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Take your pulse with an audit.

When you want to check your health, you take your pulse. And, when you want to find out how well your marketing program is working for you, you take its pulse, too -- with an audit.

Everyone's familiar with the term "audit". We tend to think of it purely in financial terms, when the proverbial gnomes with the green eyeshades and sleeve bands pore over our shoebox of tattered bills, irreconcilable statements and dogeared receipts.

We may not think of marketing and audits in the same breath. But, for precisely the same reason that we ask our financial experts to help with our books, we need to take stock of our marketing from time to time, to make sure that it, too, is balancing out in the marketplace.

A marketing audit is conducted in much the same way as a financial one. Usually, a knowledgeable but objective third party takes a constructively critical look at every aspect of your marketing program, and assesses such issues as:

* Are all your dollars being spent as effectively as possible, giving the correct messages to the correct target group in the correct media?

* Are all the materials you produce truly conveying a consistent, credible image for your business, so that your customers perceive you the way you want them to?

* Is your corporate propriety in place? In other words, is every little thing you are doing a true reflection of the way you run your enterprise, from the shine on your sign to the way in which you answer the phones?

* Of vital importance, are you communicating as effectively as possible with your own employees, so that they know and live the mission of your business, reflect corporate values on a day-to-day basis, and truly feel "part of the team"?

* Are you getting best value from your media buying dollar, or could you be effecting savings by more selective media buying?

* Are these economies of scale that may result from tightening up your tendering process for suppliers to your marketing program?

* How do people (staff, customers, media, the "man in the street") perceive you and your business? Does this reflect your own perception?

* Is the overall calibre of your marketing program a true reflection of your positioning in the marketplace and your market niche in relation to the competition?

All these issues and many more can be dealt with by a marketing audit, and can help you assess if your programs is "healthy" (and thus working for you) or "sickly" (and dragging you down).

Organizations of all sizes may choose to carry out a marketing audit for many reasons. They may be undergoing major changes in product line, or be facing new competition, or the market may be tightening up and they want maximum return for minimum dollars.

Companies may be choosing to change their image (and thus their positioning in the marketplace) and need to assess how best to do this effectively with the best possible resources. They may be deliberately expanding or contracting. They may be venturing into new geographic areas or selling to a brand new target audience.

Often, organizations just have a "gut feel" that all is not well with their marketing. They sense that there is a lack of consistency or integration in their marketing initiatives. Or, they recognize that sales, or the company, are moribund and need the kiss of life that an audit can bring. Sometimes, they just worry about the dollars: where is the money going and what the heck for?

Whatever their reasons, they need to follow some basic guidelines (as with everything else in marketing) to get the job done right.

First, set some parameters. Try to figure out exactly what you want to know, and why. Conducting an audit without a plan is like that old saying about winking in the dark. You may know why you are doing it but no one else does, least of all the auditor.

Second, get someone objective and with no vested interest in the results to do the job. You need an unbiased, undistorted, clear-eyed look at all your marketing initiatives from someone who isn't doing the audit just so they can get to do your marketing. Any auditor whose first recommendation, you suspect, will be "hire me to help you out" should never be chosen.

And, make sure the auditor does know something about marketing. This sounds trite, but there are many complex issues involved in your marketing program. After all, it is one huge nutrient in the bloodstream of your corporate body, so don't consign its face to a witch doctor. Pick a person, or firm, with demonstrable, proven experience, a sense of empathy for your organization, and an ability to separate wheat from chaff and trees from forest, and the chances are good that you will pick a responsible and useful auditor.

Finally, pick one with courage. Get an auditor who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Pick one who is prepared to tell you hard truths, if necessary, and to defend that position against your best arguments.

How long should an audit take and what should it cost? As you'd expect, this varies tremendously with the size of the organization and the scope of the audit, but two principles always hold.

First, a truly effective auditor is interested in building up an organization, not tearing it to pieces. Thus, the audit will be conducted thoroughly, with minimal inconvenience to staff, with a sensitivity to organizational goals and politics, and as fast as possible. "Get in, get on, get out" sums it up pretty well. Beware of those auditors (except in the case of mammoth organizations) who suggest that a year or two is needed. If the auditor can't get a good reading in a month or three, you probably got the wrong one.

Second, a well done audit will cost you cash up front but should almost always save you money in the long run. One of its tasks is to root out inefficiencies, redundancies and unnecessary marketing expenditures. It also looks for ways to rationalize items like media buying, use of the logo, printing and so on. Apply the intangible and monetary benefits of the audit against the up-front costs when assessing if the price is right. And, as always, finally be guided by your best judgement and what the cash flow can bear.

The economy is an important "vital sign" to our business just as our pulse rate is to our health. So, when the economy seems frail, we should be taking the pulse of our marketing program and trusting our auditor, like our doctor, to ensure our ultimate good health.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Canadian Institute of Management
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Marketing Made Easy; assessing business performance by marketing audit
Author:Barrow, Peter
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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