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Growing companies need to concentrate on what they do best—which, often, isn't marketing.

Worse yet, paid advertising, direct mail, publicity and event sponsorships are only a few of the channels vying for your marketing dollar. Today's information explosion and proliferation of media outlets add to the squeeze on marketing budgets.

Taking cues from consumer marketing and tested marketing strategies, consider these six ways to increasing your marketing return on investment (ROI):

1. Planning. To reap marketing ROI, the cost of entry is a good marketing plan. The plan needs to incorporate your company's mission and sales and marketing objectives. It profiles your markets and target audiences and identifies your marketing tactics.

Marketing tactics are the individual marketing channels and types of advertising, as well as publicity and marketing initiatives, that will best convey your messages to your markets, achieve sales goals and maintain brand awareness.

Remember, the dog wags the tail: affirm marketing and sales objectives, plan strategy, then select marketing tactics. It's an ongoing cycle.

2. Making a market. What new markets can you create for your brand, product or service? Sometimes new products or services happen spontaneously.

In the 1999 movie Office Space, Milton, a harassed office worker, is bothered by coworkers who pilfer his bright red stapler. Swingline turned down a movie tie-in offer by the film's producers because it didn't make such a stapler and wasn't convinced of the demand. Three years later, out of sheer demand, Swingline put its Rio Red Stapler on the market.

There are few rules in making markets. Leading-edge market makers are tomorrow's cash cows.

3. Snooping. Are you missing market openings and marketing opportunities by failing to snoop on your competitors or fish for trends? Use of competitive intelligence (CI) is on the rise, according to CI firm Fuld & Co.

Consider the minimal time investment it takes to monitor your markets and scour databases and industry news sources for trends that influence your markets. The key is trolling for CI regularly and acting appropriately on the information.

Learn from large companies such as Kraft Foods, which recently announced its plan to reduce portion sizes and pull back on marketing to kids in reaction to studies finding rising obesity rates.

Study the competition by investigating the personalities and background of its management. You can then be prepared for and anticipate its next move.

4. Tooting your own horn. Ten years ago, who would have thought that bathroom stalls gas pumps or the sides of trucks would be hot advertising spaces? What traditional and non-traditional media outlets can you leverage to reach your audiences?

Smart use of PR and alternative marketing methods—no longer just paid advertising—maximize your marketing budget to build your brand and market your product or service. A growing range of consumer products are marketed via word-of-mouth marketing, viral marketing or what's known as “buzz” marketing.

You will increase your chances of placement in print and broadcast media when you grease its wheels: provide broad industry information or statistics that the media can use.

5. Web marketing. How robust is your Web site and Web marketing plan? Opt-in email newsletters, blogging and other Web marketing initiatives can overtly or covertly sell your product or service on the Web.

The good news is that the cost of Web development has come down. Dynamic Web sites with predictive features, or an e-commerce Web site with data-capture capability, aren't only for large companies with big budgets. Web-based marketing techniques such as embedded HTML tracking in emails and newsletters show what happens to your messages.

You are only as good as today's Google search, where holders of the top non-paid keyword placement can change by the minute. Make sure to feature content on your site that accurately reflects your business.

6. Measuring. Are you measuring your marketing programs? Can you determine the percentage increase of sales from a direct-mail campaign or the number of leads generated by a specific marketing program?

The ability to track and measure your results matters to your bottom line and the success of your marketing efforts. This counts for failures, too.

If you marketed to 5,000 and you only received one sale, why? Low-quality lists, poorly developed Web sites and other haphazard marketing communications efforts achieve great results only for the lucky. Top marketing vehicles for measurement include Web sites, lead generation programs, events/tradeshows/seminars and print advertising.

What's in your marketing game plan? When you use these six strategies, you stand to maximize marketing return on investment.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marcia Jedd is president of MJ & Associates (www.marciajedd.com).