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Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

A Solid Marketing Plan Begins With SWOT

Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

T he hardest part of developing a marketing plan is committing to a careful analysis of your business, including examination of your product and service, your markets and your position in them, and your business’s strengths and weaknesses.

Many companies use a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to determine the best product marketing strategies. Capitalizing on your strengths while understanding your weaknesses will help you take full advantage of opportunities and minimize threats.

Know Yourself

A SWOT analysis begins by examining internal strengths and weaknesses in the areas of profitability, sales and marketing, quality, customer service, productivity, financial resources, financial management, operations and distribution. Involve your employees in this process - their frontline experience will be invaluable.

Take a straightforward look at your company, asking such questions as: Are you losing or gaining customers? Are you losing or gaining market share or maintaining the status quo? Are you losing or gaining sales volume? Are you experiencing cash flow problems? What is your employee turnover? Are you playing follow the market leader, letting your competitor set the pace?

Next, look at external business environments. These areas include current customers, prospects, competitors, technology, political climate, government and other regulatory organizations, and the legal and economic environments. For example, consider how desktop publishing revolutionized the typesetting and printing industries, and how the events of 9/11 and the Internet have challenged the trade show industry.

To begin your SWOT, select five strengths and opportunities, and five weaknesses and threats. Knowing these will help you identify and develop marketing strategies. For example, do you have an area of expertise worth promoting? Are you undercapitalized? Is your market growing or shrinking?

The goal is to determine which small market niches to focus on and dominate, and discover how to please customers in a better way than the competition.

Know Your Competition

Those pesky competitors are perhaps the biggest impediment to achieving your marketing goals - yours is not the only business looking to your target markets for your next sale. Start assessing the competitive environment by identifying your immediate competitors. Who are they? What do they do better than you? What do you do better than they? Are they investing in research and development, a new product line or technology? What are their target markets? What image are they trying to project? Are they heavily in debt?

You can quickly determine your position in the marketplace by identifying the unique selling proposition of your product or service. What makes your product or service stand out from the competition? Is it quality, price, convenience, style, location or professionalism? The goal is to develop an image in the marketplace that you offer something special that your competitors do not.

Remember to be thorough in assessing the competition. Start by gathering these basic facts about your five largest competitors:

  • names and addresses of competitive companies;
  • names and roles of key company players;
  • number of employees;
  • years in business;
  • sales in both dollarsand units;
  • market share;
  • targeted markets;
  • key customers;
  • position of products and services; and
  • distribution patterns.

Supplier relationships are a good source of competitive intelligence. There is nothing sneaky or unethical about gathering and using information. It’s part of being in business.

There are a number of ways to obtain information on the competition - from scanning of financial and trade publications or hiring a clipping service, to using an Internet search engine like www.infoseek.com.

Maintaining files on the five most direct competitors can yield big dividends for a relatively small amount of time and energy. Place every bit of information you can glean in the files. Clip advertisements and articles about their products or employee promotions. Want ads can help you estimate growth and track key personnel changes. Clip anything that gives you a handle on their positioning or pricing strategies. Attend trade shows or trade association meetings, and gather brochures and other collateral material they are distributing. Visit their websites often to stay abreast of expanding lines or new product introductions.

Once a month, spend a few minutes reviewing your files to determine if patterns are developing. Track how often your competitors advertise and in which publications. Study their advertising message to determine their positioning strategies. Look at the image they are conveying to determine their target markets. Some questions to consider during competitive intelligence gathering include: Is your competitor purchasing additional property? Building a new facility, or closing one? Developing a new image? Changing its positioning or pricing strategy? Redesigning products? Conducting professional or market research? Expanding trading areas or abandoning certain markets? Increasing or reducing advertising frequency?

You can use a simple form as a quick reference on your position versus that of your competitors. This form has three columns: customers want; competitor provides; and we provide. Place the following items (and add your own for your particular market) under the customers want category - quality, low price, high price, wide product line, deep product line, product information, reliability, warranty, location, just-in-time delivery, accessories and spare parts, and well-trained technicians - then let your SWOT analysis determine how you fill in the next two columns.

More Technology, Less Travel Cause Shift In Trade Shows' Unique Selling Proposition

Technology is a powerful element to consider when developing your company's marketing strategies for the future.

In the trade show industry, advances in technology, corporate consolidation and travel restrictions have chipped away at exhibitor and visitor participation, but few external elements have affected that industry like the Internet.

"You literally have the world at your fingertips," said Butler Mullins, director of the 2004 American Textile Machinery Exhibition-International (ATME-I) and a 30-year trade show veteran. "It's far more expedient and much less expensive for international show organizers to communicate with prospective exhibitors and visitors via websites and e-mail. The downside is that it is also much less expensive for buyers and sellers to do business via the Internet than with a traditional trade show."

Many companies are funneling money slated for prospecting and lead generation to outlets other than the trade show, using e-mail campaigns, newsletters, downloadable white papers and a host of Web-based applications to find sales prospects.

Fortunately for associations and other managers of trade exhibitions, there is still a perceived value in face-to-face marketing, according to a study by the Chicago-based Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). The study reports that 35 percent of attendees see exhibitions becoming more valuable over the next few years, while only 9 percent see them becoming less valuable; and 76 percent rate face-to-face contact with potential new vendors as "very" or "extremely" important.

In a speech to international exhibition managers last December, Douglas L. Ducate, president and CEO, CEIR, said changes in the marketplace have eroded the trade show industry's selling proposition.

New product launches were the number-one reason to exhibit, according to Ducate, but in today's economy, companies can't wait for show cycles to get their products on the market. It used to be significantly less expensive to generate sales leads through trade shows versus cold calling, but as the costs of exhibiting continue to rise, the cost differential is nearly negligible, he added.

The trade show industry needs to develop a new value proposition for exhibitors - one that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative reasons for exhibiting. To remain a viable part of the marketing mix, exhibition organizers must show value and fit. One way to do that is to raise the quality and the buying power of the audience, according to Mullins. "One thing, we believe, that kept ATME-I strong over its 35-year run in Greenville was the quality of the attendee," he said. "We were always able to attract the decision-makers, and in the long run, that is what exhibitors want."

April 2005