Who's in control of your marketing?

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Back in days of yore - I'm thinking the 1980s - it was the brand marketer's job to make sure everyone at every level of the organization would "speak with one voice."

You don't need me to tell you things aren't that simple anymore.

Direct marketers were the first to discover that talking to specific demographic and psychographic markets increased sales. Then personalization took response rates higher. Then we learned that targeted messaging fine-tuned the results even more.

That's OK, up to a point. But when every salesperson in the company has a great idea about how to make the marketing message more relevant to the consumer - as well as access to those consumers via mail, e-mail and other digital media - brand messaging can take a hit.

You've probably heard the issues from both sides. Salespeople want autonomy. No one knows the customer as they do. No one at corporate understands the competitive situation. The marketing team either starves them or floods them with unqualified leads. And what does the "brand" do for them anyway?

Corporate marketers have their own set of complaints. The people in the field think they can send out an ugly mailing on day-glow yellow paper, and as long as it has a low-res version of the logo, they've maintained brand standards. What about legal compliance? What about best practices? If what they're doing is working, how do we find out about it and spread the word to other regions?

You need to develop a national marketing program that supports regional sales efforts through a well-developed structure, integrated creative strategy, application of technology and a system that communicates results.

Flexibility is the key. You start by creating a variety of basic mail, e-mail and Web formats. This gives corporate marketing control of what's important to them. But you leave room for regions or even individual sales staff members to tinker with things like offers. This allows regional marketing teams to choose marketing materials that both make the most of winning strategies and address the unique market conditions in their own regions.

This is a powerful one-two punch. With tactics that operate at two levels, regional marketers can choose best practices and proven strategies, and then - most importantly - they can tailor the messaging to their own particular region.

Each region has market-driven autonomy. You're then able to test and analyze results region-by-region to make sure everyone has access to what works best.

It works even if you have a small group of field reps. When you give reps a central source for marketing programs, you're getting the best practices out to individuals. Your salespeople can customize marketing materials to their own strong points. If one salesperson does a lot of work with pharmacies, their materials can focus on that - while maintaining the best practices you've already established. If one of your salespeople has a unique approach to clients, that's fine, too. You can allow their customization as well, as long as you have an opportunity to review it.

With digital technology (both online and offline), you can centralize production to reduce costs and to verify that you're not communicating with the same person in several different ways.

By continually testing across salespeople, products, industries and more, you're able to improve while disseminating your own best practices. That's more efficient than waiting for individual salespeople or managers to decide to share best practices nicely and willingly among themselves.

With careful planning and execution, you can build a fully functional system that creates leads on-demand, whenever regional needs arise.

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