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:
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.