Six Sigma helps marketing improve design, save money

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Six Sigma, a quality improvement methodology that began as a manufacturing process, is helping b-to-b companies save time and money on specific marketing tasks such as producing marketing collateral and improving Web site design.

In an October article, BtoB examined how large industrial companies such as General Electric Co. and Dow Chemical Co. have begun using Six Sigma in marketing areas such as new product development and customer support to reduce costs, improve performance and boost the bottom line.

Other b-to-b companies, such as Honeywell and Cummins Engine Co., are realizing returns with Six Sigma by applying the process to specific marketing-related functions.

Honeywell was an early adopter of Six Sigma, first implementing it in the early 1990s to improve its manufacturing processes. In 1999, following its merger with AlliedSignal-another Six Sigma company-Honeywell established an improved methodology called Six Sigma Plus.

"Now, Six Sigma permeates everything we do," said Reid Walker, VP-communications for Honeywell Specialty Materials, which manufactures chemicals, electronics materials, fibers and other materials used in manufacturing.

Green belt-certified in Six Sigma

Walker came to Honeywell from GE, where he was green belt-certified in Six Sigma. He is responsible for marketing communications, internal communications, media relations, advertising and Web development for Honeywell Specialty Materials.

Recently, Walker spearheaded a project within the communications department to redesign the division's Web site, which previously had more than 50 separate sites for specialty materials.

"We wanted to develop a unified Web strategy and present a single face to the market," Walker said. He led a small team of Six Sigma-trained employees on the project, from communications, marketing and IT.

Using the standard DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve and control) Six Sigma process, the team identified areas of improvement based on customer feedback.

critical-to-quality issues

In interviews with customers, Honeywell defined critical-to-quality (CTQ) issues that should be addressed in the Web site redesign, from the readability of the font size to navigation paths on the site.

"These issues formed the basis of the metrics that would define what is successful," Walker said. "We `rescoped' it and built it from scratch on customer requirements."

Honeywell initially had about eight different design groups working on the site, each with its own style of writing, graphics and design.

"Every product line and group was recreating the site, and there was no consistency," Walker said.

As part of the redesign, Honeywell consolidated its Web design with, although it still uses other outside Web design firms for minor projects.

Using the Six Sigma process to implement and measure the changes identified as critical to quality, Honeywell Specialty Materials relaunched its site in March of this year. "We have seen huge results," Walker said, pointing to projected cost savings of $3.4 million for the first half of 2005 for the Specialty Materials site alone.

The site has achieved a 104% increase in repeat visitors and has reduced its development costs by 84%.

Now, Honeywell is using Six Sigma for its overall site design and has a project team of 50 to 60 people working on the project globally.

Another b-to-b company that uses Six Sigma for specific marketing purposes is Cummins Engine, an 85-year-old company that manufactures diesel engines.

"Early last year we saw an opportunity to bring discipline to the management of marketing activities," said Tracy Kiser, project manager at Cummins. "We wanted to spend less time and less money to create effective marketing materials."

Cummins implemented Six Sigma in 2000 as a manufacturing process. Since then, it has been rolled out across the company's four business units around the world: engines, power generation, filtration and distribution.

For a project to create marketing materials, Cummins put together a Six Sigma team that included marketing heads and a representative from the company ad agency, PriceWeber Marketing Communications, Louisville, Ky.

The team used the DMAIC process to come up with a list of 59 "inputs" used in the creation of marketing materials, then did a further analysis until it found two critical problems.

"We tended to not give our creative agency enough information on the front end, and we had an inconsistent and undisciplined content review process," Kiser said.

For example, Cummins frequently would not bring in key marketing managers until the marketing materials were in design layout, Kiser said. Often the managers would want to make changes, which cost time and money.

"The result of the project was we decided to implement a tool that we needed," she said.

Tool for tracking

Cummins selected enterprise marketing management software from Aprimo, which it uses to create best practice templates, manage tasks in the process, track project status and report on various project metrics.

"The reporting capabilities help us ensure we are meeting our Six Sigma goals," Kiser said.

Aprimo does not have Six Sigma-defined reporting, although it lets customers create custom reports they can use in conjunction with Six Sigma.

Since implementing the software to manage the creation of marketing materials, Cummins has reduced project time by 61%, against a goal of 36% reduction. It has also achieved a 78% reduction in the average number of revisions made to materials against a target of 60%.

"We do a better job outlining a project on the front end, and the [creative] drafts we see coming back are much more complete," Kiser said. "We are also able to do much more accurate budget management." 

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