Understanding the Critical Path to Growth

There are plenty of best practice lists to check off in the jungle of trade e-mails and publications in our in-boxes and mailboxes every day. List prospecting, co-op databases, e-mail segmentation recommendations, and affiliate opportunities are valuable, but they’re all tactical practices, and stringing them together does not necessarily equal a marketing strategy.

What questions should we be asking about our businesses to truly understand the critical path to growth? In the quagmire of tactics and daily challenges, it’s all too easy to lose sight of where you’re going. Here’s a series of questions to ask yourself that may help you assess your business.

About the competition: What are my competitors doing that I’m not? Are they doing it well, or should they be doing it at all? Have I been to their Website or stores lately? Or looked through their catalog? How is my brand and product different? Am I tracking the number of e-mails or catalogs they send out? Or the number of new store openings? What are we doing that they’re not? Are we doing that well, or should we not be doing it all?

About the customers: Do I really know who my customers are or do I just think I do? Do merchandise and operations and marketing and creative agree on who our customer is? Do I really know the purchasing behavior of my customers- i.e. what drives repeat purchase, how they migrate from one channel to the next, what products they’re not buying, etc.? Do I have ongoing customer vital signs reporting to stay on top of changes in my customer file?

About marketing: Do I have one marketing plan that encompasses all channels and programs? Does my marketing plan include a thorough look at the one-year ROI impact of my programs and how I can leverage dollars across channels and opportunities? Does my marketing plan include customer acquisition goals? Do I know how many new customers each program needs to acquire in order to drive my file growth? Have I developed file growth targets tied to future sales goals? Do we have quarterly cross-functional meetings to track our progress?

Granted, none of these questions will catch any of us by surprise, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind. The next time I read an e-mail newsletter about how to optimize my Website analytics, I will take pause and think about these questions.

Polly Bickel Wong is associate vice president, strategic consulting for the growth strategies group of New York-based list services firm ALC of New York.

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