Circa 1984, baby food manufacturer Gerber decided to branch out their products to areas such as France and Africa. To Gerber’s surprise, sales were dismal due to unfavourable reception by consumers. What was causing this negative response? Gerber’s one-size-fits-all branding strategy.

Unbeknown to Gerber, in French, Gerber means vomit. Is it any wonder the French didn’t want to feed Gerber to their infants? It gets worse. In Africa, product labels cater to those who cannot read, by typically displaying visually what’s inside the packaging. The labels on Gerber baby food showed a bouncing baby – to African consumers, this meant the contents of Gerber baby food were actual babies!

How could Gerber have avoided this branding (and sales) disaster? They should have followed these six components of a successful marketing strategy…

1. Market Research

Research is the most important component in your marketing strategy. Acquiring credibility through fact finding and testing is the basis for a solid launch when progressing throughout the other five components of a successful marketing strategy. Market Research includes identifying what your competitors are currently doing in the same arena as you, what market segments you plan to target and testing to make sure your research is valid. Several common methods utilized throughout this component of a successful marketing strategy are the following:

  • Competitive Analysis (This helps find out the lay of the land)
  • Focus Groups
  • Online Surveys (Survey Monkey is a great free service to accomplish this)
  • Phone Interviews
  • Product/Prototype Testing

Unfortunately, the main factor in Gerber’s non-performance in France and Africa was a lack of market research.

2. Product

Product is one of the original Four P’s of the Marketing Mix. Product is the actual development of what you are offering to your consumers or clients. Will your product be a tangible object such as toothbrushes or floral arrangements? Or will it be something intangible such as a service like housecleaning or accounting services. Once that is determined, production needs to be generated. Key sub-components within the Product component are packaging and product differentiation. Packaging involves branding. Consumers want to be sure they are receiving their product in an atheistically appealing, appropriately branded package. This can be communicated through media vehicles such as your website and other promotional tools. Product Differentiation is key; no one will buy your product if it is not different in some beneficial way to those which your competitors offer.

3. Price

Price greatly influences the revolving components of a successful marketing strategy, since pricing determines how a product is produced, where it can be distributed and to what extent can it be promoted. A business should determine the following sub-components or factors prior to determining pricing:

  • Competitor’s Prices
  • Company Goals and Objectives
  • Supply and Demand for Product
  • Fix and Variable Costs; what is your Overhead?
  • Potential Positioning Strategies

By researching and determining these sub-components, an efficient and effective pricing component will be established and will create smooth functionality of the other key components of a successful marketing strategy.

4. Place/Distribution

Knowing which distribution channels your business plans to utilize will determine whether your marketing message is communicated to the right places at the right time. These days, more and more businesses are choosing the Internet as their main distribution channel. The Internet allows for wider reach at a lower cost than maintaining a physical location. Many still stick to the bricks-and-mortar business model, while some adopt the clicks-and-mortar business model, which is a combination of online and also a physical business location which consumers can visit.

5. Promotion

Marketing Communications play a key role in promotion. Within Marketing Communications, a variety of media vehicles and strategies can be implemented to ensure your message is getting out there and people are taking your call-to-action seriously. The main forms of marketing communications that exist within the Promotion component are:

  • Advertising
  • Public Relations
  • Personal Selling
  • Sales Promotion
  • Direct Mail

Be sure to include social media in your promotional mix. It’s low-cost, which will play nicely with your overhead expenses. Delving into how to leverage social media to work for you takes some secondary research, but it is a great starting point if trying to figure out what marketing communications tools you want to use to amplify your message.

6. Review and Analysis

It’s critical that this component is monitored and practiced from the beginning to the end of your marketing endeavour. Tracking the progress of your strategy will help you identify at which stage your business is within the Product Life Cycle (i.e. growth, maturity and decline). By reviewing and analyzing how each component affects the progression of the Product Life Cycle, your business will be able to determine whichmethods are working and which are not. Efficient and free tools to help review and analyze your marketing strategy are Google Docs and Google Analytics. Google Docs allows users to keep all your business data in one accessible location, and include spreadsheets, charts and word documents. Google Analytics allows users to monitor their website traffic and which links and traffic sources drive visits to your website. In addition, you can set call-to-action goals to see if, and when, people complete certain goals.

Don’t become a victim of bad planning, like Gerber in the 1980s – stick to these six principles and see your small business succeed.