"Golf is a simple game; [you] just put the ball in the hole. It just isn't easy," says golf pro Phil Mickelson. Food marketing is a lot like golf -- simple but not easy. I've been trying to figure out why.
Continuing with the golf analogy, it's the execution that makes golf difficult. Most average to poor golfers know what to do (keep your head down, left arm straight, etc.) but they just don't execute. Pro golfers execute.
I think that the same is true in food marketing; pros execute, average to poor marketers don't. Top executives and MBAs often put together plans and strategies that aren't implemented. They know what to do; it just doesn't get done. A friend of mine once tried to figure out why successfully test-marketed new products failed when they were rolled out. The answer was straightforward: The successful test plan was not executed in-market.
We can blame a significant amount of marketing failure on the implementation of such plans rather than the plans themselves. The question is why. As an industry, we have de-emphasized execution and implementation. The most important people in the company are planners and strategists , the people who sit around making plans that often never take place. Again, the question is why.
Begin by looking at who executes the sales and marketing strategy. Frequently it's the least experienced people in the company. Often it's the newest people who are responsible for executing , not only those in the sales department but in others as well. As a result of downsizing, there has been less training and mentoring of young people. Everyone has too much work. Budget cuts often come first to "softer" line items such as training. In fact, downsizing often leads to the loss of the more experienced people involved in the execution phase. Younger -- a.k.a. "cheaper" -- employees replace them.
As much fault lies with the planners and strategists; they often have little tactical experience and seem oblivious to the issues of implementation. Many young MBAs consider it a badge of honor not to have been in the field. A salesman once told me the company "Einsteins" sent a bonus pack in a size that did not fit on store shelves. The campaign was considered a failure because the sales force couldn't get distribution. The fact that the product didn't fit on the shelf wasn't emphasized.
Implementation isn't just a problem within companies, but also within agencies. Many times, the food processor will define a specific product image or concept that isn't truly represented when the advertising appears. One of the best-known examples of a failure to implement is the use of point of purchase and various on-shelf promotions. In many cases, the shelf talkers -- an "essential" part of a marketing plan -- never get put up. They sit in grocery store back rooms and then get tossed. Promotional shippers for secondary display often get to the stores long after all the other media hits. In many instances, the on-shelf coupon dispensers run out of coupons or the display ads fail to get in to the right issues of the grocer's FSI.
Here's another example. A large wholesaler had a meeting with its sales force to explain a new strategy to increase sales. It was well thought out -- even interesting -- to the sales force. But during the Q&A, one sales person asked, "Before we try this could we just try to get the orders correct and on time?" It's the blocking and tackling of the business that needs to honed, not new plans and strategies. There are so many uncontrollable factors in business; at least we should try to control the controllables.
I'm not trying to assign blame to anyone. I'm saying there is a great opportunity to improve your bottom line by just doing the things you think you are doing. Don't spend more money, don't try new things, and don't try to be more creative. Just try to get 100 percent implementation on your current strategy.
This means changing some of the internal attitudes about the importance of implementation and tactics. What really makes a pro athlete, musician, or surgeon? It's practice, practice, practice. It's getting the execution correct.
One of the preachers of the importance of implementation and focusing on the customer is Larry McCurry of Unilever Home Care Products, who believes it is time to focus more on the top line. It is time to sell again. It is time to make the bottom line bigger not by making costs lower but by making top line larger. Improving the execution and implementation of existing plans and strategies can do this. This is the reason professional sports teams continually practice the basics of the game: because it makes them winners!
John L. Stanton is a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He can be contacted at (610) 660-1607; fax (610) 660-1604; e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or www.johnLstanton.com.