Sunday, May 30, 2010

Challenges for any new VP of Marketing

In both successful companies and in companies that have had difficulties, a VP of marketing must make sure all of the pieces are in place for effective marketing. A thorough review of systems, processes and people is in order but changes should be made only once you have grasped the larger picture. The basics are necessary in both scenarios but there are different challenges in successful versus challenged companies.

I think it should be accepted that only mythical companies make no marketing mistakes. Marketing is a creative and human endeavour which includes trial and error and misjudgement at small and greater levels. All companies have stumbled including, Apple, Google, and the rest of the top 10 most valued and most profitable companies. The longer a company has been around the more errors they have made and recovered from.

When coming in with fresh eyes as VP Marketing to a company with a successful marketing program there are pitfalls. The first of which is that the vision may already be firmly entrenched. It might even be quite stale but the fresh perspective and any changes need to be sold to both upper management and to staff . This could be met with resistance. The advantages of a marketing plan and budget in place along with an established target market, a clear and consistent message are huge. The brand recognition alone gives a huge boost. One should never underestimate the value of existing customers and their revenue stream. However, most plans can be improved and a constant review of market potential is important. Another pitfall when starting as a VP of Marketin is the temptation to change too much too soon and establish your expertise or stamp on the department. Ego must be held in check and improvements must be made to improve not just make change. It takes time to understand what has already been tried and why it succeeded or failed in the past and to assess whether conditions have changed.

When entering a company after a major problem a whole new set of problems may exist. These would include the need to stabilize and recover market share. You would probably be taking over in a crisis and the expectations would be high while many people would be in ‘duck and cover’ mode. Many of your staff would be the ones who made or had been party to the poor decisions in the past. Your job would be complicated by insecure people and failing budgets. Instant genius would be expected because the company’s future might be on the line and marketing would be the group expected to find customers and bring in revenue. In addition, the funds to make the necessary changes would not be easily available. You might have to do much more with much less. It also takes time to assess just what went wrong and why. Was it just a coincidental and uncontrollable event or something more systemic? How wide spread is the damage or the stigma? Is the problem solved in the organization or just masked? Are there more fires to put out or is it time to rebuild? In all, the problems of taking over after a marketing failure are immediate requiring quick decisions in a brand new environment. Hasty or wrong decisions would exacerbate the problems .Ensuring that legal oversight is in place for all products and all marketing is an imperative first step if it is not already accomplished.

In both situations you have to ensure that the basics are covered. Marketing plans and strategies need to be reviewed or designed. Is senior management on board to become customer focused or are you dealing with a company with another mindset? Is this company process oriented? Determining how to gain the relationships and the respect of all influencers has to be kept in mind. Market research needs to be conducted, updated and demand must be forecasted. Are outside experts available or frowned upon? It is important to connect with the customers and asses their sense of value, satisfaction of dissatisfaction, and their level of loyalty. Extensive analyses need to be conducted or reviewed to understand the consumer market (or business market) and identify the market segments or targets that are right for this point in time. Work has to go into building the brand and creating brand equity. Are you using the right brand positioning and are you dealing in the best possible way with competitive threats? It would also be important to review pricing strategy and all of the programs for service that you offer to determine if the products or services are optimally priced. Are all the value networks and channels of distribution doing their jobs at a sensible cost?

Once the inside is in line, next I would be looking at communication. Are all the communications integrated and is internal marketing in place and effective? Are sales forces communicating our message with clarity and do they have all the tools they need? Are the best advertising routes being used. Can we get closer to the customer in any other way? Is the advertising effective? What is the cost per thousand, what is the audience, what do consumers think of our ads, and do we know what actual purchasing behaviour is stimulated per exposure? Finally, what  are our plans for the future both short term and long term? Are we a global company or are we planning to expand into other countries. If so, do we have a country notebook and connections or staff in the country to make it all work?

I would keep in mind that everyone who works with me or for me is a knowledge worker. I would empower everyone that could handle it and trust them to achieve the work that was delegated to them without micromanagement. Failing is not wrong but people who do not learn from their mistakes must be encouraged to find something that fits them better.

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