Sunday, October 02, 2005

In Search of Execution

I am not so sure that creativity is any longer the magic button it once was in marketing.

Perhaps another way of stating my premise is that it’s not that creative ideas are unimportant. It’s just that without immaculate execution they become a dime a dozen. They fail to grow revenue over a sustained period of time.

A 1998 study by the Corporate Strategy Board examined 172 of the largest companies in the Fortune 500 list. Only eight were able to sustain real growth of more than 6 percent; the others could not even keep pace with the GNP.

It’s not for a lack of creative strategies that growth is so hard to maintain. Every marketing manager alive has dozens of creative ideas tucked away waiting for the right moment to spring them on the world.

We put more value in the importance of creativity and uniqueness than it merits.

The trouble is that few of us are excellent at execution. Mediocre execution will destroy even the best creative ideas.

The fact is that a pursuit of creativity is dangerous and risky business. It diverts management from the real task of immaculate execution.

One example on the importance of execution: Our agency was retained to build a VAR channel for a marketer of data storage devices and media. We produced a comprehensive program to launch these products to the distribution channel, complete with introductory discounts to initiate trial. At the same time, a different sales group within our client’s company launched a promotion for the same products to major retailers. Can you imagine what happened to the company’s credibility when the VARs discovered they could purchase the same products from retailers cheaper than the VAR channels was selling them on an introductory discount?

A study of 1,300 publicly traded U.S. companies in fifty-five industries by Chuck Lucier, senior vice president emeritus at Booz Allen Hamilton, found that basic ideas, copied over and over again in one sector after another, accounted for 80 percent of the breakout businesses created between 1965 and 1995.

Execute Proven Ideas -

Replicating existing marketing strategies is cheaper — and easier to implement — than developing new ones. The secret is bringing to your company a great idea that some other company has tested. The big-box store, for example, is no longer an original concept. And yet this once big idea has now been replicated in consumer electronics (Circuit City), home improvement (Home Depot), and office supplies (Staples).

Focus, Simplify and Standardize –

Okay, so this has been in every marketing textbook you have studied as far back as college. Why, then, do so few of us do it. Marketing is overwhelmed by complexity, and marketers’ predisposition toward creativity as kingly only complicates our job, our companies’ operations, and our own lives. If we fail to pick out our areas of competence and concentration, we will instead try to do a good job on everything and we will assure mediocrity of execution – for example, too many promotions, each poorly thought through and in the end producing only failure. We all look at marketing automation as a panacea but unless we simplify and standardize our internal processes, automation will simply create failure more efficiently. This is “bunny marketing” – lots and lots of activities hopping around everywhere with no direction.

Internal Collaboration Provides the Driving Energy –

The marketing job is by nature one of influencing others both inside the company and outside it. The hard work of marketing lies not in developing a uniquely new product or the communications strategy for it, but in coordinating the efforts of R&D, manufacturing, finance, communications, sales. Do this once, and you’ve created a cross-functional “whole product team” that knows how to do it over and over again, and whose enthusiasm itself will champion repeating this process consistently. Excellence will increase over and over again.

Align Marketing and Sales –

Nothing is more destructive than these two customer-facing teams acting independent of one another. The fact is that neither should own the success alone. You can hardly pick up a trade magazine without reading that sales teams ignore sales leads provided from marketing programs and that sales teams feel it necessary to produce their own sales literature because the stuff from marketing is out of touch with the real world. Technology now is available to bring these two teams together to assist customers in buying – but it won’t work unless the lances are parked at the front door and the marketing and sales swords are melted into one big scythe.

Context Counts More than Creativity.

The big idea doesn’t have to be the brand-new idea. Something common and successful in another industry can be new to in the context of your organization and your targeted market.

Two years ago, we ran an advertising and promotion program using Fortune Magazine as the foundation. It generated very high levels of awareness with our target market, but it failed to produce movement into the sales pipeline. Rather than ditching the program the following year, we analyzed where execution was weak and ran the program a second year. One quarter through the second running, some things still were not going right, so we went about fixing them immediately. Along the way, our execution is getting sharper and sharper

A well-tested breakthrough idea is more than enough to excite your team, create belief, and build the world’s greatest marketing department.


At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Jeff Osborne said...

Hi Dale,

Interesting article. I'm one for creativity myself, and I agree with you that implementation is essential.

At the end of your post you reference a persistent effort to refine a campaign, and then you left me hanging - did it work? Was the program a success? Or has the exercise in improving execution been enough?


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