Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Marketing happens when? How seasonal should the analysis be?

I was looking at the very interesting “google trends” tool today to try and work out a couple of marketing related points for my new business and I came across a couple of really fascinating trends which said an awful lot to me about something which is wrong with marketing folk.

Google trends allows users to track the usage over time of a search term in order to see when and where the search term was being used most. I ran a couple of different searches to try and understand how usage of google is changing and how interested marketing folk (or others) are in some key marketing terms. Although Google don’t let users see overall volumes of search (i.e. how many searches from their sample they are showing), they do show overall trends in search activity across 2004-2006 and the level of seasonal variation.
A couple of typical searches look like this:

Vodafone – general upward trend – seasonal peak late in the year but probably following major news articles and market growth

Tax Returns – the ultimate in seasonal business? Little interest outside peak times although some smoothing in 2006 which may be consistent with the activates of some governments in trying to smooth this pattern out

So now, let’s look at the results which relate to this blog – i.e. marketing analysis and the marketing mix.

Marketing Mix – What strikes me first about our search for marketing mix is the level of seasonal variation in the use of the search term. There is a wild variation across the year in the search suggesting that this is only an issue for many at two periods of the year – 1) around April (when budgets get released?) and 2) just before Christmas (and all the parties) when budget requests have to be submitted.

Marketing Analysis – search against the term marketing analysis shows an almost identical pattern – lack of interest for most of the year then some seasonal swings in order to get the budget sorted / spent. There's even a potentially worrying trend downwards but this appears in lots of searches so this may just reflect a move away from google to other search engines or a trend towards non-search activity.

So fair enough – optimisation of the mix is only a part time job isn’t it? Don’t we only need to optimise the mix once a year – aren’t all the plans annual?

Not really no. Modern thinking suggests to me that analysis is a continual undertaking in the marketing process - how many flowcharts exist within organisations showing the "plan> execuite > review > learn" cycle in one form or another. If this is the case, the mix needs optimising over and over again – the feedback loops should exist so that marketers can review their overall performance (at least on the short term KPI’s) in a matter of weeks rather than once a year. Companies which are optimising once a year are likely to only be looking at the big picture once a year. This strikes me as too infrequent for most organisations in our new more dynamic marketing environment. Annual plans certainly have their place but from the look of the data above, it seems that we’re twice as likely to review the marketing mix once a year at Christmas than during late May.

Reasons why the annual marketing analysis cycle is a good thing

  • Everyone is standing back and taking a look at the same time
  • An annual review is like servicing your car – it’s a once a year task to check and verify safely
  • We’re busy for the rest of the year actually selling stuff – no time to make decisions on marketing mix or check it’s right
  • The agency do this for us – we just verify their work at our annual review
  • We review our direct activities all the time – they are continually optimised
Reasons why the annual marketing cycle may limit your business opportunities

  • If everyone else is reviewing their mix once a year, this leads to strategic opportunities to steal a march on competition by changing when you conduct reviews – can other organisations respond to your actions in June if they are locked in an annual cycle
  • A high performance race car has a full service after each race – new engines after every couple of races and the telemetry is reviewed during the race and analysed both in real time but also afterwards – isn’t your business worth the same care and attention rather than subjecting it to a review only when you have to.
  • Marketing is selling – if you are busy selling stuff and don’t consider ensuring that customers have oversight of your goods and services, you’ve probably made a mistake
  • If you rely on an agency to conduct your mix reviews, what are the chances that you will get the best people at their busiest time of year? If you do get the best people to work for you, will they really be able to give you their undivided attention?
  • OK so direct marketing is continuously optimised? Well that’s a start but to use the car analogy this means the steering is optimised but the engine may be running short on oil and about to seize up any day!

Marketing teams can’t turn off for most of the year and come out of hibernation when budgets are being decided or plans need submitting for another calendar year. The best marketing organisations I’ve seen work campaign by campaign with a strong emphasis on continuous learning and re-planning. The attention they pay to the mix has created strong teams who know how to keep marketing relevant to their customers year round. With consumer trends moving so quickly I believe that annual mix optimisation will give way to quicker and quicker cycles of optimisation.

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