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Have you had your annual marketing checkup?

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The fundamentals of brand, marketing and communications are constant:

  • Understand what is happening in your market with competitors, consumers and the ecosystem in which you operate.
  • Develop a strategy to ensure you are positioned as an authentic, distinctive and compelling option for your customers.
  • Execute that strategy using the best possible mix of tactics to achieve your objectives.

That said, the breakneck pace of change and the exploding complexity in today’s markets and media landscape mean that you need to return to these fundamentals more frequently than ever before. In the past, you could develop a master strategy based on a comprehensive market review and then fine-tune tactics over three years to five years before needing to reassess things in a significant way (barring some kind of major disruption). Today, a comprehensive annual review is possibly not frequent enough. Such is the pace of competitive moves, evolving martech and adtech platforms, disruptive innovation and diminishing brand loyalty — making what you did last year or last cycle unlikely to be a sustainable recipe for future success.

It can be daunting enough to meet the day-to-day demands of the business let along eek out time for a marketing audit. That unfortunately means significant value can be left on the table and future growth prospects diminished if your market understanding, strategy and activation approaches drift out of sync with the realities of customers, competitors and the market in general.

Whether you are in a small business where one person wears multiple hats in a marketing capacity, a middle market enterprise with a small core team, or a large multinational with established brand, marketing and communication offices, the principles and approach are generally the same when revisiting your market, strategy and tactics. Here’s our take on how to go about it.

1. Take a cold, hard look at market realities
The first and, in ways, the most important step is to take a look at the market and your business in the broadest sense. The key areas to focus on are:

  • Customer segments. Has there been any movement in priority customer segments — demographic shifts, perceptions and attitudes about your category, and/or socioeconomic trends that might affect how you identify, target and engage with them? Are customers being drawn to alternatives with different characteristics they now (for whatever reason) find more appealing? Is there a new target audience that hasn’t been tapped yet?
  • Competitors. Have any of your traditional competitors made any significant shifts in their branding, product / service, pricing, marketing, customer service, technology platforms, geographic reach, hiring, merging / divesting?
  • Stakeholders. Have there been any changes in government, regulators, community relations, suppliers, the talent market, socioeconomic trends, politics?
  • Your own business strategy. Obvious as it may seem, it’s important to make sure that your marketing strategy is still aligned with the overarching strategy of your company. Particularly in innovation-driven companies and large organizations that struggle with silos, it can be all too easy for marketing to be pushing in one direction while the business moves in another.

Any changes in these areas can have an impact on your strategy and positioning, as well as on the channels you use to go to market. In addition, are there issues with the sustainability of your supply chain, or with your products or services? Is the talent you need being lured into competitive or adjacent markets?

2. Align your strategy
Any material changes you discover through your market assessment may mean you need to evolve elements of your marketing strategy. For example:

  • Branding. If there is a change among your competitors, customers or other stakeholders that renders your brand (in whole or in part) less attractive, you may need to consider changes. While brand should be foundational to your business and its strategy and less subject to the ebbs and flows of periodic trends, it should also be adaptive to real change. Whether evolutionary or revolutionary depends on what the situation dictates. From relatively minor changes — say, tone of voice and visual identity tweaks — to more wholesale repositioning and a brand refresh or rebranding, brand can be a powerful tool to help direct the energy of your business, its people, customers, prospects and other stakeholders toward extending and defending your reputation.
  • Customer segments, value proposition and product / service positioning. If any changes indicate movement in terms of your most valuable customers, you may need to reassess, fine-tune or even make significant changes to your segmentation. This can consist of relatively minor enhancements in go-to-market messaging or refreshing how you talk with existing segments … or more wholesale evolution such as replacing a segment or introducing a new type of customer.
  • Broad brand, marketing, communication and sales approach. From reputation management to establishing awareness and consideration to enabling sales conversion, changes in the market can trigger the need to reassess how you take your brand and product / service to market. Geographic focus can shift, key ways of generating connection to the brand may evolve, greater focus on experiential marketing may be needed, or emphasizing a different set of values and benefits might be required.

3. Review and revise your tactics
Even if your marketplace assessment and resulting strategy refresh indicate a general sense of status quo, it’s still entirely possible that you need to revisit some of your execution tactics due to changes in technology and consumer behavior. It’s important to look at the full range of ways you connect with your audiences:

  • Content. Every company is a media company now. Customers will look to your website and other content both for product and service information as well as for direct, personal value and actionable ideas. Given this, it’s important to make sure that the benefits and features you talk about in your content, and the value you provide, align with what matters most to prospects and customers today.
  • Social platforms. The algorithms that determine what your followers see and how they can interact with you on social media change constantly. Platforms may have introduced new features that can benefit you; new influencers or sponsorship opportunities might have emerged; and of course entirely new platforms may be rising that are worthy of your attention. Hopefully your social tactics are evolving constantly; but it’s important to periodically take a bigger-picture look at how you’re allocating time and engaging audiences. 
  • Earned media. Used to be, consumers primarily looked to professional reviews and awards in major media for third-party evaluation of what you have to offer. Today, consumer reviews, discussion boards and other niche, nonprofessional media have taken a key place of primacy. That’s just one way that media consumption habits have impacted PR opportunities and priorities in the digital age. And with PR professionals now vastly outnumbering working journalists, it’s critical to make sure that you’re putting your priorities in the right place.
  • Paid media. Like what’s happening on social platforms, the capabilities of digital display and other types of online advertising are always evolving in terms of both creative and attribution methods. Moreover, consumers may be spending less time on one channel and more on another, necessitating changes in your budget allocations. While your media team is (hopefully) monitoring and adjusting campaign performance on an ongoing basis, it can be easy for them to get caught in the weeds and miss the moment when it’s time to make bigger-picture changes to your media plan.
  • New marketing and advertising technologies. Virtual reality and augmented reality are examples of technologies that promise new ways for brands to engage with audiences. Today VR and AR haven’t quite hit the mainstream; but there’s no question that they will. In the meantime, these and other emerging technologies may merit a bit of trial and experimentation to test their potentials so that you’re ready if and when they do gain broader acceptance.

What to do
We recommend undertaking an audit of this type at least annually — and even more often if you’re in markets that experience fast change due to product innovation or new competition, or if your customers tend to be young (and thus prone to fast migration from platform to platform, trend to trend).

In general, this review should be possible to accomplish effectively in a few weeks with a small team focusing on specific elements.

That said, an objective perspective is often helpful. We’ve worked with clients ranging from national brands like Deloitte and Sherwin-Williams to local brands such as the Kalispell Convention & Visitor Bureau to scope and perform audits of this type and can bring the broad perspective and ideas that we gain from working in multiple sectors and geographies. Another option, especially if you intend to keep this work in-house, is to reach out for perspective to stakeholders, vendors, customers and smart co-workers outside your internal marketing organization. Their distance from the day-to-day work you do can often provide key insights into your effectiveness and future opportunities.

The important thing is: Get in the habit and practice of doing it regularly to avoid going off course as the world shifts (hopefully not unnoticed) around you.