My head spins as I think of the billion ways the science of marketing has changed in the last few years. Our toolbox has become so expansive, the options so varied for creating communications and brand experiences it is as daunting as it is thrilling to consider them.
When you find yourself overwhelmed, remember this bit of good news. Some things haven’t changed—and these truths apply to every business challenge marketing can help address, no matter what the delivery channel.
Resist the urge to begin with a solution.
It’s so easy to leapfrog to the exciting (and seemingly productive) endgame. It feels efficient, and in this warp-speed competitive landscape, who doesn’t want that? We hear it often as clients come to us with their requests for specific deliverables. We need a TV spot, or a brochure, or a social media campaign. Our response is always the same. What business problem are you trying to solve?
Next, solve the right problem.
This takes hard work. It also requires that you be honest, direct and specific. Ask enough tough questions that you get a clear picture of the challenge you’re dealing with. Things like: Why is this the problem? When did it begin? What caused that? What are the contributing factors today? Is one of those the real issue here?
If you don’t go through the drill-down, you’ll likely end up with a solution that never gets at the cause, and therefore provides short-term relief, at best. It reminds me of an issue we’re dealing with in my neighborhood right now—the fact that our cove on our pretty manmade lake has disappeared since we moved in eight years ago. There’s a plan for digging it out, something about which we are thrilled. We will have water again! But it won’t solve the real problem, which is the silt that flows in every time it rains. Stopping that flow is the real problem to be solved.
Once you’ve drilled down and have identified the right problem, there’s another important question.
Is this an issue marketing can help solve?
Of course we marketers love it when the answer is yes. But so often there is other work to be done before marketing can help. Perhaps the issue is operational, or it could be a substandard product or service. Are employees informed, engaged and able to uphold the brand and its promise? If not, address these issues before spending a dime promoting or you’ll not only waste your marketing budget, you’ll also likely dig a deeper hole. As advertising guru David Ogilvy stated so poignantly: Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster. It’s so true. The last thing you want to do is spread dissatisfaction with your offering or invite customers in for a poor experience.
So the cards are on the table, the contributing issues have been addressed, and it’s time to market. Now what? There’s a lot to consider in developing powerful messaging, a plan for sharing and meaningful opportunities for engagement. But I’ll offer this vital step as a starter.
Look through the lens of your customer first. It sounds so simple, and yet most of the time this is done so half-heartedly—or not at all—much of the work that follows is off base. For most of our Riggs Partners’ clients we recommend bringing on a researcher who can get true and unbiased input from the target audience. And our goal is not to confirm what we suspected. It is always, always to discover something we didn’t already know. (That’s where the proverbial pot o’ gold lies.) When you find that sweet little nugget—that comment or recurring theme or nudge that shifts your perspective, even if just a little bit—begin there. Because now you’ve got something meaningful to work with that will resonate with the folks you are trying to reach.
Even in this age of person-to-person digital communications, developing and deploying a marketing plan is an expensive proposition. Add to this the reality that options for communicating are virtually limitless, and good decision-making becomes an overwhelming process. As in all things, when you’re not sure where to start, start with what you know. Begin with the basics.
*This article was originally featured on Columbia Regional Business Report