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MAC Resource: Marketing is Like a Day at the Races

By Beth Goldstein, Marketing Edge Consulting Group, LLC

Early on in my courtship, I often found myself at the horse track—my fiancé was a passionate racing aficionado. I knew little about racing so I picked my "winners" based on the horse’s name—names that either reminded me of something noteworthy in my life or were simply cute. As you might imagine, 9 out of 10 times my "cute" horse lost the race while my fiancé’s "luck" was much better. Maybe it had something to do with the seemingly endless amount of time he spent analyzing data before he placed his bets. Although I didn’t know the details, he was certainly doing something right.

So what exactly was he analyzing? I always thought he was calculating odds but it turns out he was actually doing something more sophisticated than that. For those of you unfamiliar with horse racing, here’s a quick primer. Handicappers (folks trying to predict the results of a race) try to determine future performance based on a variety of factors that seem to influence each horse’s past performance. These include "weather" and "class level" of the previous races, track conditions (e.g., were they muddy, good, sloppy, etc.), post positions, and decisions made by the jockey that caused the horse to be more or less competitive than anticipated in a given race. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? Well, probably not any more complicated than preparing a marketing campaign.

And that’s my segue to the question you must be asking: "What does betting on a horse race have to do with marketing?"  Simply put, successful marketing campaigns force you to consider a great number of variables, just like successful handicapping does.  And there are, unfortunately, no guarantees: marketing is as much an art as a science. 

That said, there are steps any company can take that greatly improve the odds of marketing success, the odds of picking a winner whether the track that day is muddy or dry.  Call it the Handicapper’s Five Step Guide to Successful Marketing:

  1. Determine Customer Value. Begin by figuring out what your prospects and customers really need and value from you. Think about your response to a prospect asking you "So what, why should I purchase your product/service? What’s in it for me?" Can you answer that with a response that will convince them to become a customer? Do you know your real value to them? 
  1. Develop a Customer Profile. If you couldn’t answer the questions in step one convincingly or were a bit uncertain whether you’re on track (no pun intended) this step is vital. Marketing begins with your customers and not your products/services. Therefore, the more clearly you can define who these prospects are and what matters to them, how they makes decisions, how they find out about the solution you offer and why they would even want your solution, the greater your chances are of targeting them effectively.  Customer surveys, focus groups, and simple, honest conversations with your customers are all tools that you can use to achieve this goal.
  1. Study Your Competition. Understanding the value your competitors offer is also critical. This includes companies providing similar or identical products/services as well as companies who satisfy the needs you defined in the previous steps. For example, if you run a small café you need to understand if customers come to your café because your coffee is terrific or because your bagels are better than anybody else’s in town or simply because they like to hang out with colleagues/friends. Are you satisfying their need for thirst, hunger, or socialization, or maybe all three?
  1. Understand External Market Factors. Is the market you’re in experiencing a few too many muddy days? Are there other factors that influence the industry that you simply cannot control? It’s critical that you understand what conditions you can and cannot control and position your marketing to address these, head on. For example, has competition from abroad impacted your ability to deliver the best value to your customers? Were you previously able to offer the highest quality widget at the lowest price but now foreign manufacturers are luring customers away because their prices are better and their quality is acceptable? This is going to impact your overall business and your marketing strategy.
  1. Make Sure You Can Deliver. Can you meet your obligations and fulfill your promise to your customers after you have launched your campaign? Are your sales, customer service, and operations teams ready to deliver what you have promised customers? What will you do if your campaign is so successful that demand exceeds supply and customers are left with unfulfilled needs and start jumping to your competitors? Aligning your marketing promise with your internal operations is paramount and unfortunately many times overlooked as we launch out the gate rushing to the finish line.

Just as past performance, track conditions, and other factors are important to weigh before placing your bet at the track; your plans for a successful marketing strategy must include weighing a number of variables, some of them beyond your control. It’s important to be sure you’ve completed all of these five key handicapping steps. Next time you are ready to "euphorically" place your bet at the track window and launch a marketing campaign, ask yourself…is this the right campaign and am I really ready to launch it or am I just choosing the campaign with the cutest name?

Beth Goldstein is Founder and President of Marketing Edge Consulting Group, LLC. She has over 21 years experience in marketing, sales, and business development and is the author of "The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Toolkit." Beth’s clients rely on her to help them develop clear customer profiles and create customized marketing programs that build their customer base and push their bottom line to breakthrough levels of success. In addition to consulting, Beth is the Associate Director, Communications for the Boston University Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship & Commercialization and teaches marketing at the BU School of Management.


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