As marketers who are passionate about building brands and businesses, we know the critical importance of having a compelling and differentiated offering in the marketplace. (As one example, think of the Starbucks offering that many of us know well and love.) But of equal importance is the ability to effectively develop and execute compelling marketing programs to maintain and grow the strength of that offering. (Now think of Starbucks’ recent roll-out of its revamped Loyalty program.)

This article will focus on the execution of those major marketing programs – and specifically how best-in-class retail brands like Starbucks or McDonald’s execute marketing initiatives so effectively across their vast retail networks.

Marketing execution is hard and painstaking work. Period. But it’s even more hard and painstaking when you have a large retail footprint through which to execute, and when the execution of your marketing initiatives is ultimately in the hands of channel partners like franchisees who have competing priorities. So what can we learn from best-in-class retail brands like Starbucks and McDonald’s that execute their marketing programs so well, especially when other people (i.e. franchisees) are likely doing the executing?

Four Keys to Success in Executing Marketing Programs

Companies, such as Starbucks and McDonald’s, that are best-in-class for executing marketing programs and initiatives do the following four things well:

  1. Focusing on a few impactful programs
  2. Clearly defining success metrics
  3. Clearly defining roles and responsibilities
  4. Developing “turnkey” marketing and sales materials

#1: Focusing on a few impactful programs

There is strength in focus, and market execution excellence begins with identifying and targeting the few “big rocks” that will move the needle for the business. Steve Jobs characterized the importance and challenge of focus with, “People think focus means saying ‘yes’ to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying ‘no’ to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

The requirement, therefore, is for brands to prioritize the few marketing initiatives that will truly make a difference – and to invest in them. The risk of not having focus is spreading finite resources across too many marketing programs, compromising the effectiveness of program development, communication, and roll-out.

The following questions can help with evaluating and determining which marketing program(s) deserve that focus:

  • Which business and brand objectives will this program achieve?
  • What is the expected impact of this program on the business?
  • Which consumer segment(s) does this program target?
  • Which consumer behaviors or beliefs will this program affect?
  • What investments are required to develop and execute the program?

#2: Clearly defining success metrics

Following program focus comes clarity of expectations. Leading brands are unrelenting in their articulation of what success looks like because that clarity is fundamental to creating alignment and achieving specific goals on:

  • The marketing program overall (e.g. we are executing this program to drive a 10% increase in foot traffic and a 15% increase in same-store sales), and
  • Key marketing execution activities (e.g. to ensure that we achieve that increase in foot traffic, we must replace our on-site signage by X date).

An interesting example comes from the construction equipment manufacturer John Deere, a company that takes success metrics a step further by making them competitive. For its critical marketing programs, John Deere employs and publishes a dealer scorecard across its large dealer network for two reasons:

  • To measure marketing initiative performance across dealers for benchmarking, and
  • To motivate individual dealers that need to improve by publicizing their results relative to others’.

#3: Clearly defining roles and responsibilities

Clear success metrics must then be coupled with clearly delineated roles and responsibilities, another key driver of marketing execution excellence. This role definition principle simply consists of mapping out key activities from marketing program development through execution and then clarifying individuals’ or functions’ roles and responsibilities for each activity. Seemingly simple – but often overlooked.

A widely used framework for this step is the “RACI” approach, in which you indicate for each activity who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, or Informed. An alternate framework from P&G is the “PACE” approach, through which you determine for each activity who is Process owner, Approver, Consulted, or Executor.

A unique example of role definition comes from the leading quick service restaurant Dunkin’ Brands. Dunkin’ Brands makes role clarity – and quality – part of its franchise selling proposition. Not only does the company clearly explain its comprehensive “Franchise Team” and each function’s specific role and responsibilities, but Dunkin’ Brands also emphasizes the capabilities and expertise of the people in those roles who will be partnering with franchisees. Dunkin’ Brands frames its approach to role definition as a differentiator.

#4: Developing “turnkey” marketing and sales materials

Many retail brands can have annual turnover of 100% for frontline associates, which means that 100% of those frontline employees will be gone in a year. For this reason, the most successful brands make their marketing and sales materials as easy to understand and implement as possible. An effective but under-used approach to enable “plug and play” marketing and sales materials is obtaining early feedback from channel partners to surface any issues or assumptions that might compromise flawless execution of the program. Many leading brands have established advisory councils of key customers and channel partners for this very purpose.

A helpful example comes from the quick service restaurant Subway, which develops and delivers its marketing program materials for franchisees via an online platform. The online interface allows Subway (corporate) both to collect feedback and to enable franchisees to customize signage, within set guidelines, to better tailor a program to its venue or market. This relatively simple platform for Subway creates an effective feedback loop with its channel partners, and even empowers its franchisees to decide on the most fitting materials for their local venue or market.


“Retail is detail,” and no marketing program can succeed without consistent and reliable execution at the store level. That flawless execution of major marketing programs by leaders like Starbucks and McDonald’s is driven by focusing on a few impactful programs, clearly defining success and roles, and developing “turnkey” marketing materials.


  • Ben Cohen

    Ben Cohen is a Vice President at the growth strategy consultancy Denneen & Company, where he heads up the Consumer Practice and does brand and marketing strategy work with clients including ExxonMobil, Johnson & Johnson, and Partners Healthcare. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn and follow him at @strategic_brand.