This post was originally written by Dinesh Chandrasekhar and published in Forbes on Nov 2, 2021.
As a marketer, do you get the feeling that you are not able to retain the attention of your audiences as you used to? Do you feel like your audiences are tuning out your messaging? Do you wonder why your webinars have such poor attendee counts? Are your competitors gaining in analyst reports while you are stuck in the same spot? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you could be due for a marketing maintenance checkup.
Even when organizations have successful products in the market, only the best of them tend to have a continuous and agile focus on marketing. The rest of them settle into a state of “marketing inertia” by using the same old strategies and running the same old campaigns. They show a visible lack of either creative investment or resources for creating excitement for their customers. This can have short-term and long-term repercussions for the overall health of the organization and customer perceptions. People may see these organizations as lacking in innovation. They may also view them as unempathetic to the pulse of the customer.
If a focus on marketing is so obviously important, why do companies (even the well-established ones) repeat this mistake time and again? Is it lethargy? Is it over-confidence? In most cases, I’ve found that marketing inertia kicks in when the marketing team starts having a bias about how they read their metrics. If a team wears blinders when they’re reading metrics for adoption, growth or even engagement, the results can be a disaster. For example, a healthy pipeline for the next four quarters can give the team a sense of relaxation. However, combine that with other key metrics such as the percentage of renewal success, the number of new logos, customer satisfaction numbers, the length of the sales cycle or product migration issues, and the team may suddenly get a reality check about its “healthy pipeline.” Taking the foot off the marketing pedal, in this case, can have a serious impact on the bottom line in the immediate future.
Another example of marketing inertia is when you listen to the voice of only your “favorite customers.” You hear great things about the product and how much they love it. You extrapolate that for all your customers and assume that you are never going to lose a competitive battle. The marketing team should always work to expand the sampling and diversity of its customers. It’s very important to get different perspectives, even if they are opinions you don’t want to hear. This can fire up the team to refine their competitive battle cards, prep the RFI teams better and enable the sales team.
Marketing inertia can also creep up when you feel overly comfortable in your brand’s skin. Even the world’s most recognizable brands cannot afford to assume that they don’t need to put any extra effort into marketing. Building a successful brand is a work of love, labor and constant refinement of marketing strategies.
The continuous act of subtly refining your marketing strategies in tune with the changes happening with your products, your competitors, your market space, your industries and your customers is what I call “marketing maintenance.” It involves being aware of such changes and remaining responsive to them in an agile way. Many marketing strategies supposedly help teams accomplish this, but in almost all organizations I’ve worked in, the marketing strategies, themes, sales plays and so on are laid out at the beginning of the year and set in motion with cruise control on. Marketers don’t always tweak them until the end of the year. And that does not quite qualify as staying in tune with changes.
What Is Kaizen And How Can It Help?
Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy made popular by the “Toyota Way” of optimizing and improving manufacturing assembly lines back in the 1980s. Kaizen roughly translates to “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” Multiple industries have adopted best practices and philosophies from Kaizen over the last few decades. Kaizen is not about making radical changes but about making small changes, measuring the impact of those and refining the approach to make further improvements. This model can lend itself really well to marketing maintenance. We can use Kaizen’s three pillars to enable marketing maintenance:
1. Housekeeping: The goal of this pillar is to keep the workplace clean and efficient so that materials and tools are easy to locate, use and maintain. This can also help you avoid excess production. The marketing workspace could be your content repository, funnel or active campaigns. If you organize and categorize these well, the integrated marketing teams will be able to easily find what they are looking for. This eliminates the need for creating unnecessary assets or collateral when existing assets could be leveraged for the same purpose.
2. Elimination of waste: Kaizen identifies different types of waste that you can eliminate in order to offer only valuable products or services to customers. Lots of marketing teams produce or promote assets that do not add any inherent value to leads or pipelines. Similarly, lots of organizations do marketing checklist activities, such as webinars, without any metrics to support them. Such assets or activities are generally classified as waste. Using the right metrics to measure what your personas like or dislike is critical to eliminating waste. Use such metrics on an ongoing basis to promote continuous improvement.
3. Standardization: As an extension of the above two points, standardization can help you eliminate waste, lower costs and increase productivity. The use of a standard bill of materials (BOM) for launch assets, a standard set of vendors for producing brand assets or a standard yet agile protocol for asset reviews and approvals are all great examples of standardization. Such practices can eliminate waste and enable streamlined and cost-effective marketing processes.
In summary, marketing maintenance can help every organization succeed with its marketing initiatives. Kaizen teaches methodologies for eliminating waste and improving your value stream. Adopting Kaizen for marketing maintenance can be a highly effective way to improve success and cost-effectiveness.