The late New York City mayor Ed Koch created a personal, attention-getting mechanism for gaining input and feedback. He famously asked: How am I doing?
Business and marketing leaders have much to gain by utilizing a “How are we doing?” outside-in learning approach. One easy-to-implement way to get started is to conduct a regular program to compare your products and services versus other available options.
During my brand management days at Unilever, the marketing teams had scheduled “cuttings” during which they would compare their products to those of their competitors, review new products and/or generally explore options in the category. It was a cross-functional gathering including R&D and sometimes other colleagues. It fostered collaboration and led to productive and interesting conversations about the business, beyond the technical details.
It was also a fun part of the job, and vividly demonstrated why we all came to work each day: to provide great tasting products to consumers.
I remembered those product review sessions when reading about the keynote speech former Kroger and Harris Teeter executive Fred Morganthall gave during this month’s Private Label Manufacturers Association trade show. His advice has widespread relevance beyond the grocery business:
▮ “If you’re a retailer in grocery and you haven’t taken your top 20 or 30 items that you sell today and cut them against Aldi, you’re going to be in for a surprise. It is amazing the quality that Aldi presents today, and they’re clearly a leader in the quality aspects of own brands.”
Think about your specific business and create your own version of a product or services cutting.
There are many diagnostic variables that can be tracked and analyzed on a regular basis, often at no or only limited cost, at least for the first pass. Identify what’s most important for your team and company. Get colleagues from other key functions involved in the evaluation and learning process.
Comparison and evaluation items to consider may include:
● Product Performance/Taste. Start with internal teams. Expand to external resources for an objective, fact-based analysis (e.g., sensory panel, formal product taste test, etc.)
● Services Performance/Usability. Similar approach as with products.
● Advertising and other Marketing Communications (e.g., media relations, social media)
● Buying/Shopping Experience (assess how your products appear in the environment in which your end-user sees them, e.g., supermarket, home improvement store, showroom, e-commerce website, etc.)
● Usability Experience (assess how end-users interact with your products and alternate product choices – how easy are they to use and how well do they work?)
● Structural Packaging
● Package Design/Label Presentation
● Website Presentation and Messaging
● Customer Presentations (if you can gain access to competitive materials)
● Trade Show Presentation
● Share-of-Voice Assessment (measure in key trade and/or consumer magazines)
● Customer Relations (call your competitor’s customer relations department and see how they respond – call or listen to your own too!)
Implementation note. For whatever assessments you do, if you’re not striving to be objective and as fact-based as possible, with a disposition for action when necessary, then don’t bother. Otherwise it becomes a “talking to yourself” exercise and waste of time.
To guard against internal bias, create a list of assessment criteria; adopt a scoring mechanism, even a rough one; and weight some variables if helpful. Conduct the assessments on a regular basis, incorporate them into your annual marketing plan process and day-to-day operational management – and most importantly, leverage what you learn to take thoughtful and well-informed business actions.
Make “How are we doing?” a winning call-to-action for your team and company.
(For related content posts, check out the “Customer Research” and “Market Research” categories in the drop-down “Post Categories” menu to the right.)
Harvey Chimoff is a versatile marketing and business team leader who believes good marketing sells. Contact him at StratGo Marketing, a plug-in marketing department service for company leaders.