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Just-in-Time Marketing

  |  February 1, 2001   |  Comments

Your time to marketing needs to be cut in half for you to compete in this fast-forward economy. Enter JIT marketing: developing the strategic positioning of a company while working on the tactical elements that will get it through this quarter.

These days business is so fast, it's just a blur. Just-in-time (JIT) operations used to mean that the parts for your customized product sat in a warehouse for maybe a day -- but hey, you just cut your supply cycle time by 50 percent. JIT now means that the parts are not even moved off the truck they came in. The product is assembled, boxed up, labeled, and shipped using the same truck that carried the parts. Today's marketing works the same way. Your time to marketing needs to be cut in half for you to compete in this fast-forward economy. That's where JIT marketing comes into play.

A Familiar Scenario

Your closest competitor has just announced a major partnership, so you find yourself having to reposition your entire company to compete. Then you suddenly have to do an online advertising campaign to generate leads because the well has run dry and the phones aren't ringing, but the Web site messaging needs a complete overhaul. And you have to get out a three-dimensional direct mail piece because your sales team is two multimillion-dollar deals short of the quarterly goal. Time to marketing is crucial, but on the other hand you don't want to confuse your audience. Sound familiar?

To the Rescue -- Just in Time

Which comes first, the repositioning and messaging or the tactical elements of what you need right now? As an agency, we find ourselves in this position more and more, so we've developed JIT marketing, which is marketing developed, created, labeled, and shipped all in one process -- and in half the time it takes for the formal marketing process.

It is a little scary to think about, because it sounds like a half-baked process, doesn't it? It's not. It is reality. The economy dictates the direction you are headed, and your marketing process must be able to respond quickly. JIT marketing is really a matter of developing the strategic positioning of a company while working on the tactical elements that will get the client through this quarter. The key to success is that it is an ongoing, fluid process.

The process of developing a positioning statement or repositioning a company used to take at least three months if you wanted to do it right. There was always enough time for the due diligence of researching the industry and interviewing management and customers just to find the sweet spot in the marketplace. Nowadays those quadrant analyses of where the company will be the most profitable looks more like a shell game on Main Street: One false move, and you're sunk.

A Never-Ending Process

JIT marketing allows you to develop the positioning for a company that needs strategic and tactical marketing in about half of the usual time. Nothing is written in stone anymore. Research you do today had better be presented today because it will be old news tomorrow. Mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships will quickly make your findings obsolete.

We had done an in-depth competitive analysis for one of our clients. We could have continued the research forever but had to freeze the analysis in time because the minute you present your findings, a competitor's Web site completely changes or a new competitor shows up on your to-watch list due to a partnership that happened that morning. JIT market/competitive analysis should be a process that never ends. The research is done and sent to the client, and the process begins all over again -- all within the same breath.

Interview, Interview, Interview

Interviewing management separately -- and I emphasize separately -- is a vital part of the strategic positioning and the success of the tactical marketing. Find out who is really driving the repositioning, how much influence he or she has, and whether the repositioning is embraced by every person in management, from the CEO to the VP of marketing to the VP of sales. If only one of these people is not on board, it ain't going to work, folks. If management (or even one manager) doesn't embrace the repositioning, the company will suffer, in the short term and in the long.

This is an area the agency has the least influence over. We can see it happening from the outside (and, boy, it looks ugly sometimes), but it is often difficult for someone on the inside to see. So those of you on the inside, it is time to do some soul searching on the mission and vision of the company. If it is dictated to you, embrace it. If it is a committee decision, embrace it. From a sales and marketing standpoint, it could mean the difference between money well spent or money down the drain -- not to mention time to market lost to your biggest competitor because of internal dissent.

Interview prospects and customers. Each will have a different perspective on the company. Customers will give you input into what the company is like, and prospects will give you input into where the company is headed. Both will give you a good idea of the company's strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats.

The last three elements of positioning and messaging -- interviewing management, customers, and prospects -- used to take months, usually through face-to-face meetings. But as a part of JIT marketing, these can be done via phone, email, and video conferencing -- on the fly.

The data you collect is typically not as good as that from a face-to-face meeting -- but hey, this is JIT marketing. It works for now. It works for this quarter.

And it will all change tomorrow.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Ellis

Michelle Ellis is Director of Account Planning at M2K, a top-100 interactive agency. She started her career over a decade ago focusing on the retail and business-to-business industries. M2K specializes in interactive marketing solutions for clients, including strategic positioning, media planning and buying, offline and online creative, web site design, intranets, and extranets.

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