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Integrating Your Marketing Plan

In the past several issues, we have discussed the modern concept of marketing, some of the ways it can fit into the strategy of a noncommercial foodservice department, and the four "Ps" of the marketing mix. This month we'll say a few words about the process of combining these different considerations into a single strategy and plan.

First, though, Id like to recommend a seminal book (at least, it was seminal to me) to any readers who want to know more about this subject. Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning and Control, by Northwestern Universitys Philip Kotler, has been on my office shelf ever since college, and I have referred to it countless times since.

If you have marketing responsibilities and have not read his book, make it a priority to do so. And if you have a copy, but haven't looked at it recently, do yourself a favor and visit with it again. As Kotler reminds us in his first chapter, even companies that have had strong marketing cultures are prone to what he calls "The Law of Fast Forgetting".

"...Management tends to forget marketing principles in the wake of success....There is a tendency in successful firms toward marketing regression—going back to an earlier stage of marketing thinking, for instance, seeing marketing primarily as sales and promotion..."

That point—that people often think of marketing in terms of promotional activities, but not much more was the topic of the first column of this series last August. In this column, I'd like to like to conclude the series with a few, final observations about how a foodservice department can integrate its marketing efforts with its overall business plans.

Remember that marketing strategy begins and ends with a focus on the customer. As we said earlier, you likely have many customers, sometimes with conflicting wants and needs. Identify these first, whether the customers are obvious (those who buy lunch every day) or less so (administrators or board members whose decisions influence your department's activities). Explore their needs and wants fully, with an eye to any way your departments services can satisfy them.

Re-visit each "P" in your marketing mix. Use your list of your customers needs and wants as a mission objective and explore how they are affected—positively and negatively—by various decisions you will need to make about your Product, Pricing, "Place" ( distribution) and Promotions.

This is not an activity you should do in a vacuum. Involve others in your department in your discussions and analyses, even those who may not at first seem to have much input to provide. By involving them, you emphasize the customer-centric nature of your business and the importance of the customer to your business activities.

Use research, both formal and informal, to guide your planning. But don't make the mistake of designing surveys or interpeting results only to validate your own thinking. Research should be designed to find out things you don't know, to challenge assumptions you've already made and to turn up new ideas that haven't yet occurred to you. It should also be structured to help you develop what marketers call actionable strategy. Simply put, the end result of research is not just facts, but evidence you can use to justify actions.

Research is critical not only in the marketing planning stage, but also later in the course of a marketing program and as followup to major strategy executions. Research can help you measure and monitor customer satisfaction over time. It also serves as a tool to determine how well a strategy has worked and where it may have gone wrong.

Reconcile the inevitable conflicts. Marketing strategy is never simple. Menu or pricing decisions that may meet one customer or operational need will likely conflict with another need. You will typically identify multiple strategies, each targeted to the wants and needs of different internal and external customer groups, that at first seem impossible to execute together.

Your job is to evaluate where such strategies have commonalities and can have components that overlap, Such overlaps often provide your greatest marketing opportunities.

For example, look for broad marketing themes that will appeal to all groups you need to satisfy. Then develop narrower promotional schemes that extend that theme in more specific ways to target groups.

Implement and Manage by Objectives. Marketing strategy implementation is most successful when executed using the classic Management by Objectives model. Plan Carefully; Establish Objectives; Direct Implementation; Collect Feedback; Evaluate Results. Then Refine your strategy and begin the cycle again.

Time to Get Started!

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