From the January 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

Was 2002 a year of flat or lackluster sales? If you're predicting more of the same in the coming months, give your company a makeover using evolutionary marketing. It's Darwinism that rewards those who refuse to stagnate or follow the pack, and it comes down to anticipating and responding to changes in your audience, your products and services, the marketplace and the competition.

  • Study your audience. The clearest sign that your marketing needs a makeover is when it stops resonating with your target audience. Customers' tastes and lifestyles are continually changing, and only an evolutionary marketing approach will keep your messages relevant and your sales strong.

The first step is to understand your customers' hot buttons by reviewing published articles and research. Look beyond how and what your prospects buy. It's also vital to have input from B2B customers. Visit their job sites to discover the challenges they face and what they hope to gain by working with you.

To make this your breakaway year, use forecasting to stay ahead of consumer and industry trends. By searching Web sites like www.business.com, you can find forecast reports on trends in everything from fashion and the restaurant industry to commercial construction. Or subscribe to Forecast, a newsletter of demographic trends and business forecasts produced by American Demographics magazine (www.americandemographics.com).

  • Add value through innovation. Entrepreneurial companies excel at innovation. New products and services are created and old ones are tweaked. Evolutionary marketers are always looking for ways to promote a "new wrinkle" to the old target group and expand by taking on new niches that will be receptive to their innovations. So shake off last year's stagnant marketing approach and find new ways to communicate the value of your company's innovations to your target audience.
  • Respond to the cultural climate. The mood of the marketplace profoundly affects a campaign's success. In response to the souring economy, for example, affluent shoppers curtailed high-end department store purchases and increased spending at discounters. Target Stores adapted by marketing low-cost, high-style items from renowned architect Michael Graves. Its advertising and PR brought affluent shoppers to the stores, as did the Todd Oldham Dorm Room campaign, which featured the designer's stamp on everything from lamps to faux fur throws. Your messages must evolve with the shifting marketing climate-the environment in which your campaign must survive.
  • Set the competitive pace. Does your competition define your marketing strategy? If you spent last year reacting to your competitors' marketing messages, it's time to start setting the pace. Monitor their innovations and how they market, but develop your own campaign that addresses your audience's hot buttons and focuses on adding value. The key is to create a campaign that will find a warm reception in the current marketplace and allow your selling message to evolve. Dell's memorable "Dude, you're getting a Dell" campaign, which featured a young, pugnacious spokesperson, is a good example of providing a recognizable framework for the company's continually changing promotions.

Begin the new year by breaking away from the crowd with evolutionary marketing. After all, it's a jungle out there.