The global economy is facing turbulent times with US in recession, Europe in economic crises and emerging markets growth slowing down. Frequently organizations panic on hearing forecasts of looming recession. They cut down marketing budgets, innovation of products and capital investments. The reaction further adds to the woes, and accelerates the downward trend in sales. Risk managers normally do not focus on marketing department activities and generally are not called upon to share their views on marketing strategies. A look on these areas may prevent the company from going in red and thrive in chaotic times. Here are a few suggestions for risk managers.
1. Bench-mark Marketing Function
The complexities of business world are escalating marketing risks. For survival and growth organizations need resilient marketing and sales functions. They have to identify strategic inflection points in the market and adapt accordingly. In recession customer's interest, values and budgets change. With new competition and changing regulations, organizations need to reinvent business models. Hence, as a first step risk managers need to bench-mark the organization’s marketing function.
Philip Kotler and Johan A. Caslione in their book “Chaotics - The business of managing and marketing in the age of turbulence” have presented a table on marketing function attributes. Out of the 14 attributes, below are 5 critical ones distinguishing between poor, good and great marketing functions.
|1||Product driven||Market driven||Market driving|
|2||Product offer||Augmented product offer||Customer solutions offer|
|3||Price driven||Quality driven||Value driven|
|4||Reacting to competitors||Bench-marking competitors||Leapfrogging competitors|
|5||Function oriented||Process oriented||Outcome oriented|
McDonalds marketing strategies reflect these attributes. In India, McDonalds is opening a purely vegetarian restaurant near Vaishu Devi (a renowned Hindu temple) and Golden Temple (Sikh’s foremost gurudwara). It is catering to the Indian sentiments; in most religions Indians do not eat non-vegetarian food in a place of worship. Near the temples, generally local vegetarian eating joints thrive and there are no global food chains. The huge number of devotees provide a large market.
A few years back, McDonalds customized its menu according to Indian tastes and introduced vegetarian burgers. The McAloo Tikki (a potato burger) contributes to 25% of the total sales. It may shock the Americans, but no beef burgers are served in India.
2. Evaluate Cost-cutting Measures
The attitude frequently is to cut costs across board. For instance, if marketing budget is XXX dollars, the total budget will be reduced by 25% without assessing the details and profitable products. Here risk managers need to assess the soundness of decisions taken to reduce costs. Below are a few examples to look for:
a) Advertising: Is the total advertising budget reduced? This would be a wrong move. During recession, the core products that contribute to revenue need aggressive advertisement. The advertising budget spent non-core products and loss making products can be dropped. Moreover, explore cheaper advertising models – social media, internet etc. and reduce budgets on paper and television media.
b) Discounts: Another option adopted to increase sales is to discount all products by a certain percentage. This is a self-destructive strategy as discounts on core premium products would damage the revenue stream in the long-run. If customers require cheaper products, cut the frills in the premium products and introduce a bare minimum model. This will maintain the brand and revenue.
3. Assess Strategy and Systems
Risk managers must assess the marketing strategy and systems to ensure that the risks are systematically identified in a timely manner. Here are a few examples of the same:
a) Core products: Does the strategy focus on core products? Are there systems in place to show the winners and losers? If the systems are inadequate profitability, market spend and customer behavior cannot be captured accurately. Hence, the organization will be unable to adapt strategy to the changing marketing trends and customer behavior. Moreover, companies cannot reduce costs without identifying inefficient spending.
b) New products: Has the organization delayed the launch of new products during recession? The customers require cheaper products during hard times. Hence, the strategy should be to delay expensive products but focus on products that cater to the new customer requirements and changes in behavior.
With economies slowing down, the marketing functions are facing many challenges. Customers are better informed through social media and internet, competitors copy products faster, and price of the product is a driving factor. Risk managers can contribute by conducting risk assessments of the marketing function and helping the teams in identifying the upside and downside risks to their strategies. This is a good place to add to profitability.
1. Chaotics - The business of managing and marketing in the age of turbulence - Philip Kotler and Johan A. Caslione
2. Beefy McDonald’s to Open Veg-Only Outlet in Katra – Economic Times
Sonia Jaspal is a chartered accountant and certified internal auditor with +15 years of experience in risk management and corporate governance. You can read more of her articles at her blog Sonia Jaspal's RiskBoard (http://soniajaspal.wordpress.com)