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As the heat gets turned up in companies to produce more with less, marketing is often the first group to get its toes scorched.

Why does this happen? Often it's because marketing's contribution to the bottom-line is just not evident to everyone. Increasingly, marketing executives find themselves on the ropes, struggling to justify investments, losing resources and dropping into a self-fulfilling spiral of ineffectiveness that weakens the entire company.

Six simple but powerful strategies can help you survive and prosper in today's dangerous high-tech management waters.

1. Don't take “no strategy” for an answer.

A company without a strategic plan--and there are many--is like a ship without a rudder. Everyone on board is in danger as the ship wanders aimlessly in a turbulent marketplace. Without a corporate strategy that guides marketing investments, companies create confused messages, poorly positioned products, and ineffective, costly programs that damage business and jeopardize marketing's credibility.

As the marketing executive, you have a vested interest in making sure a sound corporate strategy has been developed--even if you have to champion the effort yourself. Driving executive consensus around a core set of high-level business goals is a great start and provides value to all functional groups, not just marketing. It makes explicit the direction of the company so that programs can be planned intelligently and budgets set at optimal levels.

2. All roads lead from the customer.

While it may seem obvious, there is simply no substitute for solid feedback from your customers. Marketing strategies and programs that are rooted in stated customer needs usually hit the bull's eye. Here are some effective strategies for engaging your customers on a regular basis:

  • Establish a customer advisory board that meets twice a year. Make it an extension to your strategy development process.
  • Hold informal, half-day customer focus groups several times a year. Involve your users in shaping product strategy and sound them out on important company and product issues. Again, act on their best advice.
  • Regularly call your best customers and simply ask how they're doing. They'll appreciate the attention and you'll learn a lot about what's on their minds.
  • Using a Web-based tool like Zoomerang, send simple e-mail surveys to customers that solicit input on new product features, service offerings, pricing proposals, and so on.

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Basil Harris, Jr. is the founder and president of MarketStreams (www.marketstreams.com), a strategic and product marketing consulting firm based in New Hampshire. He can be reached at bharrisjr@marketstreams.com