Think Big, Act Small: #5. Conducting a Mini Business Review



Once you’ve outlined all of the elements of your marketing plan and started to execute on your tactics, you’ll be keen to understand how your marketing is performing for you.  There are a number of tools and processes that big consumer products companies (CPGs) like P&G and Kraft use to analyze their businesses that can be adapted to startups’ needs.  Traditionally, CPGs will conduct a rigorous “annual business review” of their business, and overly a mix of quarterly, monthly and weekly “updates” and “letters” to apprise management on the state of the business.  (It almost sounds antiquated because indeed these structures were set up decades before email and before businesses had access to daily and real time sales information.  That said there is still a lot of value in the disciplined approach CPGs take to this work for startups to reapply).  Additionally, many businesses at different levels (brand, category, division, company) will maintain “dashboards” to provide a unified view on the health of the business.

Here are a few considerations for startups:

  • Determine the timing you need to review information to share internally and externally.

Annual business reviews work for CPGs because many operate in slow moving categories with 2 percent grow and with long lead time on developing and executing media (e.g., traditional TV media buys as well as the process for developing commercials take several months, if not longer).  For a startup, waiting for an annual business review might delay important decisions, however the annual timeframe may be helpful for analysing performance over the course of the fiscal year and smoothing out any seasonality, and may also be an informal or formal expectation of some audiences (such as investors).  If the concern is doing reviews on a more timely fashion to assist decision-making and allocation, more frequent reviews may well be more helpful.  Conducting reviews on a quarterly and/or monthly basis may be better suited, especially if marketing dollars are tied up in faster moving spend buckets, such as SEO or SEM.

  • Determine the scope of the reviews.

Above, our discussion implied focusing on taking a holistic look at all marketing tactics during a period that enabled decision-making.  This is important to maintain a focus not just on the success of individual tactics but also to review them side by side to help ensure that you are optimizing how you spend your marketing dollars, and not just individual tactics.  For example, should money shift from SEM to SEO?  From digital to PR?  It may be difficult to tell exactly, but it’s ideal to refine your analyses to enable such a discussion.

  • Supplement your reviews with “post-event” analyses.

In addition to these period reviews and discussions, ensure that you are completing analysis on each marketing tactic as they are executed.  This is especially important on tactics when you can get results very quickly and also spend or change your budgets very quick (such as SEM).  Here it’s important to leverage tools like Google Analytics to optimize search performance.  Ideally, you have pre-determined success criteria and can compare results vs. those.  Over time, you will collect results and can show improvements and learnings.  Importantly, these analyses can feed into the monthly/quarterly reviews vs. be duplicative.

  • Set up a “dashboard” to monitor the health of your marketing.

You can design simple reports to track marketing activities for ad-hoc reviews and to keep the numbers accessible.  If you have a website, you can track 1) search/keyword activity and browsing activity from Google Analytics, 2) orders through your site via Shopify or whatever platform you use and 3) SKU inventory (which you can often upload into a tool like Shopify).  When I ran my e.retail business I was impressed by how easily I had data on hand to decide what to promote, how promotions were doing and what I needed more of.  It’s not rocket science, but with a well-designed dashboard you can literally get “all the information you need” in one place.  Ironically, large companies can spend millions of dollars trying to connect “big data” from myriad systems to get the same insights.

Taken together, these ideas show how start-ups can apply tools and processes that big companies take for granted and adjust them to meet their needs.  There is little need to reinvent the wheel here, but with the right tools in place, you’re able to steer ahead and focus on things that matter more, like driving sales.

Note: This article builds on a series of columns about marketing learnings and processes that startups can leverage from big companies that include “Understanding Your Target Consumer,” “Defining What Your Business Stands For,”“Think Big, Act Small #3. Selecting Tactics for Your Marketing Plan,” and “Learning Early, Inexpensively and Correctly: the Role of Testing & Measuring in Marketing.” 




Image credit: CC by Sebastien Wiertz

About the author: James Black

James Black is a marketing and insights consultant and freelancer based in New York.  He has 10+ years in marketing and sales experience across P&G, McKinsey and L’Oreal.  Most recently, he founded and led a retail start-up, Black & Puryear Ltd., in the U.K., where he served as Director and Chief Curator.  At L’Oreal, James was head of shopper insights, where he identified and shaped shopper insights to drive greater connection between consumers and L’Oreal’s portfolio of beauty brands across channels.  At McKinsey, he worked in the firm’s Marketing & Sales practices, advising clients on marketing topics across B2B, packaged good and retail clients.  At P&G, he working in both traditional brand management roles as well as in the company’s marketing centre of excellence, studying best practices.  He has an AB from Harvard in Government and an MBA from the Darden School of Business (University of Virginia).

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