I like to think of every marketing project as a road-trip. The similarities are striking, and if you are a good road-tripper, you should ask yourself whether or not you do the same things for the success of your marketing initiatives too.
1. Let’s get planning
a) Why we are doing this: So much of what we do depends on being clear about this question! Are we taking this trip because we want to chill out or do we want adventure, or something else? Depending on that we choose where we want to go and what holiday activities we wish to pursue. We have to be clear similarly about marketing initiatives – is the objective to get volume or value share? Do we want to defend our position or attack to penetrate another’s stronghold? Etc.
b) Identify the destination: What is the place we must reach, or, what is the point at which we reach and say “Great! We’re here!”
Same with marketing – we must be very specific in pinpointing the measurable objective. We have to define what success looks like. We don’t just launch a new variant. We state the exact sale we wish to see achieved, we specify the targeted market share, etc. Unless we specify the destination, like a road trip, we might find ourselves meandering and not knowing when to push the pedal and in which direction.
c) How will we get there: A good road-tripper plans his routes well – which highway, which bypass, what vehicle and who all to take with him. A good project manager, once he’s clear about his objectives, will figure out what he needs to do, how to get there and who and what he will need with him to reach the destination. Will I need more advertising or should I focus more on trade? Will my preferred route be direct selling or establishing a channel structure? Which people in my organization will be crucial to perform the tasks, and which people will I need for them to lend support and expertise? Unless these questions are asked and answered beforehand, the project is not likely to run smoothly. Just like an unplanned road trip.
2. Piecing it all together
The phase where we put everything together and then kick-off is the most critical part of the road trip. Launch phase 1 of a road trip will determine whether you’ll enjoy the ride, encounter minimum problems on the way and safely reach where you intended to go.
a) Who’s getting the sandwiches? Roles and responsibilities are divvied up amongst everyone – who’ll drive, who’ll navigate, who’s getting the drinks and food for the journey, and so on. Neglect any of this and the road-tripper will be in grief somewhere along the journey. A smart marketer and his team will know precisely the roles of various internal and external stakeholders. Who’ll do the brief? Who’ll follow up and execute? Who’ll measure and guide? Who will review and who’ll approve? If these basics are not clear, it’s quite likely that some tasks will get duplicated, and some balls will get dropped altogether. And wouldn’t that be terrible if your company is spending millions on this trip!
b) All systems go? Final check before we drive off – oil levels, tyre pressure, fuel, camera battery charged, wipers working, enough cash for miscellaneous needs? These are some of the resources a road-tripper will check before setting off. So must a marketer. Is there enough commitment of right resources to meet the objectives – team members, right expertise, budgets, all approvals? The team and the leader who does a thorough job of this list will not start before everything is looking shipshape. And they will have a smoother project execution than ones who don’t.
c) Plan B… what’s that? Carry extra rations and fuel. Make sure your jack works. Pack in some pulling rope, just in case you have to get towed. Get roadside assistance subscription. In other words, have a contingency plan. The marketer must also anticipate trouble along the way – competitive reaction, changing government regulations, resistance from external partners, and so much more that can happen.
I once did a co-marketing activity with the Ministry of Health in a middle-eastern country where they allowed us to use their logo on our product packaging in return for a school CSR programme. What we didn’t plan for was the opprobrium of locals who were horrified to see their government symbol being “used” to market our product, however noble the cause. We had to pull that packaging off the shelves and redo the initiative in a more acceptable way.
3. Ah! The Journey…
And then comes the actual journey. A road trip that’s well planned will surely give you a lot of pleasure and satisfaction, just as a well laid-out marketing project will.
a) Count your milestones: It’s not enough to know your ultimate destination. Along the way the road-tripper keeps a tab on the milestones and landmarks to know that he’s on the right track. Unless you’re free-wheeling, the success of a road-trip depends on reaching pre-specified places on the way at the right time, so that the overall trip doesn’t go haywire.
A marketer must also set his milestones so that the project direction and pace of roll-out can be tracked. In 2 months, we should be in 500 stores with 2% market share; in 6 months we should have overtaken competitor X; by year 1 we should be in top 10 buzziest brands, and so on. It is such milestones that signal to us that we’re on the right path, or whether we’ve skidded off and course correction may be required.
b) Refresh and reward: When you’ve driven for hours and you reach your resting place along the way on time, you’ll get out of the car, stretch your limbs and treat yourself to food and rest, won’t you? Likewise for your marketing project, you should pause to celebrate successes as you hit your milestones. Treat your team to a drink and refresh the resolve to reach the ultimate objective. Especially on long projects, it is easy to get jaded and perhaps even lose motivation. Hence it is important to celebrate small successes along the way and keep the team on a high.
As well, stopovers can help re-chart the course in case previously unforeseen obstacles come up such as news of a blockade ahead or a bad weather warning for instance. Plans can be fine-tuned as we go along as long as we do not deviate from the original objectives and path.
c) Hey, stop to smell the flowers: While on the journey, it’s a good idea to keep flexibility for unexpected sights and experiences. Once we were driving across the vales of Ladakh to get to Nubra. Unexpectedly we saw a charming rivulet right across our highway. We couldn’t go further without enjoying the spot. We just couldn’t! We spent 2 hours playing in the water and enjoying the sights around there. Best decision we took in our 8-day trip!
A marketer will encounter many additional opportunities to add impact along the way even if it wasn’t part of the original plan. Well, if a new idea can add to the impact without detracting from the major objective, one must be flexible, indeed thankful, for such ideas. A new app on smartphones, an unexpected event on the cultural scene, anything can present such impact-adding ideas.
4. Success: Reach and Enjoy
So, the journey goes well and the road-tripper reaches his destination. Hopefully he’s done enough thinking beforehand about what he’d like to do once he’s reached. If not, he can curl up on the couch with his loved one and celebrate their arrival with a drink. And then plan the next one. I don’t need to give the marketing example for this one!