The only marketing question you ever need to ask


Today’s journey to the top of the marketing mountain reveals a seemingly simple question… but much will be revealed, my chilly child.

No one ever says simplicity is a bad thing. In fact, most of us crave it—and become frustrated when schedules and constantly evolving technology make our lives tumbling-out-of-orbit complicated.

So given the subject of today’s blog, I’d like to offer a disclaimer: When you first read the be-all, end-all marketing question I present here, you’ll think it’s far too simple. And at first glance, it appears that way.

But this question has tunneled its way through numerous marketing departments and advertising/public relations agencies—big and small—across our country, and most people find that the question works for just about any marketing challenge. It’s been used to formulate everything from brochures selling boat engines to digital campaigns for cosmetics.

Here it is…

Who are we trying to get to do what?

Aside from the shaky grammar (it should be whom, not who), the question seems far too shallow for most marketing mavens. After all, marketing is supposed to be complicated—laden with demographic information, branding guidelines, unique selling propositions and oh, so much more. But the secret power of this question is revealed when you break it down, word by word:

Who  |  are we  |  trying to get  |  to do what?

It’s not individual ingredients that make a wonderful meal, but rather the combination of those. Still, every ingredient plays a unique role in creating the final entree. When you break down our magic question word-by-word and dive in, everything you need is right there to craft an amazing marketing buffet. Let me show you…

WHO are we trying to get to do what?

Start with a vivid description of the typical person you’re trying to connect with. Don’t just say a “potential customer.”  Be specific and strong. Rely on your research and observations of who your target audience is, and paint a picture in your mind of a real guy or gal. I’ll make up an example. Let’s say we’re a company selling an exercise system, and we want to sell it to…

your everyday, 50-something-year-old guy. He’s little past his prime, but loves his family, friends and hobbies. Retirement’s a ways off, so he still needs to produce at his job. He’s under a good deal of pressure, has college to pay for, and has a number of years before the mortgage is off the books. As a result, he’s let himself go a bit, carrying too much weight and eating a little too much fast food. He thinks he’s in better health than he is, but knows that the time has come to start getting back into shape…

Here, we’ve taken the detached “potential customer” and added flesh, bones and a life. It makes it much easier to speak to him.

Who ARE WE trying to get to do what?

This is a full description of your brand. It should include what your brand is about, its relevance to your customers, its history, tangible and intangible virtues and characteristics. Let’s pretend we’re that exercise company again…

Everything we do is geared toward getting people’s health—and lives—back on track. We give them the specific means to slim down, get their health numbers under control and to feel better—in a fun way they’ll want to do every day.

Who are we TRYING TO GET to do what?

This part of the question asks for proof of your claims. Think about this carefully: What insights, angles, appeals to reason and emotion are available to you? Examples could include customer satisfaction scores and testimonials, interviews with your staff, documentation, success rates, and so on. In short, make a bulletproof case—why would anyone with half a brain go for this? This part is especially important when you’re briefing your agency on an assignment, because great ideas come from great information.

Who are we trying to get TO DO WHAT?

This refers to responses and results. How will this communication effort be judged? More customers coming through the door? Heightened social media awareness? More products flying off the shelves? Have a clear goal in mind when you start the process, and gear your campaign toward that goal. It will help you with everything from messaging to determining what media outlets are best.

Little question, big yield.

As you can see, once you dissect it, today’s question rivals just about any complicated creative brief. Use it the next time you’re putting together a brochure, ad, social media plan, TV spot, website—anything that has to communicate, connect or persuade. It puts you in the right frame of mind to think about your audience, your brand, gather the right info and establish an end zone.

All in nine little words.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group.

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