Marketing Questions

The 1 question businesses always ask me

… and the 5 that they should. 

I can usually predict the first question that I’ll be asked as a specialist in brand marketing. It’s invariably about what media the company should use. These are the sort of questions keeping businesses up at nights: should I embrace social media, is offline advertising still relevant, are emails a waste of time? They really boil down to one question, “what media works?”. But is it the right question?

It’s not that media isn’t important, it’s just that there are other areas to pin down beforehand. In my view, you can’t begin to ask about media before you’ve got some great answers to these 5 questions first:

(1) What market am I in?

Too obvious? Not necessarily. My client is launching a range of skincare but doesn’t see herself as in the beauty business, instead she sees the range as being in the gift sector. Her products are being positioned as indulgent gifts rather than skincare essentials, and it changes everything about how the brand is then promoted. It’s worth going through the exercise of seeing if there is another sector that would make you look your market opportunity in a new light. Is your company selling holidays or a lifestyle? Do you see yourself as offering software or vital support for SMEs? The answer may surprise you and would definitely influence your media choice.

(2) What’s my message?

You’ve got to know what to say before you choose where to say it. But are you saying the most interesting thing about your brand? It’s rare to be gifted with a genuinely unique product or service and we can’t always be the cheapest or even the best. But whatever commercial message we have, it has to be interesting. This should be difficult enough, unless you are working in a truly dynamic sector, and yet usually businesses find they are giving out three or four messages within the a single communication. Identify one strong message and stick to it doggedly. Of course, what makes that message strong depends on who it’s meant for, which leads me to the next question…

(3) What’s the motivation?

Ah, the question that budding actors feel compelled to ask their directors. If only more businesses would ask it about their customers. Ask a company about their target customers and you may get an answer that looks like a YouGov survey: age, gender, socio-demographics, location, etc. These can be crucial, but they tell us little about what motivates people to buy a product or service. Are they motivated by price? Or ego? Are they driven by a desire for innovation or to impress their boss? Are they thinking about their children, their legacy, a recent loss, their search for love or meaning? What makes a strong message depends as much on these considerations as on their demographic profile.

(4) What’s the wow?

Advertising is not known for being understated. To get people’s attention, you need to entertain or inform or otherwise make yourself thoroughly unmissable. If you’re solemnly ticking your communication boxes, make sure you don’t miss out on something that elicits a “wow”. Naturally this is easier said than done. (Nobody thought this would be easy, did they?). The wow factor is part of what makes people suspicious of advertising and those who develop it: it’s slippery, persuasive and hard to measure. But it makes a crucial difference, whichever media you decide works best for you. You could even make the surprising choice of media the source of the wow too.

(5) What does success look like?

People bandy around terms like return on investment, which is a very crude measure for a very complex subject: advertising effectiveness. You pay X amount for your campaign and you get Y amount in sales as a result. Sounds simple, but there is much to muddy the waters.

What else is influencing these stats? What if a competitor suddenly runs a price promotion during your campaign? What if the best choice of media is one that is unaffordable to measure? Much as teachers can be criticised as teaching kids to pass tests, marketing teams may end up running campaigns that are easy and affordable to measure (hello digital). People don’t live in a vacuum-sealed advertising testing environment. They may click on a search result because they spot the name, and vaguely remember hearing it before. That recognition was created by a brand campaign, whose ROI is costlier to measure.

Another key factor is the length of the sales cycle. I used to work with someone who created press advertising for Rolls Royce. He told me that the ads aimed to influence even those just starting out in their careers, so that forty years later when they’ve “made it”, they know just what status car to buy. That’s a long period over which to measure ROI! More commonly, marketing teams are obliged to demonstrate ROI to a schedule dictated by the next investors meeting. The media choice is then governed by what will give the quickest results, not what would be the best in the long run. Not so much “what” success looks like, as “when”.

So the next time someone asks me what media works, I think my answer will have to be “how long have you got?”.