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5 Ways to Manage Scope Creep

I encourage you to think of your company’s marketing strategy like a conversation you might have with a client regarding sales or a new project. Over the years I’ve learned that if you lose control of the discussion’s scope, or take the topic off on tangents, then it’s difficult to regain your client’s interest or attention.

You may not realize this, but marketing is a battle and when left unfocused it can get easily get off track. How many have seen the 1998 HBO film Pentagon Wars? I’d bet not that many of you, but I do recommend watching this brief synopsis if you have a few minutes.

The film is a parody of the Pentagon’s creation of the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. What starts out in scope to be a lightly armored, fast personnel carrier, ends up being a vehicle much more like a tank that is slow, heavily armored, and doesn’t really carry all that many personnel. Budgets skyrocket, decades pass, hilarity ensues.

Many of you are probably pretty familiar with the concept of “scope creep”. Although not funny at the time, I’m sure we all look back and can’t help but laugh at what you went through during those dark times.

Project management is a large portion of my job. And no matter the quantity or importance of the projects you influence on a daily basis, project management of some form is part of all our jobs. Whether you have a client or a boss, getting tasks done right, on time and with just the right amount of resources will benefit us all. So here are five tips to help you fight off “scope creep” and keep the scope of your projects on track.

 

1)    Ensure everyone agrees to the project scope from the start. And make sure all the relevant stakeholders are aware of the scope and have been given an opportunity to weigh in. Many projects have been delayed because a VP or president wasn’t aware of the project scope and have their own ideas as to how it should go.

 

2)    Avoid “I’ll know it when I see it”. As soon as you hear those words, it’s a sign of a potential disaster. Mitigate this by kicking into accelerated communication mode. Piece the project into smaller chunks and communicate progress/status at every opportunity.

 

3)    Projects change. No getting away from it. And most of the time there is a certain amount of tolerance planned into the project.  But don’t be afraid to voice your concerns if it occurs often. Letting them know where communication can be improved and what you’ll do to ensure it happens. And remember that the offender probably didn’t set out to make your day a bad one.

 

4)    Conduct reviews of your projects. Take a moment to chat with your colleagues/boss/client about the good and bad parts of a completed project. I prefer forcing everyone come up with three things to keep, three things to improve, but there are several tools out there. Even if you’re not a team leader, I can’t imagine a boss being disappointed with you analyzing ways a project you worked on could go better.

 

5)    Learn to recognize it. This mostly will come from experience and potentially some book learning, but developing a keen eye, realizing when it’s coming, and ways to avoid or mitigate the fallout will serve you well, even if you’re not a project manager.

 

There is so much to this topic, not nearly enough could be covered here. I’d love to hear some of your tips to avoiding scope creep.

Email Marketing Tips

If you’re like most businesses, you want to reach people, and you don’t have an unlimited marketing budget. Good news: Email marketing is still a great way to get your name in front of potential buyers. A relatively small investment can net solid returns – provided you do things right. Here are some of Marketing Matters’ best practices we’d like to pass on to you.

Email address rental or purchase?

Many people ask us whether it’s more cost-efficient to rent an email list or to purchase one outright. Our answer? You’re asking the wrong question. The first question is this: What are you doing to capture your own email list? A list of people who are already familiar with you and your services. Everybody we speak to talks a good game, but few have an organized system in place to capture and process new contact information — including email addresses – and get them placed into a systematic sales process. That is the first step to a successful email marketing campaign.

That said, it may still make great sense to supplement your own home-grown address list with one from an outside vendor. For longer campaigns, we usually recommend purchasing a list outright.

For shorter campaigns, however – say, for a limited-time promotion or event – you need to market on a compressed time cycle. For these kinds of campaigns, a list rental – one where you only retain the rights to email the list for a limited amount of time or messages to the list are sent from the renter – may work just fine, and save you a bit of cash.

Warning: Broker-sold lists aren’t as effective as they used to be. List brokers have to get their lists from somewhere, and email lists are frequently captured using surveys, drawings and other tricks, and people frequently use ‘dummy’ email accounts that are set up specifically for this purpose. Nevertheless, even broker-sold lists can still generate extremely compelling returns on your marketing dollar – commercial email campaigns returned $43.69 for every dollar spent on them in 2009, according to the Direct Market Association.

Opt-in vs. Opt-out

Opt-in is critical. By this we only recommend using email addresses from individuals who have specifically consented to receive email from you. This is better than ‘opt-out’ campaigns – campaigns where the recipient has not consented to receive email lists from you, but instead has the opportunity to ‘opt-out’ of further email solicitations by sending an ‘opt-out’ email or clicking on an opt-out link.

Why is this important?

It’s the law: the CAN SPAM Act of 2003 sets up stiff penalties for businesses who routinely send unwanted bulk commercial email containing any false or misleading images.

It could violate your terms of service with your ISP. The last thing you need is your Website to go down because you got caught sending the wrong kind of commercial email solicitation and caused your ISP a headache.

Opt-out campaigns just don’t work as well. True, the names are cheaper. But you pay for it in higher dud emails, higher opt-out rates, (which you pay for too) and the time and energy it takes to manage all your opt-outs.

Our recommendation: Use double opt-in: That’s where the customer agrees to receive commercial email, and then confirms their sign-up with an email link. That means the customer has validated the email as correctly spelled AND that he or she checks it! You pay more for this system, but it’s worth it.

It’s not about you.

Many companies make the mistake of forgetting their customer in their marketing campaign. For best results, don’t even mention you or your company in the first half to three-quarters of the email. Instead, write about your customer. Directly address his or her problems, questions and concerns. Don’t spend precious pixels bragging about yourself, but instead, focus on the customer’s needs.

Use for education, announcements and to support events

Every email should have a purpose – and a reason it must be opened now! Special events, such as training events, seminars, invitations and the like make them ideal for email marketing: prospects can RSVP on the spot, move the appointment to Outlook on their calendars, and move rapidly through the sales cycle.

Make your message mobile-device friendly

Remember – some older generations of the iPhone and Blackberry don’t handle Flash illustration well. And some html doesn’t display well on cell phones. Always test your email by looking at it on several versions of operating systems and cell phones..

Repurpose your content

Make sure your message is consistent between your emails, your main Website, and your presence on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and FourSquare. Use each email campaign as an excuse to update your social media sites and Twitter feeds. Every time you get your company name in front of a friendly prospect, you’re putting points on the board. Be patient, but keep working your system and following up on your leads. The sales will come.

Coleen Sterns Leith is the president of Marketing Matters (www.marketingmatters.net) and a CEDIA Professional Services member.

Let’s Be Perfectly Clear About Transparency

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission updated its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (Guides). These updates are by far the most radical changes made in 30 years. The Guides are just what consumers need to help them find truth in the plethora of information they are bombarded with on a daily basis.

Robert Urback of Davis & Gilbert LLC, a legal firm specializing in advertising, marketing and promotion issues, feels the new guidelines will affect the advertising and public relations industry’s use of endorsements and testimonials. Some of the key points he outlines from the new FTC Guide are:

  • Use of “results not typical” or “results may vary” statements will require substantiation
  • Bloggers will need to disclose if they have been compensated or provided free goods or services for their endorsement
  • Social media posts will require relationship disclosures
  • Celebrity endorsers must disclose their relationship with the advertiser if it’s not readily apparent to the audience
  • Disclosure is required when sponsoring clinical trials

The FTC makes it clear that both the endorser and the advertiser will be liable for false and unsubstantiated claims. Consumers will now know if they are being fed a fish tale. It’s about time.

These changes will have little to no effect on agencies or corporate public relations practitioners who follow general ethical guidelines such as PRSA’s Code of Ethics, the guiding document at Marketing Matters. For others, being forced to become transparent will clearly change their game.