Aggressively pursuing a marketing strategy to grow your business would generally be considered a good thing. However, it can be a bad thing and damage your business to such a point that even lean thinking may not be able to restore customer relations. If your business hasn’t been positioned to handle additional capacity or deliver existing demand on time, every time, the worst step you could take would be the deployment of an aggressive marketing plan. But, that doesn’t mean a good marketing plan shouldn’t be developed so you will be ready to garner additional demand when the lean transformation has matured to a point of self-sustainment.

Applying Extreme 5S thinking to marketing may seem like a strange approach to business growth, but if you aren’t yet lean, there is probably little about the business that couldn’t use some Sorting, Setting in Order, Shining, Standardizing, and Sustaining, including the marketing area. This is a fairly complex issue that I don’t want to rush through so this article will set the stage and the next one will finalize the process. If you don’t already have a marketing plan or have been considering a revision to your existing plan, a colleague sent me some words of wisdom that are worthy of consideration. My colleague, Carl Swan, is a retired furniture manufacturing and furniture retail executive. He shares my passion for helping furniture manufacturers remain competitive in the flattening global marketplace. Here is what he has to say:

Marketing and credibility

Marketing requires companies to focus on some key success factors. A common denominator for all of them is credibility. A business has to figure out how to convince its target audience that it is a worthy supplier. But proving how great the company is isn't easy. Regardless of the business model and the target audience, trust is something that needs to be earned in order to build a customer base and brand loyalty.

Credibility can quickly be generated by word-of-mouth. Social media has made it simpler and faster to spread the news of a good product or service. At the same time, it has never been easier or quicker to permanently tarnish a reputation.

Building brand credibility

There are several strategies that can be put in place to gain brand momentum and credibility.

1.Be famous for something.

Be attention-grabbing. Let media know about it. Reach out to key media influencers and introduce your company and your expertise. Make yourself accessible so that they know they have a reliable resource on an as-needed basis. A simple mention in a story or television appearance is a powerful step toward building trust with your target customer. Be passionate about your business.

2.Have happy customers.

Let target customers know about your happy customers. Incorporate written testimonials wherever possible. Include those testimonials in all proposals and e-marketing materials. Every positive reinforcement turns a prospective customer into a paying customer.

3.Talk about your certification or awards.

Nothing sounds better than hearing about “award-winning” product or service. Endorsements from credible third-party organizations help establish credibility and trust. (If you are on the lean journey, make sure to promote that to potential customers. It will enhance your credibility with customers who are aware of lean thinking and may provide an opportunity to espouse the dynamics of lean to inquisitive ones.)

4.Build “brand ambassadors.”

Offer customers an incentive to start talking about your company. Sampling programs, freebies, etc. What these brand ambassadors say about your company will have far greater value than what you have to say about yourself.

5.Excel at customer service.

You’ve heard this many times, but they are words to live by. “Nothing will impress potential customers more than impeccable and immediate customer service.” Wow them right from the start so they won’t even consider getting a quote from a competitor.

6.Exploit your social media strategy.

Social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) has made it incredibly easy to build a following. Exploit it. If this isn’t your strength, outsource it to someone who knows what they are doing. The last thing you want is to have a conversation happening about your company in the Twittersphere and not be part of it.

7.Align yourself with strategic partners.

There may be organizations that you can think of that offer complementary services to yours; services that you can leverage to make your company a full-service organization. The more services you can offer your customers, the less chance that they’ll go elsewhere. A one-stop shop is your goal.

8.Exceed customer expectations.

Even if it means making a little less money at first, work hard to exceed customer expectations. They’ll appreciate the extra effort and they’ll most likely be happy to recommend your company to colleagues and to continue doing business with you.

9.Focus on core competencies.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Establish your niche and own it by being better than everyone else. Be the “go-to” place for your product.

10.Constantly talk to your customers and get their feedback.

Customer feedback will ensure that you are meeting their wants and needs and will provide you with free market research on how well you are doing.
11.Create an experience.

Customers crave an experience, not a transaction. Provide ideas, inspiration, and solutions. Romance your products through clever marketing campaigns.

12.Control your distribution.

Have a strong, coherent branding strategy and protect it. Your brand is like a bank account. You can make deposits that make the brand stronger…or you can make withdrawals that weaken it. Selling to someone who doesn’t respect your brand is a withdrawal. Develop criteria for distributor selection (i.e. those distributors who will protect your brand and showcase it in the best possible light).

13.Let your personality shine.

In these days of personalities and reality television shows, people are very interested in the lives of people who are comfortable being themselves and have a message. They like personalities that stand for something. Let your personality shine.

Map the process

The first step in applying Extreme 5S thinking is mapping the current process. Understanding how events really happen can be very revealing. It has been my experience that many managers perceive processes to be running in a certain way or events routinely unfolding the way they prefer, but reality doesn’t bear that out. The larger the organization the further the ultimate decision maker is from the place where inputs are transformed into outputs. Thus, the further away the manager is, the greater the gap between perception and reality.

Mapping the marketing process doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should be inclusive of all of the events and tasks that are currently taking place. A good tool for process mapping of an administrative function is a flow chart. There are several helpful software packages available to help capture the necessary information. The one I use is from Systems2Win. You can check it out at www.systems2win.com. Click on “Lean Tools” and then click on “Process Engineering.” I also suggest that you engage a small team to capture the current process. One person may overlook important events or s/he may be so familiar with the process that they may excuse some things rather than documenting them. The flow chart provides a visual for the team to analyze for improvement opportunities. Your company may employ more than one marketing strategy. In that case, each one should be flow charted separately.

Take time to do a quality job of developing the flow chart and organizing a continuous improvement team so they will be ready to apply Extreme 5S thinking when Part 2 of this segment is published.

If you would like to contact Carl for advice or consultation, he can be reached at (613) 771-9943 or at swanhouse@cogeco.ca. You will be glad you did.

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