The five questions every marketer should answer

Planning is the foundation on which all successful marketing campaigns are built. Get it wrong, and you might as well be throwing your marketing budget out of the window. Get it right, and you could end up with more business than you know what to do with. Of course, everything doesn’t always go to plan – unless you’ve got Mystic Meg on your team, chances are you’re not going to be able to predict the future – but that doesn’t mean it’s time to ditch the planning.

An effective plan can guide your activities to success even when unexpected circumstances arise to throw a spanner in the works. Establish the answers to these five key questions, and you’re on to a winner.

Question one: Who are your target audience?

If you’re sending out campaigns to a loosely defined audience, chances are that your message isn’t going to be relevant to all of them. Huge swathes of the people that see or read your communications could just ignore them, meaning you’re just pouring your money down the drain. The more information you can gather on your targets, the more effective your campaign can become – how old are they? What do they do for a living? What do they do in their spare time? How much disposable income do they have? How will they use your product or service? How many of these people are there? Do a little digging, a bit of market research, and you’ll find that you can define some much more specific audiences and create some much more effective campaigns.

Question two: How are you going to reach these people?

Placing an advert in a train station when the majority of your target audience drives everywhere isn’t going to work. Neither is advertising in the Telegraph when your audience reads the Sun, or in the breaks during Loose Women when they work 9 to 5. This all links back to your first question – understand your audience, and then you’ll know how to reach them. You might be in the position where you’ve got a set of well-maintained data so you’ve got a choice of ways to contact them directly – that’s great, but you’re still going to need to think about where your message will work best. Door drops? Email? Text message? Phone call? You’ll also need to know whether these people have opted-in to marketing communications from you via that medium – permission can make a world of difference. Understanding your audience can help you to plan a communication strategy that will really work.

Question three: When are you going to speak to them?

This question is a lot more complex than just deciding when you’re going to hit ‘SEND’ on your communications. If this isn’t your first contact with your targets, you’ll need to work out where they are in the buying cycle/purchase funnel/your marketing model of choice. This can help you to assess the required content or tone of your message. How much resource do you have available to deal with the incoming enquiries? If you’re sending your campaign through an instant medium like SMS, or periodically via a radio ad, you want to make sure you’ve got enough staff available to deal with the volume of calls you might receive. Finally, it comes down to actual timing – calling at 10am when they’re at work won’t cut it, but 10pm isn’t going to be appreciated. Takeaway offers sent at 9am will be forgotten by dinner, and thermal underwear isn’t going to receive much take up in summer (well, we’d hope). Understand your consumer, (and which time zone they’re in!) and you’ll find this much easier to get right.

Question four: What do you want them to do?

This might seem obvious – you want them to spend lots of money with your company – but it’s time to get more specific. What action do you want them to take immediately after viewing your advert or reading your message? If it’s to run right into your shop and buy something immediately, great – make sure that this is reflected in your call to action, that your message is appropriately persuasive, and that you’re putting your advert in the right place at the right time, e.g. in the shopping centre. If you want them to call you, make sure to include your phone number prominently, and make it your call to action – and always, always remember to proof read. You don’t want them calling the butcher instead. Don’t cram in too many calls to action – the more options someone has, the less likely they are to choose any of them. Keep it simple and keep it obvious.

Question five: Why on earth should they do it?

This is the big one. This is the one that should have your copywriters sweating. You’ve probably heard theses sentence before: people don’t buy drills, they buy holes. Sell the sizzle, not the steak. The point these classic marketing clichés are trying to get across is that you can go on about how great the product is and all the special features it’s got for hours – but the customer isn’t going to care unless it will benefit them. To take a famous example – Lynx deodorant stops people smelling, which can make them more attractive to the opposite sex, so the message involves lots of attractive women falling at the feet of the Lynx user. It’s not talking about the specifications of the can or the composition of the deodorant, it’s talking about the benefits to the consumer. Apply this to another product, say, a cloud based mobile messaging platform, and you could mention the time and money the user would save, and the increased ROI they would see – rather than all the advanced features the platform has or the tier one network connections. Easy.

These five key questions are the starting points that can help any marketer create an award-winning campaign. Get the answers right, and the plan almost writes itself – it’s worth taking the time to think about the details.