It struck me recently as I was developing a letter to potential Japanese clients that the management practice of Kaizen or "continuous improvement" is an elegant descriptor for what we strive for in web marketing, or perhaps what good marketing is. Take John Wanamaker's famous quote: "Half the money I spend of advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half". The goal for the smart marketer is to determine "which half" is wasted and find a way to drive ROI with it along with measuring the whole process so it is repeatable.

Kaizen is most often applied on the factory floor, where workers at the Toyota plants famously pull a cord to stop production when they see something that needs to change to create more efficiency. This leads to meetings and an improvement in the process. What's more, the management team is driving efficiency and innovation directly from the shop floor, and establishing repeatable and predictable outcomes in a scientific manner. Wikipedia defines this process in the following simple steps:

standardize an operation →
measure the standardized operation (find cycle time and amount of in-process inventory) →
gauge measurements against requirements →
innovate to meet requirements and increase productivity →
standardize the new, improved operations →
continue cycle ad infinitum.

How many marketing executives approach their advertising plans in this way? Probably fewer than you think. This biggest barrier to this kind of efficiency and improvement is a lack of analytics or measurement. How can you really gauge measurements against requirements when you can't measure what your print media placements are doing? Or, how can you know if your website is performing when you don't measure traffic or common user paths to see if your visitors are actually engaging with the content you want them to reach?

Web marketing provides a true tool for measuring your initiatives. You can chart daily the progress of your advertising campaign against your expectations and make "continuous changes" to your message and materials to reach greater efficiency. Here are a few key ways you can start applying Kaizen to your marketing strategy:

Get a robust, javascript-based, analytics package up and running on your website. I recommend using Google Analytics, which is free and actually better than most of the paid packages on the market. Several cool things this lets you do: view a "heat" map of activity on each of your pages showing where people are clicking, track "campaigns" wherein you can set up specific goals and measure them, track traffic to specific pages in granularity, and track popular user paths. This entire program is based around a simple analytics dashboard where you can see your progress at a glance. This program will help you increase conversion on your website and enables you to continually experiment for greater efficiency.

Hold your vendors accountable. If someone is selling you print ads, work with them to understand their circulation profile, and push them to come up with "direct request" opportunities that enable you to measure the efficacy of an ad you place. Ask to see their BPA statement and measure their "1st Year Direct Request" circulation against the competitor--you are looking for the highest number possible as this is the best measure of their true reach. If they can't help you measure the success of your spend, there is very little value in the offering and in these economic times, you should look elsewhere. With online partners, make sure you understand their email statistics. You should ask questions like: "How often do you scrub your list?", "What do you do with emails that are 'bounced back'?". While it's great to get "click-throughs" from email blasts, if you are not measuring what that user does when they reach your site (with a program like Google Analytics--see above), then why are you wasting the money on the eblast to begin with? The best solution is one that provides the direct email blast coupled with a lead generation method--this way you can actually measure to sale.

Reduce risk and increase predictability and measurement. The Kaizen approach means taking the time to measure everything you do. By doing this, you decrease your risk profile and the chances that you just signed off on a $200,000 program that will not deliver--a fatal career move in this economic environment. Take the small steps to begin measuring the returns on your marketing investments and have conversations with the stakeholders in your company--especially the sales folks. If they are not feeling the force-multiplication effect of your marketing efforts, there is a serious disconnect--solicit their opinions and ideas for improvement.

Toyota became one of the world's most respected companies through applying the Kaizen process to everything it does. This takes discipline and a willingness to embrace change in your marketing group along with a lot of communication. What if at the end of 2009, you were able to account for the performance of each marketing initiative and you improved each of them over the course of the year slowly but surely? Seems that would be much more impressive than a "splashy" product launch...that's the Kaizen way.

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Comment by Mark Haas on February 16, 2009 at 12:12pm
I guess I haven't seen any "new marketing" - this from another thread shows too EVERYTHING needs to be looked at, re-evaulated or tweeked !
OK-I've been wanting to tackle this question ! (read pent up marketing manager in a sales position for 20 years)

NO this is not typical Q1 shakeout. Because there was no Q4 increase in purchasing for tax benefits and year end spending. This is lack of consumer confidance that starts with patients not buying and results in doctors not buying.
What buying there is-seems to be "get me by", "on a strict budget" or "just give me one" !

Having said that I haven't seen anything out of marketing departments in the last 4 months that show they understand the need to think differently in this market !! (Maybe FedEX with it's latest ads-claiming "we understand you need to cut costs" - or Hundyai with the "if you lose your job we will buy it back)

20 years ago retail sellers had to know how to price products with GP's to receive proper compensation! Dentist shopped the Schein Catalog and it seemed everyone had to price match (even if it was an empty threat). A few years later cash rebates appeared-taking the focus of price and within ten years we saw everything for free socks to signed sports balls as "marketing plans".
Today the results of free goods cost manufacturers a percentage that even they had no idea the mounting cost for departements, predictive inventory, shipping and processing. Retailers while not dealing with price as much se reduced sales, or sales cycle was a result of inflated inventory-just to get the free offer.

What is the most bothersome is that NO ONE has stepped up and offered relief from this cycle. Is it that none of these talented marketing manager have thought of a way? I think not-I think it is fear! Marketing is a science that never strays from what works! (Have you ever known a program that failed and was brought back for a second or third time?)

January 1st. 2009 was an excellent time to have pulled out an industry changing marketing plan !! Fully supported with ads that would have created a buzz within the industry.
Picture a dentist with a deskful of invoices, coupons and offers;
" Doctor you say you get free goods!" Our records show that less than 20% get redeemed or even applied for. As a result we will be cutting prices (insert amount) 5% on Jan 1st. We will no longer be offereing free goods as a result of reducing the cost-buy hay "you weren't getting them anyway" !

Every retail rep, dentist and even other industries would be talking about it. The message that "someone" was looking out for my overhead would have spured sales-at a time when (and here we are) we're talking about lack of sales!

For the company that thinks-what if it backfires and that doesn't happen or the dealer/rep won't get behind it - well like all good marketing managers I have the 2nd quarter promo that drives sales !! ALL PRODUCTS ARE BUY 10 GET 1 FREE!
This is to doctor and to dealers !!
Dealers can buy at the 10 rate and enjoy a reduction in cost. IF the doctor buy 10 from the dealer in like goods they get 1 free! IF the product is a "onezie" (like a Pentamix) the dealer gets increase GP due to the cost reduction.

Sales go up, retail reps make more money and competition follows suit and "Buy one get one marketing" is history!

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