Market View: Marketing Is a Simple, but not Easy, Game

Innovative strategizing is essential to the success of your marketing, but so is the execution of the basics.

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

I often quote Phil Mickelson, who said, “Golf is a simple game, just put the ball in the hole; it just isn’t easy.”

Food marketing is a lot like golf: simple but not easy. I have been trying to figure out why is it not easy.

Continuing with the golf analogy, it is 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. The pros execute.

I think the same is true in food marketing. We have top executives who put together plans and strategies but they just aren’t implemented as planned or at all. They know what to do, it just doesn’t get done.

The reason may seem simple. A forensic examination shows it is “just” a lack of collaboration. Everyone is working in their own world, and what others are doing is tangential to them. One executive said to me, "I get bonuses for doing my job, not helping someone else do their job."

As an industry, we have de-emphasized execution and implementation. The most important people, the most well-paid people in the company, are strategists -- people sitting around making plans that often never actually take place.

I don’t think we can blame a significant amount of marketing failure on the new products or plans, but rather on the actual implementation of these activities in the market. The question is why? As an industry, we have de-emphasized execution and implementation. The most important people, the most well-paid people in the company, are strategists -- people sitting around making plans that often never actually take place.

Begin by looking at who executes the sales and marketing strategy. It is frequently the least experienced people in the company. This is not just the sales department; in many departments, it is the newest people who are responsible to execute. There has been less training and less mentoring of young people every year as cost-cutting has given everyone too much work, and budget cuts often come first to the “softer” line items such as training.

A shortcoming of the planners and strategists is they often have little tactical experience and seem oblivious to the issues of implementation. Many of the young MBAs consider it a badge of honor not to have been in the field. A salesman once told me the company “Einsteins” had sent a bonus pack in a large size that did not fit on the shelves. The campaign was a failure because the sales force couldn’t get distribution. The fact the product didn’t fit on the shelf wasn’t pointed out in the discussions.

Implementation isn’t a problem just within the company but also with agencies. Many times the food processor will define a specific image or concept for a product to be advertised that is not truly represented when the commercial appears.

One of the best-known examples of a failure to implement is the use of in-store promotions. In many cases, the shelf talkers that are an essential part of a marketing plan never get put up. They sit in grocery store back rooms and then are tossed. Promotional shippers for secondary display often get to the stores long after all the other media hits. In many cases the on-shelf coupon dispensers run out of coupons or the display ads fail to get into the right issues of the grocer’s FSI.

One last example: A large wholesaler had a meeting with its sales force to explain a new strategy to increase sales. It was well thought-out and even interesting to the sales force. But during the Q&A, one sales person said, “Before we try this could we just try to get the orders correct and on time?”

It is just the blocking and tackling of the business that needs to be honed, not new plans and strategies. There are so many uncontrollable factors in business, at least we should try to control the controllable ones.

I am not trying to assign blame. I am trying to say 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 the current strategy.

This means changing some of the internal attitudes about the importance of implementation and tactics. I was thinking about what really makes a pro athlete, musician, surgeon, etc. It is practice, practice, practice. Getting the execution correct.

One of the preachers of the importance of implementation and focusing on the customer is a friend in a legacy food company, who has said, “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 the top line larger.”

This can be done by improving the execution and implementation of existing plans and strategies. There is a reason the professional sports teams continually practice the basics of the game: because it makes them winners!

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