Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Marketing from a Fetal Position

Imagine the job of the Marketing Director who is living in an environment in which category sales are down 50% in the past year. Fortunately sales were down only 20% in the market segment the prior year.

Exactly, total unit sales off roughly 70% in two short years.

Worse yet, your 2007 model year product remains on the retail floor, blocking orders for 2009 models. Need it to be a bit more challenging? Exit the two primary lendors to the business niche from the market space, one permanently, the other on hiatus until its own credit line clears.

Who can blame that poor soul for curling up in a fetal position nourished by a glass of Maker's and a gallon of Dreyer's finest?

Clearly, the good answers have all been taken.

1. Find new markets ... exceptional call ... but today the international market placefor this line of products is as nasty as the North American market. No one could argue with the logic. Implimentation unfortunately is another problem.

2. Slash and burn. Of course the marketing budget has been cut. As has the marketing staff. Devilishly, so has management support.

The question is not so much whether to cut, it's what to cut. Should customer acquisition be supplanted by customer retention? Is brand relevance/credibility as important in this environment as activation efforts? And with the shorter staff, do current customer added-value efforts become not only unaffordable but also unmanageable?

3. Innovate. There is a prevailing myth that product innovation directly translates into product sales. Not necessarily. Hot new features may generate interest, but in a bottomless market, new gets lost in the bloodbath of prospect inattentiveness.

This isn't a nightmare scenario. This is today's Marine market. Of the top 6 manufacturers in the specialty tournament tow boat segment, 3 Marketing Director positions have been eliminated from their positions in the past six months. The other three people? Reference the fetal position.

This isn't a pithy blog post offering an easy answer. There are none. This simply acknowledges that there are times when as the Chief Marketing Officer of a company there will be times when the sense of aloneness is stifling. For those of us who have lived in those shoes, the search for the silver bullet is a shared grail quest.

My learning:

1. Forget the Silver Bullet. When customers leave the market in droves, no cleverly crafted headline or brilliantly executed event will overcome a larger macro issue.

2. Keep the gunpowder dry. There are simply times when you can't spend yourself out of a tough spot. There will come a day when the funds you save will be able to be put back into play and will make a meaningful difference.

3. Circle the wagons. Sales and marketing can not wander off into separate camps. Self-preservation can not come at the expense of mutual trust.

4. Invite your best friends to the campfire. Your retail distribution network can't be allowed to fall into disrepair. No, they aren't ordering products from you at the level needed to maintain factory volumes. But then again, they aren't selling enough products to keep their creditors at bay. This is precisely the time when the Marine pledge of 'no man left behind' has to dictate your actions.

5. Prepare to come out fighting. Regardless of our friends in Washington desire to stimulate the market, economic reality is simply that our economy is cyclical. Today's lows will give way to tomorrow's highs. No one has ever failed by planning (though many have failed when they lost the courage to execute the plan).

Now is the time to think through new distribution strategies, new pricing strategies, shifts in the product strategy, and of course changes to the promotional mix. Focus on the 'trigger points' for spending. When (x) happens, (y) follows. And if (y) doesn't prove to be a follow-through rally, then understand that (z) must be in place.

Today ... not so nice. Tomorrow ... Pamela Anderson.

No comments:

Post a Comment