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Archive for October, 2008

Economic Crisis can be Opportunities with the Right Planning

Monday, October 20th, 2008

It’s that time of year again, the leaves are changing, the nights are cooler, the school buses are rolling, and, if you’re lucky, senior management wants to know what and where you want to spend next year. They aren’t making any promises, but it looks like the current financial crisis means that you should think long and hard about what to spend at all. On the other hand, those that have the resources may come out aggressive and try to take your market share. Everyone is looking hungry, including your clients. Should you go for broke or pace for the marathon? Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya?

A well-thought-out, or even a mediocre-thought-out, strategy involves a lot of thinking and a lot of ideas. Sometimes that takes time, sometimes that takes effort, usually it takes both. I’m right in the middle of our annual planning sessions for the upcoming year, but I have an advantage. I have a fuzzy idea of where we’re going to be in the future. Knowing that helps to plan for the next year because I have a benchmark that I can shift-up or shift-down throughout the year depending on industry issues and opportunities.

At the very beginning, you need to know what do you do, how do you do it, how well do you do it. This involves some internal analysis and navel-gazing. In addition, include external things that impact you, like regulations, customers, even the potential ones, technology, best practices, and finally competitors. Knowing the long term trends in your industry will help you allocate to the right initiatives and helps to plan on where to put your resources to the best effect.

As you begin to plan, you can use a pre-made system, and there are many, many out there, just check your favorite search engine. Here’s one that I don’t endorse, but I liked their web url: Bplans.com. As a note of caution, it is unusual to find an exact pre-made format for everyone’s needs, so take a flexible approach, glean what you can and discard the rest.

One thing to remember, and this has a lot to do with your audience and your role in an organization, I’m focusing on Marketing plans, not business plans. Business plans address financials and other non-marketing topics that marketing doesn’t have responsibility for. If you find a business plan you like, cut those sections out rather than comment that it doesn’t apply. A good place to get the right perspective is to check out the SBA. They have some good plans, at least to get you thinking about how to write your plan.

Finally, spend the balance of the strategy explaining how you’re going to get there. Feel free to borrow other resources in the plan. Let some other departments do some of the heavy lifting - they’ll reap the benefits with you as you succeed. If you have metrics, detail them; proof is better than benefits, which is better than features.

I try to break mine down into three sections:
1. Initiatives - goals, objectives, industry initiatives (client, regulator and competitor), corporate initiatives.
2. Product, services, solution - a description of positioning is the important part as it makes sure everyone is in agreement, or you know who isn’t. I recommend that you discuss market segmentation here, with backup in an appendix. You can also, if there is relevance, talk about changes in distribution, changes in pricing or value, and the other Ps. Use your best judgement when discussing People…
3. Influences - these include external factors such as regulations, competitors, etc. If your products are so mutually exclusive that it makes more sense to discuss these topics in the prior section, go for it. But most firms, and I state this rhetorically, have products that are extensions, complementary, or otherwise tied together, and so a separate section is easier to read than re-stating the same points in each product strategy.

I hold a few sites out on a small list to remind myself of topics I may have forgotten, or new issues that need to be addressed. A very good place to look after you’ve finished your first draft, is the wiki on marketing plans. If you’re like me, I update the plan once a year with notes from the past year, new ideas that we’ve been bouncing around, and any other chaff that comes my way. Since the wiki is updated constantly by donated content from global sources, you can get some good fodder for new ideas or threats to your firm that you may not have thought of or seen yet.

Four additional tips for a lasting strategy (and have learned the hard way):
1. Write it for beyond your known audience, including the timing. I’ve found old strategies that I’ve written switch the e-mail referred to at other companies.
2. Condense the executive summary, the current state, and the future state onto the first page of the document. If you find yourself defining, explaining, rationalizing, and proposing, start again. Finally, the Executive Summary should state any significant change to the current process, like a creation of a cross-departmental-strategy-execution team.
3. Use appendices for tables of data, include expense by product, by intitiative, market move segmentations, etc.
4. Don’t define the obvious. It’ll make your document a dull read and lose its efficacy. If you’ve always sold through VARs, or direct sales into prospects, and continue to do so - then, so what? Don’t waste type, space and reader’s attention span with the mundane.

Finally, be creative, have fun, but make sure it’s professional. This document has your name on it, make it good enough to look at next year as the foundation of your next one. It should be a pleasure to read. It’s a stake in the ground and you’re holding the sledge hammer - wear your best shoes.

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Kevin Flavin has almost 20 years experience in the financial services industry. Balancing the first half of his career as a buyer, he has spent the last ten years as a vendor in a range of roles from sales, product management, but always marketing. He is based in the Boston area. He is also a monthly contributor for the AMA Boston blog.

The crisis continues – Funding the “gap” and redeploying

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

 Especially if you are a small nonprofit ($ ½ million or less) or you have barely 3 FTEs to run your organization, you are feeling horribly right now. If your budget hovers around $1 million -$3 million, you probably feel like a small nonprofit, no matter how the Dow Jones is doing today.

Get organized to push ahead - Hopefully your fund sources have been diverse so you’re not suffering from the downfall of Merrill Lynch. In the crisis is opportunity, as a wise person said several millennia ago.

This is when having a good database of emails for your constituents - especially donor prospects or civic-minded leaders in your community - comes in handy. If you don’t have one now, create it. Put people to work on this. Name-address-phone-affiliation-email and a column for “notes.”

Email push  - Most people will be generous even in this terrible time. People want to do something positive and feel good about some gesture toward others they’ve made. A well-written email push to prospects could yield $25 to $100 each. If this audience is mainly middle class ($250,000 and above), you may be successful beyond your dreams.

Example: In your pitch, please tell them about the gap you’re experience, how the money would be used, how much money is needed and when you need it by. Assure them they will get an immediate receipt and thank-you and that their help during this time will help your organization continue to operate reliably (supplying services to your constituency groups).

Ask the recipient to kindly forward to three friends or colleagues. Provide a “back-end” (as mentioned last time) to accept credit card purchases online. Be clear about where checks can be sent and, again, your deadline. Include a form to complete if the person wants more information or wants an occasional or periodic update. Evan Shapiro, Meerkat Technology, in Massachusetts, has an excellent tried-and-true back-end for nonprofits, especially theaters and other types of arts organizations.

A premium? Offer a prize for giving that makes the recipient of your request laugh - perhaps a coupon for $20 for take-out for two from your local favorite chicken-dinner place. Offer this for donations @$50 or above. You’re going to make money anyway.  The plus about the premium is it signals the seriousness of your intent, and gets people’s attention.

Redeploy? - Even if you have 3 FTEs (or fewer) you have to be smart and strategic about how you prioritize and focus your daily activity.

Example: If you have been doing a newsletter in-house - consider getting pro bono help from the outside (e.g., a graphic designer) for a shortened newsletter, but punchier and with a simple, clean look. Pour whatever talent you have in to creative fund raising. Give morale boosting small potluck dinners for your program directors, coordinators and caseworkers. Hang together. Be specific about what you can do together to keep your nonprofit viable and lay groundwork for a healthier future.

BasecampTM - This tool will help you through a time of workforce assessment. You may have staffed a lot of board committees or task forces. You’re agonizing over how to keep these going. Basecamp is a platform that organizes conversations, sharing of documents and even writing together. There is a brand-new live chat function; Basecamp is always adding and improving.

The basic fee is $24/month. I have found this level sufficient for most of my purposes to date. It’s intuitive and fun. Feel free to write me with questions about how it can be applied or how it works. Basecamp (run by 37signals) has very good short tutorials and is intuitive to use if you pause for a few minutes to think (and don’t rush yourself).
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Marketers and Technical Folks…Living Happily Ever After

Monday, October 13th, 2008

I’ve spent most of my career marketing for technology companies.  I still chuckle when I remember the old Saturday Night Live skits about the IT guy, Nick Burns (played by Jimmy Fallon), who always had to fix someone’s computer, and it was usually something minor.  One skit involved someone in the marketing department that didn’t know what they were doing on their computer.  Impatient Nick instructed the marketer to get out of his chair with the famous “MOVE!” so he could fix the issue rather than trying to troubleshoot the problem with him.  Seth Godin put it best – “Different people have very different agendas.  The key in understanding someone’s actions is understanding their agenda.” 

Marketers and technical folks often run into challenges, and in the end it comes down to having different agendas.  Marketers and technical folks need to communicate more openly – learn about each others’ agendas – and realize they have common goals of achieving success for their organization. 

What are the challenges between these two distinct groups that often cause them to butt heads and what do you do about it?  Here are some insights and pointers I’ve learned along the way.

Marketers create the brand perception and recognition; technical folks think they already know it.

It’s amazing how many times products have been developed without much customer feedback.  Techies feel they know what customers want, build it and then tell marketers to go out and tell the world about it.  Often it turns out that these products aren’t very user friendly in the real world. 

I have been involved in numerous product development meetings where I’ve seen demos and wondered, “How in the world are users going to know what to do with this thing?”  As a user, I’ve been able to contribute feedback that has been implemented into the products.  I’ve convinced technical folks that although the product has a lot of benefits, unless these products are intuitive and easy to use, they won’t be a success.

Marketers argue “customers won’t want to use this” while techies are convinced “they want it, they just don’t know it yet.”

Technology folks often feel marketing people don’t understand the product well enough to communicate its benefits.  That’s been a fun time for me.   I’ve been told by technology folks in my early years that marketing is “just fluff.”   Try to convince someone like that about the true value of marketing! Usually I will test the product (as a user) and communicate the challenges from my perspective in the way they understand it – documents with bullet points of exactly what I tested, results and recommendations for making the product more user-friendly.   I realize I may be lucky to even be involved in this process compared to organizations where products are created under lock and key away from the marketing department.  I have earned the rights to barge into product development, but it wasn’t without a fight.  Remember, not all organizations have product managers – marketing’s only hope of learning about upcoming products and features. 

What’s a marketer to do?
OK, so there are a couple of challenges between these two strong-minded groups.  We got that.  How do we do our jobs, co-exist and even develop warm and fuzzy relationships between each other? Well let me tell you how I’ve been able to do it.  To date there has only been one way for me.

Make marketing “technical!”
On-line marketing has quickly evolved, and marketers are now able to track marketing efforts better than ever.   Having the luxury of working for a marketing technology company, I can say I’ve become a marketing geek.  I have used on-line marketing in conjunction with traditional marketing efforts to measure marketing programs much more effectively and present data to technical folks that they can use.  For example, through the use of email marketing and surveys, I’ve collected and tracked product feedback that can be communicated back to product development; anything from new feature suggestions to existing features that are hard to figure out.  Another example is working with my technology group doing A/B Testing – testing variable elements of email campaigns to see which produce the best results.  Collecting and reporting measurable results helps bridge the gap between marketers and techies.  Most importantly, it helps techies realize the true value of marketing and why organizations can’t survive without it! 

Marketers and techies can co-exist and learn from each other.  In the end, always keep in mind that despite the differences between these two groups, there is one common goal – customer satisfaction.  If you keep your eye on the prize, you will realize technology folks aren’t much different at all. 

Have you had similar experiences in your organization?  I would love to hear about it!

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The views and opinions on this blog are solely those of the contributors and do NOT necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association.