Success

Research PART II: Competitive Analysis: Secret Weapon – The Mystery Shopper

In our last blog we discussed Market Research – Your Roadmap for Success. Today I’m going to delve into competitive analysis and more specifically, using mystery shopping to conduct competitive research. This blog will explain the importance of mystery shopping as a key approach to learning about how your business can be differentiated and why it’s equally important to hire a professional to conduct mystery shopping research.

Do you know your competition? How are they different from you? What are they doing that you’re not? How are they perceived in the marketplace? More than any other marketing approach, I have found that conducting a competitive analysis for our clients has proven time and time again to be so crucial to the success of a marketing strategy. Mystery shopping is a tried and true research method used to conduct competitive research.

What is mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is a research methodology that uses trained, professional mystery shoppers (not your mother, your aunt or your junior marketing assistant) acting as prospective customers to ascertain particular aspects of your competitors’ businesses. While posing as customers, mystery shoppers perform a series of assigned tasks designed to elicit a particular type of behaviour or information. They observe, measure and report back on their findings.

Types of mystery shopping

Mystery shoppers may employ several techniques to achieve their goals.

  • Visit in person
  • Make phone calls
  • Send emails
  • Create custom ‘customer’ websites

How mystery shopping can benefit your company

In order to fully understand how to compete in the marketplace you must first understand your competitors:

  • What are they offering?
  • What are their prices?
  • What is their value proposition?
  • What is their brand experience like?
  • How is their online experience?
  • How effective is their customer service?

Once you understand your competitors you can make informed business decisions on how to differentiate your company. And you can use mystery shoppers to see how your company fares against the competition using the same set of criteria.

Use a professional agency to conduct mystery shopping research

It’s very important to use a professional agency when conducting mystery shopping research. There is a strategy to competitive research. Based on the information you’re trying to elicit, you pre-assign tasks to the mystery shoppers. They must be professional or they will be detected, wasting whatever time and money you’ve invested in the effort. The information they return needs to be analyzed and a marketing plan created on the basis of those results.

Is a Company Mission/Vision Statement as Useful as a Marketing Strategy?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Ideally, to be successful in business you need to have mission and vision statements, as well as a marketing strategy. They are all equally important as they are all powerful sign-posts to provide clear and succinct directions. The mission and vision statements are focused on the purpose and aspirations of the company, while a marketing strategy focuses on highlighting what is unique about your company to a targeted audience.

Unfortunately, mission and vision statements are often confusing or too generic, mixing values, aspirations, philosophies, strategies and descriptions. Let’s be clear about the difference between a mission and a vision statement:

  • A mission statement articulates the purpose of the company, why it exists, and what it does and for whom. It should serve as an ongoing guide that spells out what the company is all about. The mission should focus on the here and now.
  • A vision statement outlines the goals and aspirations for the future. It creates a mental picture of a specific medium-term target and should be used as a source of inspiration.

With those definitions in mind, I have outlined below what I believe to be the reasons why having all three of these documents written down and adhered to is essential to helping you clearly define your goals, objectives, audience and value both internally and externally.

Mission and Vision Statements are commonly used to:

Internally

  • Guide management’s thinking on strategic issues, especially during times of significant change
  • Help define performance standards
  • Inspire employees to work more productively by providing focus and common goals
  • Guide employee decision making

Externally

  • Enlist external support
  • Create closer linkages and better communication with customers, suppliers and alliance partners
  • Serve as a public relations tool

A Marketing Strategy is commonly used to:

  • Define what makes your service/product unique (besides price)
  • Create a Unique Selling Proposition
  • Define key target audiences for specific services or products you offer and where they are
  • Define what types of marketing tactics can be used to attract your key audiences
  • Define what your company values and how that relates to your audiences’ values
  • Define the frequency of the marketing tactics
  • Define measurement for each of the tactics for ROI tracking

I find that a good way to start the process of creating these key pieces of business documentation is to ask key people in your organization to answer the following questions:

  • For Mission (or Purpose): What is the core purpose of the organization? What do we do and for who?
  • For Vision (or Ambition): Where do we want to be in 5 or 10 years time? What are our aspirations?
  • For Marketing Strategy: What makes your service/product stand apart from the competition?

 

Do you feel your corporate mission statements and marketing strategy are useful, or do you disagree with me and feel (even well crafted) vision and mission statements and marketing strategies are not necessary/useful? Please share you views in the comments below!

Social Media Strategy Before Social Media Tools

10-Steps-To-A-Successful-Social-Media-StrategyIt seems easy, right? Just choose which social networks you want to appear on and then post away! Wrong. Unfortunately, many businesses have taken the approach of tools before strategy and the results are, not surprisingly, poor. A posting schedule lacks focus, approach, and direction, which are the crucial first steps in driving your business’ success.

Social media is just another tool in the marketing tool box, much like your website, advertising, special promotions, and campaigns, so you need to look at creating a social media strategy BEFORE you decide on which network to use (Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). Tools need to be considered last, not first. Why? Because tools change. They always do. There was a time when Netscape seemed invincible. Yahoo, too. And how can we forget about MySpace. If you fall in love with tools, you’ll constantly be changing directions, with no real plan to guide your way.

The strategy will further outline how you brand yourself in social media networks. For businesses with an established brand, this may not be a problem, but you will need to investigate how your offline branding strategy translates into social media marketing.

Unless you have the internal skills and expertise, I’d strongly recommend you engage the services of a strategic marketer to help you create your strategy.

In addition to kicking off the strategy with a clear definition of what makes your business unique, you’ll want to make sure your strategy includes consideration of what your relationship is with your audience, how they use social media, how you’ll deal with unfavourable comments, what resources will monitor the conversations and what metrics you are going to use to determine your success.

What do you think? What are your special tips for making social media engagement effective at driving your business’s success?  I look forward to your comments below.

What Has Sochi Done To The Olympic Brand?

sochi-2014-winter-olympicsHave you considered what hosting the Olympics in a country with human rights issues, security concerns, and financial controversy would do to the well-respected and prestigious Olympic brand? With all the debate surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, we’ve been wondering just that! This video from UK news agency Reuters asks the loaded question, “What will Sochi do to the Olympic brand?”.

There are a few very important points noted in this video by David Hay, CEO of Brand Finance. “Brands always gain or lose by the associations they make,” Hay says, and undoubtedly the Olympic Committee and Russia were aware of the challenges presented to sponsors who attached themselves to these Olympic games. Nevertheless, big sponsors such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s did not change their stance on supporting the winter games. The ending note from Joanna Partridge says it all, “No matter how successful the Sochi games are, the Olympic brand seems stronger than individual hosts.”

Do you feel the Olympic brand has been affected in any way? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

#4 Piece of Advice for SMBs is Tracking Marketing Tactics

measurementContinuing in our series on the results from our online poll a few weeks ago, we asked what the best piece of advice a SMB owner needs to help them grow their business and the fourth highest response was “”track your marketing results”.

Even though it ranked fourth in our poll, I want to highlight just how important this point really is. As a marketer, tracking marketing results is key, and it helps us determine the success of a campaign and also can indicate what decisions we should make in terms of further investment, making tweaks to a campaign and setting the expected return on investment (ROI).

Many SMB owners have produced brochures, one page ads, sell sheets, flyers, and even websites, but when asked for the ROI on each of these marketing tactics they are hard pressed to produce the results.  With analytics available on everything these days from emails and websites to webkeys and radio ads, SMB owners need to know that they can ask for and expect results. I have outlined below what I feel are the top marketing tactics that SMB’s need to be measuring.

  1. Do you have Google Analytics on your site? If not, why not? Google Analytics is free and lets you measure your advertising ROI as well as track your Flash, video, and social networking sites and applications.  At a minimum, you should receive a regular report about your site from your marketing agency or internal resource. If you have extra time, ask you marketing agency not just for a report, but also to give you access to your Google Analytics account.  You need to be looking at this report and make sure you understand what it means. If it doesn’t make sense to you… then work with them until you can clearly see the value.
  2. If you are using print in your marketing, make sure the print pieces can be tracked.  One way to do this is to add a code to each piece and have the recipient quote that code when they contact you. Another way is to add a QR code to your print materials and then you can measure the success of the “visits” on the site you have entered into the code.
  3. Online marketing should all be measurable via its own application, a landing page or links to your site.
  4. E-blast vendors all offer analytics – open rates, click through rates, etc.  Make sure you get a report once you send out the email so you can assess the results to determine if it met your campaign objectives.

Before you launch any marketing tactic, make sure it’s tied to your marketing strategy, has clear objectives with clearly defined goals and ensure you have a measurement system in place that will help you meet your objectives and achieve your results.

Have you ever launched a tactic without using measurement?  How did you decide if it was successful or not?  How important is the measurement of your tactics? I’m looking forward to hearing your opinions on tracking your marketing results.