DECEMBER 1, 2004

By Christopher Kenton

Find Your Way with a Marketing Map

While businesses often have strong strategic visions, execution may be weak and inconsistent. Here's a simple tool to bridge the gap

Most businesses today are engaged in sophisticated discussions about strategic marketing, branding, and e-business. But when it comes to execution, they struggle daily with weak positioning, inconsistency, unfocused technology investments, and internal conflicts. Without a solid link between marketing strategies and tactics, many outfits are sailing without direction.

Even highly paid consultants who sell their ability to deliver success often just hand over a "paper brick" detailing competitive epiphanies with lots of snappy diagrams and charts -- but glossing over execution pitfalls. Where are the consultants when the marketing manager is battling it out with the sales and IT teams over deployment?

TACTICAL VANTAGE POINT. Having come up through the trenches to build my own business, I'm acutely aware of how boardroom strategies break down in production -- not because they're bad ideas, but because they're detached from real deployment processes. My own response has been to focus on developing practical strategies -- tools designed to bridge the gap between competitive theory and frontline execution. One of the simplest tools, which I describe below, charts the tactical execution of marketing strategies. This mapping is something you can recreate on your own

A few years ago, I was working with a client trying to chart their marketing investment through the customer-relationship life cycle and wound up with a simple map that showed all their marketing assets arrayed from the first ad exposure all the way through lead generation and sales to customer service and support. We called it a touchpoint map, because it focused on the arrangement of customer touchpoints -- the assets a company uses to attract, engage, and support its buyers -- and it gave rise to an emerging concept we called touchpoint marketing.

The biggest challenge marketers face is not a lack of strategic and tactical options. It's the lack of a vantage point from which to view those options and predict their effect. If you could see your marketing efforts the way you view a chessboard, the connection between strategy and tactics would become much clearer. Questions to consider include: Are your marketing investments balanced to support customer acquisition and retention? Are your marketing assets targeted effectively toward key customer segments? Can you predict the impact of a tactical plan on your marketing objectives?

REVEALING CHART. The concept behind touchpoint marketing is simple: The environment a business creates can be viewed in the collection of assets and processes through which it communicates with customers. By mapping all touchpoints according to their position along the customer life cycle, marketers gain a comprehensive view needed to understand the current situation, preview strategic options, guide tactical deployment, and ultimately measure results.

The first effect of mapping your outfit's touchpoints is the ability to see clearly how and when you're reaching your customers. When mapped correctly, the tool also reveals how the arrangement of marketing assets reflects -- or fails to reflect -- your marketing objectives.

The touchpoint map is adept at revealing many types of environments. The kinds of customer relationships vary with the types of businesses, and this becomes clear in the pattern of assets used to maintain those dealings.

CUSTOMERS' ENTIRE EXPERIENCE. Businesses that rely on a large customer base, for example, typically need to spend a lot of resources attracting new prospects to keep the pipeline full. Successful businesses in this category, such as retailers, spend a lot of time and money on touchpoints that promote the brand. On the other hand, businesses that have little room to grow -- either because their market is small or their market share is large -- need to spend a lot more on touchpoints that support and protect the customers they have.

Many companies have no real understanding of how their assets are arrayed to influence customer relationships, beyond the line items they work over every year in their budgets. Many outfits simply follow industry practices that reflect marketing traditions that may not even apply to them.

The second effect is that you begin to realize the tactical importance of minor touchpoints that are not typically considered within the marketing domain: The automated-phone-answering experience, the product-user interface, the monthly invoice. When you look at the entire domain of touchpoints, you begin to realize that this is what building a brand is really about -- the entire experience a buyer has, not just the sexy parts you use to try to influence them.

PRICELESS INSIGHTS. Third, you see how strategy and tactics come together. What touchpoint arrangement would best reflect an outfit with a small but high-value customer base? How about a concern with a large and constantly churning base of buyers? Where should investments be made to maximize the experience of your most valuable clients?

The fourth, and perhaps most relevant effect in today's economy, is that you can use the map to apply marketing return-on-investment methodologies. Once you have your marketing assets arrayed in front of you, you can track your investment in each stage of customer-relationship development, as well as buyer exposure. You may not know right away how well each ad campaign pays off in profits, for example, but you will know how much you invested to move customers through initial awareness of your product to some type of direct communication. And you'll know how many customers arrived.

The touchpoint map doesn't tell you where to go or what road to take -- but it's useful in figuring out where you are and what paths might be most effective. Best of all, you don't need to pay an arm and a leg for consulting fees to get started. You start by taking an inventory of your customer touchpoints and arranging them according to where they fall in the customer-relationship life cycle. That process alone will deliver insights you can't put a price on.