Market View: Have You Audited Your Marketing Efforts?

Marketing expert John Stanton offers advice on how to audit your company's marketing efforts.

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

Marketing PlanWe all take for granted that the company’s finances get audited regularly. The audit is to ensure that what a company says should happen, actually did happen. Yet very few companies do a marketing audit. That is a review of whether what was planned in the market actually happened. That is, if a company said consumers would prefer its brand over the competition, did it happen?

A marketing audit examines what was expected and what happened for every single situation that consumers came in contact with the company. The first step is to identify each place that contact exists between the company or brand and the consumer or customer. This will at least include advertising, in-store merchandising, contact with labels, mail, telephone call responses, email, reception desk, in-store contact with consumers, etc. For each one of these occasions, you must ask what policies or plans you have in place to deal with the interactions with consumers.

Some time ago I did a very informal test of food companies’ websites. Since I didn’t do a very scientific study, I don’t want to reveal details but generally speaking the response was not good. I found that if you had a question that the food company has planned for (FAQs, for example) you get a good response but as the questions get less routine, the answers get less frequent. When I asked via email on various websites for examples of the company’s advertising, only about half of the firms ever got back to me.

One food company responded to my email with a stock response that they could not provide the information I requested. I responded by asking for the name of someone in the advertising department so I could call directly. I got no response to that. In other words: You’ve been dealt with, now move along. By the way, thanks to the half that did get back to me and provided examples of their advertising.

If the marketing function is the advocate for the consumer inside the company, then they should be very concerned about the quality of the interaction between the consumer and the company or brand.

I think many of our food marketing executives really don’t worry about how the consumers who call or write in are treated. My guess is they are more concerned with the millions of dollars being spent on advertising and promotions. I hate to believe that anyone would be cavalier with even one customer.

When I was vice president of marketing, every day that I was in the office I called one consumer and just asked them “How are we doing?” I really wanted to hear directly from consumers about our products and service and not exclusively via research reports. But I also wanted to drive home to the staff that each consumer is important. I would say at department meetings that “I just spoke to Mrs. Smith, our consumer.” I know this was more symbolic than substantive but it made the concept of the individual important.

The next step is to verify that what you would like to happen is happening. This is not so easy either. I believe the only way to do this is to actually send emails, send shills into the office and ask for the “person in charge of ketchup.” Call the 800 number and ask questions. See what kind of response you get.

I told one brand manager of the lack of response I got from her website email and she was horrified. She didn’t want consumers to be treated that way, but she didn’t know that was the kind of response sent out. In almost every case that I had a personal experience with bad customer service the brand managers were appalled. Why didn’t they know?

The next step is to keep a performance standard and measure the results against the standard. In many cases the action is simply to make it clear how important each and every consumer is to the company. That no one can be complacent when it comes to making each consumer delighted with our products. I tried to think about how many bottles of ketchup I will buy in a lifetime and it had to be hundreds of bottles. Can any firm afford to lose a customer like that? My value cannot be measured in the profit from one bottle but from a lifetime of bottles.

The last step is the hard one. You have to be willing to finance all these marketing and service functions. In many cases this activity is one of the most poorly funded functions in the marketing organization. Receptionists are often not trained in dealing with customers, delivery people are only trained in how to deliver, how to write orders, or how to pick up shipments; few have real training to deal with consumers or customers.

Instead of putting another few million dollars into advertising try investing in all the areas where consumers come in contact with your brand. With such a high rate of product failure, with so much wasted media expenditures, with so much attention spent on catering to the top executive’s creature comforts, could someone please take care of the consumer? Food companies spend zillions on finding new customers; maybe we should spend more on keeping them!

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