Accountability Is Back

It’s my first column and I already have writer’s block. I’ve always been amazed at the capacity of columnists to keep it fresh and relevant on a weekly basis. Now, thanks to a huge leap of faith from ClickZ, I’ll have a chance to find out firsthand what it takes to put a weekly column together.

So to break the block, let’s start off with this column’s ongoing focus. Every week, in 600 words or less, we will look at the enormous marketing challenges that face start-ups as they set out to build and extend a brand, drive customer acquisition and manage the marketing mix in this dynamic environment we all call the “new economy.” My goal will be to add value as you move forward in the creation and execution of your marketing programs.

Topics will range from how-to guidelines like selecting advertising and public relations agencies, building a brand strategy, budgeting, guerrilla tactics and staffing teams to more esoteric subject matter including commentary on current events, a case study off the top of my desk, profiles of interesting people and companies, a once-a-month critique of a current marketing campaign and an occasional rant (since no one at my office wants to listen to them anymore). Certainly, I would love to hear from you for issues and topics of concern.

And with only 350 words or so remaining, it’s time to switch to current events and the topic most top-of-mind to us all: the recent market downturn.

The volatility of Internet stocks has already had a significant and potentially long-term effect on marketing your start-up. Regardless if you are on your angel round or just completing a nine-figure mezzanine the new buzzwords are accountability and sustainable results.

You know the pattern get a big round of funding and start building brand and awareness immediately. National TV and radio campaigns, billboards and splashy magazine ads are part of the norm. And in almost every case, the cost of the marketing campaign exceeds the gross sales of the start-up, sometimes by a factor of five or more.

The problem here is that in most cases, it’s not working (except to boost anticipation of an imminent public offering). Sure, traffic goes up, there’s a blip on the sales radar screen, but the gains are short-term.

Customers drawn in by the advertising don’t find the product offering compelling enough to return on a regular basis as businesses overpromise and underperform or just don’t alleviate enough pain to be worth the customer’s effort in the first place. And as the access to money tightens, limited dollars are available to fix these core product issues or launch a fresh (and potentially more expensive) campaign to reconnect with the customer.

As a marketer, you should be actively and aggressively reassessing your marketing programs and their effectiveness to make them accountable on a long-term basis. Is the billboard campaign a better alternative to direct marketing? Are national TV spots creating the appropriate levels of awareness and usage with your core audience? (I recently saw an online golf site advertised during prime-time national TV a huge waste of cash.)

Or should you (dare I say it) be out marketing the product at all? It’s time to challenge every assumption and focus on marketing strategies that truly build a long-term, sustainable business.

Accountability is back and it’s here to stay.

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