keep in mind for this strategy to be successful:

  • Define your metrics to reflect your marketing goals. Whether your main objective is to generate more leads, achieve the lowest cost per qualified response, or something else altogether, use the corresponding metrics to measure the success of your past marketing activities and the return on your investment.
  • Focus on measurable activities. The more measurable activities you have in your marketing mix, the better you can optimize your results based on your previous track record. E-mail and web-based marketing vehicles provide you with almost immediate feedback, allowing you to alter the message, design, or concept to maximize the results of every campaign.
  • Use measurable tools. Make sure your e-mail tools, website infrastructure, and campaign management systems provide easy-to-use tracking of click-through and response rates that are granular enough to decipher the most beneficial sources for success, such as a specific list or message.

For more information on measurements and marketing metrics, you may be interested in reading Marketing by the Numbers and How Low Can You Go.

2. Find a Shortcut

If the first strategy for leveraging past success utilizes quantitative metrics, a second strategy applies a more qualitative approach. The idea is to find out what makes your customers tick and emphasize the factors that made them buy from you in the past in order to increase your success moving forward.

The first step is to establish a profile of those who became your customers in the past year or two: Do they come from a certain industry or segment? Are the companies of a certain size? Who were you competing against? Most importantly, what were the reasons they chose your solution over the competition?

Once you uncover some common threads, you can incorporate them into your marketing mix. Use the reasons people chose your solution to fine tune your messages. If your message resonates better with specific vertical markets, focus on these verticals. If you have more success against a certain competitor, go after their customers and expose their weaknesses.

Your customers will be happy to share this information with you, but listening to your customers requires a proactive approach. Strangely enough, while many companies claim to be "customer-driven", very few use this strategy-- all the more reason why you should!

3. Become a Knowledge Beacon

Many industries still lack efficient media for knowledge exchange. This vacuum is your opportunity to become the facilitator of such a community – a place to share knowledge with industry peers. In doing so, you position your company as the “go to” place for industry knowledge. This is probably the most effective form of branding you can do.

Here are three examples of knowledge-based communication vehicles that you can employ, even with the limited resources of a small company:

Best Practices Survey
Putting together a benchmark survey allows you to provide the industry with useful, relevant, and current information. At the same time, it gives you insight into market needs, industry challenges, current practices, and future plans. As a valuable byproduct, it can also generate new leads, which can be easily qualified by their responses to certain survey questions.

A web-based survey requires little effort and cost, and it can be used in multiple ways. You can use it in e-mail campaigns, banner advertising, and at tradeshows. See an example of such a survey, the results, and the subsequent publicity.

Publishing an industry-focused newsletter is an easy way to start gathering an audience for your knowledge-based communication. A company that started a newsletter two years ago has since seen its subscription list grow 200%. The newsletter has also helped the company position itself as an industry thought-leader. Stories published in the newsletter have generated interest from industry publications and led to ten articles published in the past year—all with no PR agency, no PR budget, and little to no advertising.

Blogs provide a new channel for customer interaction. They allow executives and other employees to communicate directly with customers without the confines of PR formalities (although I am not sure how long this freedom will prevail). You can turn your blog from a monolog into a dialogue by inviting comments and responses from your customers. Companies such as Microsoft and Sun have hundreds of such blogs, but even smaller companies are starting to experiment. Ex Libris, for example, started a blog by getting employees involved as a grassroots movement, with the hope that it will eventually take off to engage its customer community.

For your knowledge-based marketing to be successful, it has to be credible, so keep your sales pitch out. If the effort to create the content seems daunting, it doesn’t have to be. There are many creative ways to reuse existing content and generate new material with a reasonable amount of effort.

For example, you can take a web seminar and turn it into an article to be published on your website, newsletter, or in an industry publication. Since your customers have different preferences of how they like to process information, reformatting and repackaging the material may generate new interest. One company that tested this concept sent an e-mail campaign to their house list, announcing a collection of recent webinar recordings. Since no new content was created, it took little time and virtually no cost. By merely remarketing their existing content, the campaign generated 45 “free” new leads.

These three strategies are not mutually exclusive, and I am also sure they are not the only strategies you can apply. Post a comment or drop me an e-mail and let me know what you’re doing in 2006.

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