Lean Sigma Marketing

March 29, 2011
Leveraging online goes well beyond the just-in-time integration that is occurring in the manufacturing chain. Rather, it is now a competitive must as a key part of the marketing mix to promote a company and its products and services.

Most executives of companies in the manufacturing sector are realizing the obvious that more and more business is being conducted online. Plus, it is the new cool media channel to conduct marketing programs.

Leveraging online goes well beyond the just-in-time integration that is occurring in the manufacturing chain. Rather, it is now a competitive must as a key part of the marketing mix to promote a company and its products and services.

While a traditional "go-to" component of the mix might be a publication like IndustryWeek, the world has rapidly become a search engine first business society.

Our search engine first business society is one where people who seek an answer, first go to Google, or to sophisticated paid search providers like LexisNexis.

Just like the manufacturing sector combined Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing, I am suggesting that today's marketing mix needs to balance traditional offline marketing methods with online marketing like search engine optimization, website conversion optimization, social networking, and strategic email mining. This integration creates what could be thought of as "Lean Sigma Marketing."

In manufacturing, Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma have at times been combined for Lean Sigma Manufacturing to produce optimal results as follows:
• Stretch the process applying Lean techniques
• Solve the problems of deviation from the standards
• Ensure maintenance of the improved status using Six Sigma techniques
• However, if the system and processes are poor, stretching it could break it. In this case Six Sigma techniques should be applied to solve some of the top line problems before stretching it.

So, is there such a thing as Lean Sigma Marketing? Can we do the following taking the lead from Lean Sigma Manufacturing?
• Stretch the processes in traditional marketing using online technology
• Create standards and constant testing to drive measurable results
• Begin to employ a continuous improvement loop. This would be a Six Sigma like technique.
• As much as possible, work from a solid marketing base and strategy. Migrating systems to the web can add velocity to marketing programs. If there are basic flaws in a marketing strategy, mistakes could be magnified.

The answer is that we can learn from this and combine the best of offline marketing with the best of online marketing.

However, few manufacturers we meet appreciate the full potential of online marketing as part of the total marketing mix. Instead they begin with misguided objectives like just wanting to get in the "online game" to match competitors' moves. Their starting point is objectives that do not take into account the full potential of online marketing.

Few manufacturers considering online marketing start with the critical key question: "how do my customers buy?"

Instead, we get "cool" buzzword questions like, "How do I get ranked 'number one' by search engines for a specific term?" Or, "I know we need a new website, because ours is not 'cool enough.' How do I start?" Or, "I just started using some free and purchased tools to improve rankings and we are not seeing results yet."

The reality is that asking how do I rank number one for a search term," or "how can I get a cool new website," is like seeing a set of tires that are really incredible and saying I want those - but not having a car. Besides, ranking for the most obvious terms in an industry might be the wrong approach. After all, rankings mean nothing if they are not bringing revenue in a timely manner.

To properly implement an online marketing strategy, companies must first make certain they have analyzed in depth how their customers buy. Totally understanding how customers buy is the cornerstone to success before migrating parts of marketing online.

Ask, do customer buy online? Face-to-face? Over the phone? All of the above? If it is all of the above, how much of each? What is the cost of each lead? Can online marketing help bring those costs of leads down? Today, does the company's website help capture leads with clear calls to action, or is it still limited to being an online brochure?

Please notice; none of the questions posed above have to do with buzzwords like SEO, SERP, PPC, CRO and other "inside the online marketing industry" phrases.

The truth is that the world of online marketing is confusing. For starters, there are hundreds of alleged solution providers and new online marketing tools introduced each month. A simple Google search brings a bombardment of thousands of them in search results. How does one know which ones to buy or trust? Which ones will deliver results that matter?

After all, who wants to buy tools and try to figure it our on their own or worry about the credibility of providers. The goal is to drive business results.

More specifically, the goal should be to increase sales profitably, or better yet more profitably, from Point A to Point B by integrating online marketing as part of the mix.

Now, I call it Lean Sigma Marketing, because the ultimate goal of online marketing is to do two things. The first goal is to increase revenue by keeping the best of offline marketing methods and migrating others to the web. In doing so, the second goal is to drive down the cost of the total marketing effort while sales and market share are increasing.

So, as a starting point, first analyze present sales processes, lead generation processes and their costs.

Second, totally understand the systems that are in place that are working online and offline. Also, identify the methods that are inefficient.

The migration starts by learning what customers/prospects are searching for when they look for answers. And, where do they search - colleagues? Superiors? Customers? The web? Trade journals?

And, finally, ask how to stay in touch with customers and prospects on an ongoing basis to adjust to their ever-changing needs? The right online provider will leverage all this understanding into a migration that will achieve the goal of driving sales up and costs down.

Online marketing is well suited to mimic the best salesman in a company. Through the right tools and interfaces with customers/prospects, the web can help to identify qualified leads, understand specific needs that each lead might have and present possible solutions.

Now I am going to stop. Because the final point of closing the sale rarely happens only online when manufacturing companies are selling to another business. In just a few instances, web-based marketing can close the sale in a business-to-business setting. But, it can bring highly qualified leads to the door, which cuts out waste of marketing to people not in the market (often the case with traditional media) for pursuing unqualified leads.

In essence, it makes marketing leaner, more efficient, and more results driven. Or, Lean SigmaMarketing.
So, as a leading company in online marketing using all the buzzwords like SEO and social media, I am suggesting to not get caught up in the buzzwords.

But do seek to integrate online marketing to drive down costs and sales up starting with the core question: How do my customers buy?

With the right starting point and support, companies will embark upon an online marketing strategy that will produce profitable sales. Now that is very cool!

Scot Lowry is president and CEO of Fathom Online Marketing which has been recognized as an Advertising Age top 25 online marketing agency and has been recognized as a top growth company by INC. Magazine.

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