You and I are about to make two movies.  Yours is about making a salad for many strangers.  Mine is about making a successful marketing plan for a company.

    Scene 1, Your Movie:

    You are the put upon chef.  One of the leads of the movie. You do not know the strangers who will be eating your salad, but you have access to the character, Uncle Ray.  Uncle Ray, you have been told, is a great eater and therefore, should be of great assistance to you.   You ask Uncle Ray what his favorite salad base is. He walks away from you making his legendary “Pfsshhh” sound.  Iceberg, you moron.  That is the only salad lettuce there is.  All the rest?  That’s for seaweed eating la-dee-das.  There is no use in asking the question.

    Scene 1, My Movie:

    Three new marketing executives I have met with in the last two months are facing the same situation.  They need to start directly linking a new marketing competency to sales and they need to prove to their owners that marketing should get priority over other investments that could be made in the business.  All are stepping into newly created roles in businesses that already existed.  Company founders relied heavily on sales and vendor insights.  But at long last, they are sticking a toe into the world of “marketing.”

    All three are working on promotional plans, competitive overviews, website improvements and beginning to learn about social media.  What they say they cannot do is spend the money to find out what their customers think.

    Consultant: What kind of information do you have about your customers?

    Marketer: We have sales data.  Some market basket data. Some email and home addresses.  We know if they have shopped with us before or how long it has been since they last had a significant transaction with us.

    Consultant: Do you know why they use you?  Why they like you?  What they think about your competition?  What they wish you did more of or would stop doing?

    Marketer: No, we don’t have that kind of time or money to find that out.  Let’s work on our next promotion.  What do you think about offering this service free when they buy two of these?

    Scene 2, Your Movie:

    You looking stunned by Uncle Ray’s response.  It is a basic question you think.  There are all kinds of bases to salads: spinach, romaine, fruit!  But to Uncle Ray, it is so basic that it doesn’t even warrant a thought.  You are on your own to make the salad.  You eye a lovely fresh mesclun and expensive bottles of imported vinegar and high end olive oil.  You want to season the wooden bowl with anchovies and grate an aged parmesan by hand over the crisp greens.  Instead, you grate a carrot over a bowl of iceberg and douse it in ranch dressing.  Uncle Ray smiles.  You delivered the salad he expected.

    Scene 2, My Movie:

    The new marketers pore over postcards and promotional signs, edit newsletters to be emailed and create a facebook page for their businesses. Owners smile at the bright red SALE door signs and coordinating employee buttons.  They’ve delivered the promotion the businesses expected.

    Scene 3, Your Movie:

    The judges from Top Chef walk up to your salad.  They were expected, surely.  And you are serving this white soupy mess?  They walk away. Never to return.  Maybe you should have found out more about your guests before they showed up and were so disappointed.  You know you wont get another chance and they are going to tell everyone about the slop you called a salad.

    Scene 3, My Movie:

    The customers arrive at the businesses.  They were expected, surely…..

    My point here is that so many small companies who are trying to make inroads into “marketing” START with making promotions and communications and any number of direct contact points aimed at customers without learning about their customers a bit before the barrage.  My advice: Take some time to get real information back from your customers.  I don’t care if you offer a gift card to fill out a survey, an iPad in a give away for filling out a feedback form, create a focus group or get intercept interviews with a few dozen customers.  If you don’t find out what your customers think and want BEFORE you start spending on marketing campaigns, you could be just wasting your money.