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Keeping Your Marketing Current

Your customers are changing. Can your marketing keep up?

Can you name "The Other White Meat?" If "pork" immediately comes to mind, then, like nine out of 10 consumers, you've been reached by one of the most effective repositioning campaigns of all time. It began in the late 1980s, when diet and fitness became essential to consumers seeking healthier lifestyles. Pork producers were making changes in response to demand for a leaner, higher-quality product, but few people knew about it. Poultry sales were climbing, and there was a more than 20 percent decline in sales of pork products.

To align with consumers' new eating habits and attitudes, the National Pork Board launched the "Pork: The Other White Meat" campaign, which showcased pork's convenience and nutritional benefits. By 1996, nearly 90 percent of consumers surveyed recognized the slogan-up from 64 percent just four years prior. Based on attitudinal research, new print,TV and Internet campaigns were launched in 2000, and the slogan was named the fifth most memorable tagline in contemporary advertising by Northwestern University. Today, since the start of the campaign, pork production has increased nearly 40 percent, and pork is now the most-eaten meat in the world.

Large or small, your business is like a living organism-it must adapt to its environment to survive. Whether you market pork, PCs or gourmet popcorn, your marketing messages must evolve to stay relevant to customers' needs and wants. To keep up, entrepreneurs must listen to customers, evaluate a continuous stream of ongoing data, conduct primary research and transform their marketing messages as the requirements of their prospects and markets change.

Get Innovative

Listening to customers is a top priority, particularly when you manufacture a new and innovative product. John Sample, 53-year-old chairman of Arlington, Texas, BoxOffice by Design Inc., and his partner, Jeffrey Nomi, 44, began to test-market their unique office furniture at trade shows in 1997. There, their major prospects were Fortune 500 companies with employees who were telecommuting. "Employers said they needed office furniture for their employees' homes that would ship flat and not require a crew to set up and install," says Nomi, company president. Sample and Nomi knew they were onto something when their furniture was named "Most Innovative Product" at the Business Product Industry Association show in Dallas that year.

Making focus groups and consumer studies a high priority has allowed Sample and Nomi to better understand their end-users. They recently relied on that input to create a new line that retained their products' all-wood features while trimming down a few of the details for affordability. The new design enabled the company to alter its target market from Fortune 500 companies to budget-conscious consumers at discount chain stores. Mega-chain Costco saw the lower-cost line marketed at a trade show and decided to test it in 15 of its 360 stores. Major wins like that are expected to help the now-$5 million company grow exponentially.

Keep It Fresh

Information is power when it comes to keeping your marketing evergreen. So listen to customers through focus groups, surveys, comment cards and Internet feedback. For help finding the right research firm, visit www.quirks.comfor access to the site's searchable database. You'll find mystery shopping firms at this site, too, so you can fine-tune your retail offerings and keep an eye on competitors.

It's also a good idea to stay abreast of published data by reading trade and consumer magazines. You can locate articles on just about any topic at www.magportal.com. To purchase the latest research reports on your target market or product category, log on to www.marketresearch.comor subscribe to Profound (www.profound.com), where you can get access to extensive searchable databases and receive alerts with information on your specific topic area.

Successful marketing is about hitting a moving target, and survival depends on evolving along with your customers, the market and the competition. However, as you transform your marketing messages, it's important to keep your company identity intact. Always maintain continuity in what you stand for while innovating to meet customers' needs.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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This article was originally published in the January 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Different Strokes.

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