There are many reasons that the results of marketing efforts fall short of expectation.

You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to achieve quality marketing. Sometimes, a simple letter will do the job. Just be sure that the text is grammatically correct, that it’s been proof read and spell-checked, and that the print is crisp and readable, whether printed professionally, from the desktop printer, or photocopied. First impressions last a long time, so be sure you make a positive one.

Call to Action
Tell your reader exactly what you want them to do as a result of reading your letter, advertisement or brochure. Although it may seem obvious to you, many marketing programs fail simply because the recipient doesn’t know what to do or whom to call. Close your copy with phrases like “Call us now to learn more,” or “Visit our website and view our demo,” or “Complete and return the enclosed questionnaire to receive….” Be certain that the telephone number, URL, or address you provide is correct. A typo in one of these sections will guarantee that your marketing effort will fail.

Market Segment
Actually reaching the target market is fundamental to the success of a marketing program. Too many companies purchase large mailing lists, spend a great deal of time and effort developing a quality direct mail piece, send it out, and then nothing happens. Failure, in this case, is the result of using the wrong mailing list. If the recipients aren’t interested in your message, nothing will happen. The key is to identify an audience that’s interested in your message.

The target market should be defined in your business plan. If a business plan has not been prepared, completing one should be priority No.1. Without a business plan, marketing programs (and the efforts of other disciplines like sales, product development, production, and recruiting) are destined to fail. For enterprises with a large target market, a specially designed marketing plan can help identify market niches and define focused marketing programs to reach each niche audience.

In marketing, “timing” means when act, the frequency of activities and response fulfillment. When to initiate a marketing program may depend on cyclical or seasonal factors or the event date. Allow enough time to contact your target audience three times (ideally before the date you need them to respond). “Three times” is the rule of thumb regarding contact frequency for any given marketing program.

You also need to know and consider what concurrent events will be competing for the attention of your target audience at that time. If the competition is high, consider changing the date of your event. If that’s not an option, you may consider additional contact to increase the visibility of your event.

Contact with your audience can take several forms including direct mail, advertising and telemarketing. The elapsed time between contacts depends on what form your contact takes, the message and your objective. If the objective is to build awareness, many companies choose quarterly direct mail programs. If the objective is to draw the audience to attend an event, the marketing program is generally structured for three contacts during the two or three months prior to the event including a final phone call a few days before the event. If the objective is sales of products or services, the marketing program would include interval contacts until the sales objective is satisfied. For example, if the sales objective is to sell a discontinued product, the marketing program might include weekly or biweekly direct mailings notifying qualified prospects of closeout discounts on the merchandise. If the sales objective is business development, the marketing program might include monthly seminars and quarterly direct mail.

Don’t drop the ball at the fulfillment stage of your marketing program, the point at which you respond to inquiries from your target audience.

If your “call to action” promises a promotional item like a mug, pen or a sample, be sure to ship it within 48 hours of receiving the inquiry. If your response is a phone call or Email, respond within 24 hours. Otherwise successful marketing programs can fail at this point simply because too much time lapses between the receipt of the inquiry and your follow-up. Audiences are bombarded with information and quickly forget you.

Why Marketing Works
In a word, marketing works because of planning. Planning is the single most important factor to ensure the successful outcome of all marketing initiatives. Planning allows you to create and implement strategic marketing programs and directly relate them to your business objectives. Planning results in a cogent and concise marketing program that’s easy to communicate to employees, helping ensure company-wide support for the effort. Planning enables you to manage a budget and better negotiate with outside providers. Finally, planning helps you stay on track when day-today distractions threaten the focus of a program.

Effective marketing plans are based on thorough research and strategic analysis of your marketplace and business objectives. Used skillfully, marketing and business plans are dynamic, offering the flexibility to respond to business and marketplace trends. Aggressive organizations review their plans quarterly, adjusting strategies and tactics in response to current trends. In other organizations, an annual review is sufficient. Under no circumstances should business and marketing plans lay dormant— they’re working documents and by definition are subject to change.

If you haven’t done a strategic analysis and business plan, your marketing plan could fail. In addition, marketing plans must be based on your company’s clearly stated goals, vision and mission statement. If you don’t have a clear vision, your marketing plan could take you in a different direction from your intent and will most certainly fail. The more time you spend on planning your marketing and managing your plan, the higher the return will be in terms of greater growth, lower marketing expenditure and a more proactive, successful business environment.

Sandra Brooks is president of INCOMM International, Inc.,