Marketing consultant Lois Kelly advocates using meetings and events to help companies market better. Here are five of her “10 Inexpensive Ways to Move Forward in a Down Economy.”

  1. Answer this question:

    “How do we make our company (or product) matter more to the people who matter the most?”

    Hold an off-site meeting that addresses this question.

    The first day should be for executive management. The second for marketing staff and agencies. Hire a professional moderator. You'll be amazed at how this question gets everyone to think more deeply about your most valuable audiences — who they really are, what's most important to them, how you can better serve their needs.

    It provides ideas on what you can do to immediately improve business, and builds intra- and interdepartmental consensus on where and how to allocate resources. Every time I conduct these sessions, executives conclude, “Now that was really time well spent.”

  2. Once is not enough.

    Set up ongoing panels of customer experts. We all know that we should listen more to customers. To that end, companies hold customer advisory boards and user conferences, usually once a year. But once a year is not enough, nor is a formal session likely to produce in-depth insights that provide real value.

    More and more companies are beginning to create their own customer panels, with whom they communicate regularly by e-mail about everything from new product ideas to advertising concepts. This 24/7 focus group approach cuts phone survey costs by 30 to 50 percent, speeds data input from a month or more to less than two days, and gives you more in-depth insights than is possible with many traditional surveying techniques.

    Remember to regularly thank your customers for their participation and inform them as to how the company is incorporating their ideas.

  3. Think creatively.

    No one loves data mining and research as much as I do, but creativity, aligned with the scientific research, is critical.

    Step back and ask yourself: Have you been using the same formulaic approach to marketing for more than two years? Could you use more entertaining approaches to engage your customers and sales reps?

    Are there nontraditional ways that just might stretch your marketing dollars? Thinking creatively does not cost money. And many of the most successful marketing campaigns have been born from unconventional thinking. Nick at Nite's “I Love Lucy” parade, where women dressed up as Lucy and paraded through New York City, generated huge publicity and awareness. Liquor companies, trying to get the “in crowd” to adopt their products, regularly plant employees in trendy clubs and buy rounds for unsuspecting clientele. The alternative ideas are endless.

  4. Tap into your own board of advisers — or “clearness council.”

    We all need objective guidance and advice, especially in challenging and changing business conditions. However, it's often difficult for a marketing executive to get that advice. His or her boss is unlikely to understand the intricacies of marketing.

    One approach is to create a four- to five-person advisory board, selecting outside experts who can provide you with helpful insights into your business challenges. I see this as similar to the Quaker practice of holding “clearness committees.” Prior to the meeting, you write a brief synopsis of the issue about which you're seeking clarity, and circulate it among the advisors.

    My guess is that you know five really smart business people who would welcome the opportunity to have dinner together and listen to your questions, thoughts, and ideas. Great advice doesn't necessarily require great investments in specialized consultants. Take a look at your contact list and you'll be amazed.

  5. Get real.

    The reason why so many of us marketers are frustrated is that we set unrealistic goals and expectations. As a result, we're doomed to failure from the start. Andrew Ehrenberg, a director of South Bank University's R&D Initiative in London, says some of the most common and unrealistic marketing goals are significant growth, brand differentiation, advertising that persuades, and maximizing shareholder profit. “When these romantic goals fail to materialize, marketing gets blamed.”






Lois Kelly is president of Meaning Maker (www.meaningmaker.com), a consulting firm that offers workshops, marketing process analysis, and coaching services that help companies accelerate marketing program results.