When Marketing Misfires

Marketers are not perfect. We just have great PR.

The fact is that no marketing plan is bullet proof. Even a great go-to-market strategy will eventually become useless as markets and competitors change. Yet some marketers stubbornly adhere to their plans right down to the last nickel from company coffers.

But by that time, it is too late.

Marketing Stall Horns

My friend Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, talks often about CEOs needing financial stall horns. Like those in airplanes, stall horns alert dozing pilots about impending crashes. Marketing executives need stall horns as well, but not all CMOs bother. They do rely on periodic reporting, but rarely engineer triggers to alert them when a trend on a metric is sinking and not showing signs of recovery.

The constant question is what metrics matters? The answer is that they all do, but for different reasons in different industries and different markets. For one company, monitoring the rate of change in each level of their sales funnel may be necessary. In another company, this information may be incomplete without stats on tech support successful close rates.

Broadly speaking, a CMO needs to monitor the ins (the sales funnel), the outs (customer defections, churn) and bloat (cross- and up-selling). Combined these relate if sales and marketing are bringing in new business, if product development and tech support are keeping customers content, and if customers are happy enough to double-down on you.

Morph, Mutate or Murder

But at some point, a stall horn may tell you that your marketing strategy is beginning to stall. You face the uncomfortable choice of what to do in response:

EVOLVE: Often, stall horns warn of shifts in the market. Shifts are a result of evolutionary changes, and require and evolutionary response. Adapt to change instead of trying to crush it.

AUGMENT: Sometimes market changes are structural, but not catastrophic. Your basic go-to-market strategy may be sound, but in need of augmentation – a new, accelerated, or reinforced communications channel, message, focus or even a market segment realignment.

RIP-AND-REPLACE: When market changes are huge, or if the original go-to-market strategy was incorrect, the entire plan may need to be disposed of and replaced. Be warned – this is like a heart transplant, and often with similar recovery pain.

Plan, Peruse, Re-plan

No plan is permanent. Install stall horns and never be unwilling to change tactics or strategy … but only when the alarms tell you that you must.


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