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Planning for Interim Success – Part One

This is the first part of a review of some of the most common requests made to an interim marketer. This section includes a look at direct marketing, cost reduction and web marketing, drawing on the author's experience to provide a fewquick-fix improvements.

I was recently asked to compile a list of the ten most frequent requests from clients seeking help with their marketing. This started me thinking about how these customers approach the project and realised there was a common thread – I often begin with a brief that is more ‘back of an envelope’ than ‘strategic plan’….

Let’s face it, this lack of clarity is not a new phenomenon. When department store owner, John Wanamaker, reputedly complained that "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half ", his marketing team must have cast a weary eye over the jobs pages. We will probably never know what was in Mr Wanamakers’s original sales brief that caused his staff to feature in such a scathing (and public) commentary. I am sure, though, he and his senior execs must bear some responsibility.

So back to some of the typical themes that I have come across in recent times. Number one will come as no surprise – whatever the description, it comes down to Increase Sales.  A reasonable request you may think, but to a marketer it’s not a great start when formulating a successful plan! And yes, we do get such a, shall we say, basic request.

Assuming that you want your marketer to earn their keep from day one, consider doing some of the preparatory work before they get there. Even the most basic analysis will kick start their efforts, whether it’s providing data on who is buying the client’s products, with what frequency or just identifying a pattern as obvious as ‘customers who buy product A tend to buy product B six months later’. This will lead onto better use of facilities that feature in the following topics.

Next on my list is the first request that has a more focused approach – Customer Data Management. Some clients question their knowledge of their clients, whether using a full-blown CRM system or a more basic PC package - ‘we’ve paid a fortune to capture information and yet we don’t see any benefit from it. How can we convert raw data, possibly going back years, into something more manageable that can help drive sales?’

The truth is many companies can’t answer even basic questions on customer profiling so how can we expect a marketer to intelligently target specific sectors? Remember that several years data is just that – raw numbers – and will need massaging into something approaching information before it can pay its way.

Of course, this needs to be done in conjunction with the guys at the coalface. In other words, a quick bit of research into what the sales guys really want and will genuinely use is essential – in my experience, you could provide everything on their wish list only to find that most of the features either don’t get used or deliver minimal improvement to the sales graph. 

As if generating sales wasn’t demanding enough, the next theme is considerably less popular all round - Reduce Marketing Costs. Often seen by staff as just a plan to cut projects (or personnel), in reality it means assessing its contribution to the sales bottom line. The challenge for the marketer is to avoid recommending a cut that can have serious repercussions elsewhere, such as reducing market research only to find that advertising becomes less focused, resulting in a down turn in the quality of sales leads.

Of course, it helps to have a detailed knowledge of how we got into the current situation. It’s sometimes the case that one or two obvious areas of inefficiency can be quickly classed under the category of ‘we’ve always done it that way’, blanket mailshots being a typical example. Here an interim or contract marketer can provide a fresh perspective, having none of the historical ‘baggage’ hindering their opinions.

This leads on to another candidate for attention - Direct Marketing. I’ve sometimes begun a project to find a ‘one-size-fits-all’ attitude to DM. Whatever the mechanism, hardcopy or electronic, this is a chance to use whatever market intelligence has been gained, allowing the customer analysis discussed above to come into its own. None of us like to receive a bland mailshot that suggests we, as individuals, aren’t really that important, so why treat our customers and prospects the same way?

Finally in part one of my review, we come to my clients’ favourite topic in recent years – Web Marketing and Content. Their expensive, and often professionally produced, web site just isn’t getting the number of hits that senior management has estimated to be the minimum acceptable level. The truth is that each manager will have a different opinion on what is a successful website. My response? Leave it to the professionals – a good marketer will have extensive knowledge of what works and what could be improved, often within a very short timescale.

The most common reason for this perceived failure to deliver is usually because people don’t get driven to the site and those that do, don’t feel the need to return again regularly. So, as part of the whole direct marketing plan, a quick fix is to take email addresses of contacts who have expressed interest in your products and, with some basic information on each person and organization, match sales messages to each sector. ‘Personalising’ it in some way directs them to relevant web offers, product updates and any number of other relevant topics.

That’s my review of some of the more common tasks I’m asked to address and you will have noticed a common tactic – make your marketing as personal as is realistic. Part Two will cover the remaining topics in my Top Ten Marketing Requests, including collateral, re-branding and mobilising the sales force. If you have comments about my views, or maybe have your own listScience Articles, I’d love to hear from you –  please email me at  

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Based in the UK, Glyn Yarnall has over twenty years marketing experience, including ten years as an Interim Head of Marketing/Consultant for multi-national B2Bs, not-for-profit and government, particularly for US-based companies wishing to improve their European presence. More case studies are featured at, along with further examples of interim projects.

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