The single most important decision in your marketing

Decisions, decisions.

Decisions, decisions.

The best marketers I know (on the client or agency side) all have a particular, and very important, characteristic in common: When taking on a new project, they’re always focused, even maniacally, on their audience.

In briefings or in meetings, the first question they have is usually something like, “Whom are we talking to here?”

While others want to drone on about the product or service… or their organization’s history of innovation… or the impossible deadline at hand… the smartest marketers in the room have a different—and better—focus. They want to know as much as they can about the people they’re selling to.

Today, there’s a heavy emphasis on execution in marketing. Too much, if you ask me—but I’m also on the receiving end of this, working on the agency side of the business. I have an understandable warped bias.

Still, I think because execution has gotten easier in many channels (email, social, etc.), and since competition is more law-of-the-jungle than ever, the emphasis has switched to just getting something, anything, “out there.” Pressures of the job have forced many marketers to simply be present, rather than effective.

But there’s a price for that. Often, it’s the connection you’re trying to make with your audience—the people you’re selling to.

All of that execution, however—your website, emails, brochures, social media posts, everything—could all be a lot smoother, and work considerably better, if you first make the single, most important decision in marketing:

How do we position this product or service?

That seems like a simple question, but it’s really not—which is why many marketers either gloss over it or avoid it like an outbreak of cholera. A lot rides on your answer, and you need a sizable heap of information just to start.

What you have to do, in essence, is answer a few seemingly basic, but course-setting sub questions:

Whom are we selling to? Men, women, both? Specifically, who are these people? What do they care about? The deeper you go into their lives, the better. Techniques like buyers personas, research, and data mining are effective ways to begin.

This first question sets the tone for everything… the rest of your marketing piano will be tuned to this first note.

If you thoroughly understand your audience, you’ll write copy that moves them. You’ll pick imagery that catches their eyes. You’ll craft content and social media posts that engage them.

The effectiveness of your marketing will work in direct proportion to your knowledge of audience.

This first question is critical, but there is the second part of this equation—the one that directly involves you

What promise can we make to them and keep? Think of the most successful companies and their products or services—Disney, Procter & Gamble, Google—you know exactly what they deliver. They’re not afraid to be bold, plunge a stake in the sand and own it. Whatever promise you make, you should be able to prove it and your customers should experience it, consistently.

Some companies highlight a specific feature, others an overall promise. A strong promise becomes very easy to visualize, too—and can be the seed for all kinds of memorable, breakout creative work and concepts. (The MasterCard “Priceless” campaign is an exquisite example that comes to mind. It ran for years!)

Being hyper-audience driven has other advantages, too. Those who know how to connect and deliver are often compelling presenters, excellent judges of creative work, and enviable persuaders.

When positioning your product or service, be prepared for two things: The first is a lot of head pain and temple rubbing. This stuff ain’t easy. But the second is much sunnier in its outlook. Once your understanding of your audience deepens, and you know how your promise connects to them, the fog will lift. You’ll know what you have to say and how and where to say it. And the people you want to reach will actually listen.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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