Opinion: Marketing Society - Plan ahead to minimise risk

As marketers, we are most concerned with delivery. The work gets planned, and the plan gets worked, but even the best-laid plans can go wrong. For example, cosmetics firm Avon created more blushes than planned when it offered customers a voucher for a handset from Orange if they spent £15 or more on skincare products.

It was forced to renege on the deal after an estimated 750,000 people applied for 60,000 phones. Of course, similar incidents occur that are much less public, but have the potential to be equally damaging.

Good marketers must be prepared for uncertainties.

This is risk management, and it's simply about good planning. Ask project managers in IT or construction - they've been doing it for years. So why not in marketing? Probably because risk management is a commonly misused term in marketing, often used to describe promotion insurance. In fact, it embraces much more. Innovation is fraught with risk, and your brand's strategy for this year could have more areas of uncertainty than you might want to admit.

Good marketing management means identifying and understanding possible risks, and having a plan to address them. The mitigation plans may prevent the risks from ever occurring and save time and money fire-fighting, or, should they happen, handle them in a pre-planned way for the best possible outcome. A few hours spent early on can save a whole lot more later on.

So, where do you start to look for risks? They are everywhere, both internally and externally. For example, the ability to build distribution to plan, or risks posed by your competitors. Risks can also lurk in your assumptions.

An assumption that your sales team has the resources to dedicate to your next great idea, among everyone else's, may be a big risk unless you can confirm they do.

Having identified the risks, life can look gloomy, as there will be plenty of them. Prioritisation is the answer. Evaluate the impact and likelihood of each risk and identify those you really need to worry about. This is vital, as some marketers do not appreciate the unimportance of the risks they're addressing, or significance of the risks they're ignoring.

Action must be taken to manage the important risks.Insurance may be an option. However, a great deal can be addressed by management, without third parties, by revisiting and enhancing the plan. The key word here is action. You'll be back to square one if the risk mitigation plans are not created and followed through.

Be warned, success is not guaranteed, but you'll be a lot closer to ensuring you get it right - or almost right- first time and save time, use budgets better, protect brands and avoid red faces.

- The Marketing Society Summit takes place on 17 November 2004 at the Royal Opera House. Further details are available at www.marketing-society.org.uk.

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