Marketing in a Snowstorm: How Dealing with Snow and Managing Marketing are Analogous

I was listening to the news while getting dressed for work yesterday and heard predictions for more snow storms. My second thought (after “More snow! Just great!”) was that the weather is behaving a lot like my work right now, throwing me a little more to deal with when I thought I had quite enough.

We have an annual calendar for the Marketing Department at Affinity Express because there are standard things we have to do each week, month, quarter and year. For example, we always try to update and refresh all our collateral in January and early February to properly equip our Sales Team. We also outline major objectives and initiatives to conquer during our annual strategy planning, such as building and going live with our new corporate website (any minute now!) and developing materials to show off our new state-of-the-art production facility in India.

But like the weather, we know there will also be surprises and projects we can’t control—it is just a matter of how much warning we will get. This first quarter of 2011 is turning out a little like that for us in Marketing. We have several “freak storms” to contend with on top of our regular responsibilities and proactive plans. A couple of important RFP opportunities came up this week. Plus, I was notified of an extra trade show we’ll attend later this month, where we will promote a new service (a double whammy of trade show planning and new product development). That means moving up deadlines, developing messaging and materials, researching the market and competition and coordinating logistics, in addition to everything else that already was on the to-do list.

I have a simple and straightforward approach to surviving—and succeeding—that applies to marketing as well as it does an impending blizzard.

Assess:

Ask all the relevant questions: what, how, who, why and when, so you have a complete picture of the requirements and criteria.

  • What: two feet of snow will fall.
  • How: clear the snow to allow us to get to work and school.
  • Who: husband takes the driveway, kids handle the walkway and I make the hot chocolate (like they’d ever let me get away with that!).
  • Why: there is an important meeting with IT and the kids just started a new term.
  • When: a half-hour earlier than our normal wake-up time.

Now for the trade show.

  • What: industry trade show (duh!).
  • How: divide and conquer tasks.
  • Who: Kelly and the segment team to develop the messaging, Mel (my team’s graphic designer) to design the handouts, Nicki (our admin assistant) to print the materials and ship the exhibit, Kelly to complete the contract and order forms for the event; Unmana to draft the promotional email campaigns.
  • Why: we have a great opportunity to get visibility for an important service offering and connect with key clients and prospects a month earlier than originally planned, meaning more time to sell and meet revenue goals for the year.
  • When: end of February.

Prepare:

Think through the game plan for gaps. Anticipating the worst might sound pessimistic but it is better than having to scramble for a solution because you didn’t spend a little time developing contingencies.

Is the snow blower working and filled up with gas? Do we all have a pair of gloves each, warm socks and boots? Is the fridge stocked or should we run to the store? If school is cancelled, do we have enough activities for the kids so they don’t end up killing each other out of boredom? What will we do if the power goes out (or even worse, the cable—Yikes!)?

Do all contributors for this trade show know their responsibilities, the deadlines and expectations? Do we need to bring in anyone else? Have we provided adequate lead time? What is the contingency plan if the hotel is sold out (which it is)? What are the costs and is the budget approved?

Kelly

Conquering the Wall: my husband sets forth, all prepared

Prioritize:

Marketing in a Snowstorm

Where do we start?

Think about what absolutely must happen and be sure your internal customers agree on what items are of lower importance. We strive for the best and to get everything done but let’s be realistic—we’re talking about the crazy stuff that comes up.

Can I postpone that meeting to the end of the week? If not, and the snow continues all day, do I need to stay at the office or can I head out early to avoid a dangerous rush hour? Is there an exam at school the kids can’t miss?

We have to produce handouts for the show but will it do if we have ballpark versus final pricing? If the packaging of the features needs work but the concepts are all in place to discuss with decision makers, can we follow up with firm details after the show? We don’t have time for a multi-phase outreach campaign to drive booth traffic so will one communication suffice? Who must we meet at the event for it to be considered a success? What do we want to achieve at a minimum?

Monitor:

Monitor the lowly workers

Not going out there for all the tuna in the world

The best plans can go awry if they are not monitored constantly. Check frequently on the progress of contributors while completing your own work. Delegate and forget is not a good practice when you are accountable. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen this in new managers or project leaders.

I rely on my husband to man the snow blower because it is too heavy for me and, if he doesn’t, I can’t get on the road to the office. The frigid temperatures mean our kids need us to drive them to the bus stop so they are not standing outside getting frost bite while waiting. While they agree willingly enough to work on the snow,* they tend to “lose focus” halfway into a job and could take an hour to shovel three feet if not “managed.”

Marketing has many dependencies: IT, Sales, Operations, HR and more. Have the people you’ve tapped for support made your priorities their priorities and can they meet the turn times you’ve requested?

I need the notes on my proposed value propositions and differentiators for our product back from the Sales Team. When can they respond and will it allow me enough time to turn over the content to Mel for design? If not, how can I work around this to get a draft done that can be adjusted as soon as they are freed up to deal with this (which is actually the norm)?

Communicate:

Communicate

What, am I supposed to do all the work?

Set clear expectations, communicate the priorities, establish timelines and gain agreement. Report on progress, share obstacles and solutions and confirm completion and/or next steps. Don’t forget about results—you should make it clear what the hard work of the team accomplished and thank them for their efforts.

It’s pretty black and white when you are talking about a blizzard—you are either snowed in or not. It’s either a miserable experience or you take it in stride because all bases were covered properly.

But a project with many participants, especially when most or all are connected virtually, cannot have too much communication (Unmana hit the nail on the head with her post). One missed deadline causes a chain reaction and can put the entire project in jeopardy (see prepare above!). If Nicki ships the booth out late, the venue may reject it and the salespeople will be standing in an empty space looking foolish (I swear, this has never happened to me). That’s why I put reminders in my calendar to confirm shipping the day before it is to happen, get the tracking number when the exhibit is picked up and confirm delivery to the site.

Measure

Broomstick standing in a yard covered with snow

I placed a broomstick on the ground and marked it to measure the snowfall

What worked well and what could we have done better? How will we change our plan or process the next time around? Did we make any bad assumptions? When prioritizing, you should have developed the list of desired results and now have to determine whether they have been achieved and how well.

The stupid shovel broke in the heavy snow and we didn’t have a backup (duh, this happens every year!). The snow plow blocked us in the driveway three times during the day. We didn’t have enough salt and a sheet of ice formed on the walkway, meaning extra work and a potential law suit from the postal carrier. My husband threw his back out because he still thinks he is 20 and overdid it. Clearly, we should have learned from past experiences and had plenty of supplies (nothing we can do about the snow plow or my husband’s state of denial).

How was the traffic at the show? How many leads were generated and how many follow-up meetings were set? Did this meet our expectations and, if not, will we attend in the future or change our approach? What was the feedback on the new service? What comes next—outreach campaigns, adjustments to the product, an email campaign to maintain visibility with prospects, etc.? Closing the loop with the team is important to ensuring continuous improvement in almost any kind of project.

Snow cleared off the driveway

Success!

Obviously, we can’t always control everything in marketing and have to be reactive at times. But we can prepare and respond accordingly if we follow these simple steps.

What methods do you have for dealing with the unexpected projects that get dumped on you at work? Do you use any special tools or methodologies that have made the difference?

*     Unmana suggested I name this post “How I Get My Husband to Shovel Snow”. She promised it would get far more views.


Comments

Thank you, Mike. I'm glad to say that the snow is long gone and now I can start thinking about how marketing can feel like a heat wave!

Great article Kelly.
The most analogous of any blog I have ever read. Love the pictures.

Reggie

Thanks, Reggie. After seeing this post, I'm going to guess that you are not planning on moving to the Midwest anytime in the near future (or ever)!

Thanks, Jim. That's exactly what happened--I suddenly started writing and, before I knew it, there was the completed post, done in a few minutes. While I know the marketing "storms" are part of the job, I hope not to have this same snowy inspiration any time in the near future!

Great comparison. Like I always say, you never know where the inspiration for a great idea is going to come from. In this case it was feet of snow.

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