Amid a challenging business environment, look for opportunities to tune-up your marketing approach. Here’s a starter checklist that could be valuable for you:

Maximize What You’ve Got – Inventory creative that’s already developed and make sure it’s being used in all ways possible, i.e. Can customers get collateral as web downloads? Can you get your new TV commercial to customers in more ways? And when developing new creative, think through all potential uses before beginning. Get the extra paragraph, photograph, take, or edit that will extend its uses or effective life.

Align Messages – Pushing all-out for increased sales can create a proliferation of messages as you try to ensure every possible product and feature gets visibility. One downside can be confusion and lack of clarity among both customers and the internal sales organization. It’s a good time to revisit a solid strategic messaging platform, working hard to tie messages back to it to improve clarity.

Develop New Capabilities – Are there processes or skills that you’ve been putting off developing within your marketing team? Now might be the time to create a skunk works effort and get a new approach to an old challenge underway. To also develop your team, involve staff members not typically on your usual list of participants. That will pay dividends later as well.

Monitor Competitors’ Efforts and Share of Voice (SOV) – Most – but not all - companies cut back on marketing investments during challenging economic times. Gauge what’s happening among your competitors. Has everybody in your market pulled back, signaling an opportunity to maintain investment (or reduce it at a lower rate) and increase your share of voice? Or are certain competitors using a longer-term approach, investing for the eventual business recovery? Knowing your industry’s situation helps shape decisions on your brand’s best approach.

Spread Out or Heavy Up - Based on SOV insights, determine how to spread your marketing investment across channels. If share of voice is down overall, consider extending your investment into new areas while still maintaining enough frequency and relative presence. If you’re being outspent overall, it might be right to mass your investment in fewer places and “own” what you can, using other means to point customers and prospects to the areas where you’ve heavied up.

Consolidate Marketing Partners - When every dollar of marketing investment is precious, you need maximum efficiencies. One approach is to look at your external marketing partners and determine if there are process and cost advantages in working with fewer partners. Making this type of reduction allows you to manage fewer relationships (time efficiency), grow deeper relationships (message alignment advantages), and negotiate for lower per unit costs (investment efficiencies).

Generate a Guerrilla Tools List - Revisit and expand your list of available marketing tools, particularly low-cost and “free” ones that may be underutilized. A great starting point is the website for Jay Conrad Levinson, the father of guerrilla marketing with its list of 100 guerrilla marketing tools. Additionally, you can customize and expand the list of tools for your business. Be sure to consider blogs, podcasts, and social networking sites that allow you to inexpensively reach new parts of your audience.

Those are seven places to start fine tuning and maximizing your marketing efforts. Please comment on approaches you’re using successfully. - Mike Brown