Determining when to change your marketing strategy

March 3, 2017 By    

Raymond Maloney perfected the electro-mechanical standing pinball machine in 1931, and it had growing popularity in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, somewhat paralleling a high growth period for the propane industry.

It was probably a coincidence, but many propane marketers developed a marketing pattern that resembles the bouncing of the pinball. Back then, pinball marketing probably didn’t do much good or harm, but in today’s fast-paced world you can’t expect to maintain and grow your business by bouncing from one idea to another.

Pinball marketing

This is when the local newspaper rep tells us about the newest promotion that links an ad on the paper’s website with a special home show edition, and we give it a shot.

Then, when that doesn’t work, we bounce to ads on local radio or some direct-mail promotion. We continue to bounce around, never giving anything a chance to work and never evaluating our options strategically before bouncing to the next offer that comes in the front door.

Hiccup marketing

Like the involuntary action of real hiccups, this is starting and stopping marketing activities without regard to a strategic marketing plan.

You look up, it’s September and you say, “I better get something out for the busy season that already started.” Then you go back to making deliveries. Suddenly in December you realize the holidays are here and you think, “It’s the holidays; I had better let my customers know I’m thinking of them. Hey, better late than never.” And then you go back to making deliveries. And then the winter season ends and you think, “I better be in touch with my customers because they might try to shop around now that the season is over.” Then you go back to making a few deliveries and worrying about how far into the red you will go this summer.

Stealth marketing

This is somewhat like the operation of the B-2 Spirit Stealth bomber. Both feature low observable characteristics.

In the case of stealth marketing, your tactics are some combination of uncreative, underfunded and poorly directed, and they might as well be invisible. You have not built and supported your brand, you haven’t budgeted enough to be effective and you haven’t determined the right targets to reach with the right messages.

If your company approaches marketing in any of these ways, you should step back and regroup around strategic, sustained and noticeable efforts.

Strategic efforts

Who are your targets? Where do they live? How do you grow “best” customers? And how do you hold onto them?

What are the best tactics to use, and how do you track and evaluate success? What is the right mix of digital and old school marketing?

What are your goals, and how do you wrap a budget around all of this?

Answering these questions will steer you into a marketing plan, tactics and action calendar.

Sustained efforts

Marketing is a year-round thing, even though activity picks up at certain times of the year. Don’t abandon successful marketing tactics after one shot. Fully realizing success can take time and repetition.

Noticeable efforts

The right marketing campaign can help you build and support your brand.

When did you last review your company’s brand to see if it still applies to today’s market? “Noticeable” means you have carefully branded your company, and your brand is out there enough to make a lasting impact.

Building a marketing budget to handle your goals deserves more space than I have here. But as a guideline, our most successful clients spend between 4-6 percent of their gross margins on marketing expenses.

Common marketing expenses cover print media, social media and websites; marketing department salaries and consultant charges; and research and surveys. Marketing expenses should not include sales expenses such as sales personnel salaries and commissions, and car expenses.
What percentage of your gross margin do you spend on marketing? Is it enough to overtake the pinball, hiccup and stealth results you may have used in the past?

Tom Jaenicke is vice president of propane marketing services at Warm Thoughts Communications, providing solutions for the energy services industry. He can be reached at or 810-252-7855.

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