Is your marketing good enough (and when do you decide to aim for the best)?

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planning meeting
What is the right number of employees for a viable business?
CNRGP planning
At the Construction News and Report Group planning meeting: From left — Tim Lawlor, Katherine Jeffries (sitting), Brooke McDonald, Raymond Levielle, Chase, Mark Buckshon and Heather Kirk.

If there is any aspect of an annual planning meeting process that gives me frustration, it is this: The group comes up with a wish list of changes to really improve the business.

But how do you set your priorities? When is “good enough” okay, and when should you go for broke (sometimes literally) and aim for the highest achievement level?

Related to this challenge are risk/reward evaluations, whether the function is core or peripheral, and deciding if the activity where you wish to improve would deplete resources from more important priorities.

Historically, sometimes you can go really wrong by making the supposedly correct decision. Consider, for example, Kodak, which developed the original digital camera but failed to progress with the technology, rationally — at the time — because consumable film and processing provided so much of the company’s revenues. (I somehow think Kodak would have needed a miraculous redirection to pull off the change, especially since the life-span of the replacement digital cameras has been so short, with mobile phones and tablets doing the job quite well now.)

As an example, we spent quite a bit of time yesterday discussing our websites and email server/marketing’s inadequacies. We had last year decided to redesign the websites, and in fact implemented the change on one major site. I managed to seriously crash the system on the planned roll-out to a second site, before solving the problem with an emergency back-up recovery. But by then various company employees were complaining to me about the new sites’ quality and effectiveness. I decided to put the change-over on hold on the rest of the sites in the network until we had a chance to review the matter at our annual meeting; and if things needed to be revisited, seek a new budget for the proper redesign.

Related to this problem, while the transition to a self-managed email server has saved significant fees and given us some flexibility to handle high-volume broadcast emails, the templates and sign-up mechanisms leave something to be desired. And there are serious issues about whether our email marketing tools comply with Canada’s stringent anti-spam legislation. I heard a mouthful at the meeting about problems here, especially from employees asking me to ensure we capture more names and sign-ups from casual website visitors.

These developments have set me back to the drawing board. But, as I listened to the requests, I realized, to achieve the higher perfection level, we would need to allocate significant resources to the problem. Where could we find the budget for this work?

The answer: Imperfect, but rational — focus initially on a few critical problems where the email program and sites aren’t just imperfect; they are downright bad.

“Did you realize we get a 404 code when you click on the site to view the latest version of my publication?” said one sales representative.

I clicked — and got the 404 code.

“Do you realize that the same stories and images repeat over and over through the site home page — and by the way, that there are ads on the sites that should have been taken down long ago?” Ouch. But it is quite easy to correct the most glaring problems.

Then we looked at the email lead capture program. “I get complaints that I cannot sign up,” said another employee.

Yes, these problems don’t reflect “good enough”. They reflect the fact that we have failing-grade problems with some aspects of our sites/email systems.

I observed that I could correct some of these issues quickly, and in fact did, last night. And I took it on myself to allocate a modest budget to improve our email server/sign up and email templates to make them more effective and functional.

But what about the bigger picture? Can we do much, much better, and reach beyond “just okay” and really achieve first-rate website/email server design/responsiveness effectiveness, crucial to publishers in 2016. Can we build systems to control the “free ride” by site visitors and at least cause them to sign up for the free newsletter, building a qualified readership database and ensuring a higher level of responsiveness?  Can we achieve these standards through effective A/B testing and real state-of-the-art effectiveness?

Here, no one gave me the budget go-ahead to go for broke.

However, one of our newer colleagues introduced her self-designed rate/media guides, revealing a shocking improvement on our current systems, based on her research of other publications’ effective guides. We made an immediate decision to implement the new system company-wide. (There will be virtually no financial cost for that change.)

Our designer, meanwhile, said he could build in email sign-up capture capabilities within the page turning software. And I reported that I have an offshore contractor working on that problem.

We decided to shelve the original site redesign program and retain our current sites with tweaks and upgrades for now.

But I know a much better, more effective, and higher quality website structure will be essential for the business going forward. I’ll be patient but will continue to work on the problem.

Sure, we need to correct things so that the story isn’t one of a failing grade. And there is no need to be in the top one per cent of all sites just yet. Surely, however, we can get to a contention position: That is, better/more effective than 80 to 90 per cent of comparable sites/email management processes — without pushing super-human achievement standards.

Then, indeed, good enough can, in my opinion, be great,

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