The 13 Most Important Questions to Answer as
You Begin Every Marketing Program
The purpose of every marketing program is to Maximize
Impact of your message,
in order to Increase
the Action from your marketplace.
Remembering ... it's not creative unless it sells. So, you must always
make your message interesting.
Yet, before you do that, before you can be interesting, you must know
who your audience is. And what is important to them. What they're looking
for. The WII-FM ... What's In It For Me
And, what are all the ways to reach this marketplace - what is the best
way. Both what are the features and then the benefits of your product
or service. What offers you'll test, and which one or two work best is
also part of learning what is most "interesting".
Then you work with timing, the budget and begin the creative process.
Over the years I've been blessed with mentors and learning experiences.
In the beginning they "forced" me to ask questions. Now it is
"natural" to ask ... it just happens. Frequently today I am
"forced" to encourage clients to take the time it takes to ask
and answer these questions.
This list is not complete ... I doubt any list to be "complete".
Still, what it does is get you started in the right direction. From here
you'll walk the road where the answers take you - and begin to be "interesting".
Let's get started.
Q #1). WHO is the person who buys what you sell?
This is so basic it is a wonder it has to be asked. Everyone knows audience
to be the fundamental for marketing success. Still, note how I've
asked the question ... "... the person who buys what you sell?"
Not wants, or even needs. Instead, buys. The person who makes the buying
This is not to say others are not important. The end user. The influencer.
The boss. The payer. They can all be important. For marketing purposes
the person we want to talk to is the person who can make the buying decision.
And you must aim your message at this person. The target audience.
Q#2). WHAT product or service is bought?
This sounds easy. I sell widgets - people buy widgets. Not always so!
If you sell locks it is my contention people do not buy physical locks.
They buy what locks give them. Peace of mind. Their family can sleep at
night. Safety. Security.
When you sell an automobile people have many choices. They could truly
need basic transportation. Or maybe it is safety for their family. Or
if it is a big car, they need it to haul the entire soccer team about.
Or it is status they're buying ... the sports car or convertible gives
If you sell music people may buy for the joy of the music. A book or
magazine or newsletter gives education or relaxation or knowledge.
Know what people really buy when they buy from you.
Q#3). WHY does anyone buy what you sell, the reason they buy?
What void do you fulfill? What door do you close? Or open? What problem
do you solve? When you know the reason why someone buys, you're much more
likely to be successful in reaching that audience.
Knowing your product features allows you to put a benefit - or more -
by each. How people use your product frequently will dictate the reason
they buy it. The application.
"Why" many times is the toughest question to address. And it
could also be the most important for you to know the answer too.
Q#4). HOW is the product bought ... through what process?
And, what is the buying cycle?
First, does your prospect come to you to buy what you sell? Or do you
go to them? Must the process be face-to-face? Do you require 1, 2, 3 steps
before I can become your customer?
And second, does what you sell fall into a pattern, or cycle? Every 6
days, or 6 weeks or 6 months an order is placed. Or a re-order happens.
Supplies and services are needed. Is there anything that puts you and
your customer together again on an interval?
It truly does not matter what your process is. It very much matters that
it is clear, clean and easy. The fewer hurdles you put up to move a prospect
to a customer the more customers you'll enjoy. And you'll get them faster,
Knowing the buying cycle is equally important. As whatever it is, it
will affect your marketing efforts.
Q#5). WHEN is the buying decision made - is timing important?
Is your product / service seasonal? Or is what you offer tied to another
purchase ... razors and razor blades?
Seasons are "funny". Almost everything has a season. Yet, almost
everything can be sold to someone at anytime. Especially today, with 747's
for delivery, the web for ordering, and 24/7/365 service. i.e., summer
wear / winter wear; when it's warm in one part of the world, it's cold
in another. And then it reverses. Plus, in some places it's always cold,
and in others it's always hot. So, although "seasons" can make
a difference, not nearly as much as they once did.
Still, timing can be important. When people buy a new computer, software
sales are almost automatic. When you buy a new home you're most likely
to need carpets, drapes, furniture and upgrades on scores of home furnishings
and accessories. "Timing" is when you make a buying decision.
So, "yes", timing can be important. Yet, it is not everything
- it is just something.
Q#6). WHERE is the channel of distribution - are there options?
Hopefully you'll give your audience multiple ways to do business with
May I buy over the telephone? Through your web site? With an E-mail option
for Q&A and to place an order. May I send my order via fax?
Do you have retail or wholesale outlets? Do you offer 24/7/365 service?
Do you attend special events, such as trade shows and exhibitions? Do
you have sales reps available in my geography?
Just as with the buying process, although you may have a preference,
the more options you offer the more positive results you will enjoy.
Q#7). WHAT is your single most important selling message?
You may have a dozen, or more, reasons to buy from you. You may have
a score of features, and a true benefit to the customer for each. Yet,
experience tells us people buy for only 1, 2, or maybe 3 reasons. Not
6 or 8 or 10 ... more often just 1 or 2.
So, what is your single most important selling communication message?
And how do you translate this key point to the user, the target audience?
Maybe to the influencer, purchasing agent, financial advisor, CEO or other.
Once you decide your key point you can begin the creative process. You
select what language to use. The words that work with your marketplace.
To turn prospects into customers. And next the graphics to support the
words. Yet, first, you must know your key selling point.
Q#8). WHAT is your offer?
Behind audience, offer is the most important factor in any marketing
Let's define offer; an offer is a reason for me to respond to you today.
It is an "extra" above features and benefits. It is more than
what the product / service does. It is the addition the customer gains
by making a decision now.
Okay, how do you decide what your offer should be? Common sense is a
good answer. What fits your marketplace at the time of your promotion
is an answer. What is "hot" is another answer. The "old"
that worked in the past is also an answer.
The real answer is test. Test your common sense "guess"
(as it is probably a guess, even if a good one). Test what is hot in your
marketplace. Test what "fits", what your competition is doing,
anything, everything. Yet, test.
And then keep "playing", even when you have a winner. As whatever
your offer is, it will wear out, later, if not sooner.
Q#9). WHAT is your budget?
Sadly, without money not much marketing will take place. You don't need
the World Bank to be successful - you do need more than the loose change
in our pocket.
So, what is your total budget to meet your objectives within
the time frame? i.e., how much money do you have? And how are those monies
divided? Is it firmly set with "W" for web and E-mail marketing,
"X" amount for broadcast, "Y" for print and "Z"
for telecommunications? Or is it flexible - you have license on what to
spend, and where to spend it?
No matter, you must have a budget. Hope and experience will take you
just so far. Have a budget, against a plan, as you begin your marketing
Q#10). WHAT creative design / format / layout will you use?
This is the fun part. And still a challenge.
For to pour all you know into a single page space ad, #10 or A-4 size
direct mail package, a short fax message, a single telemarketing call,
an audio or video story, a 2 minute infomercial, or anything "E"
... an E-mail marketing effort, a grabber web site home page, or a streaming
media message, truly takes talent. And time. "Yes", it is fun.
And it is also work.
Still, there is "bad news" from the creative side of marketing.
First, there is a wide array of horrid software packages available, which
scream "anyone can write a letter, design an ad". Which, of
course, is nonsense. If it was so easy everyone would have already
And testing, in an earlier life the middle name of Direct Marketing,
is not like it use to be. Well, nothing is like it use to be, yet, in
this case marketing has lost a valuable tool when we fail to test. Creative
can be the focal point of generating test cells. Tests for the best offer,
tests for audience, and "yes", tests for creative formats, layouts,
copy and graphics.
There is "good news" from creative, too. First, most often
time is available to do the job right. Sure, there is always a push, a
deadline. My experience is creative has more license with the deadline
than other elements in the marketing mix.
Of course, D.I.R.F.T. is expected; Do It Right
the First Time. Which circles back to testing. When options
are offered and testing is included, it is much more likely the creative
process will work to the maximum. And D.I.R.F.T. is possible.
Q#11). WHAT medium will you use - and will it be more than one?
Often there is a "best" way to generate leads for your sales
team, get traffic to your store or trade show stand, get the phones and
cash register to ring. Rarely is there only one way.
Sure, ask "what medium should we use ... and why do we think this
will work?". The answer I see time and time again is a combination.
Mail and phone together are dynamite. The web has added a dimension not
previously available. E-mail is a given for many campaigns. Cable television
and Internet radio are joining the options to select from. What about
targeted trade shows in your industry? Ditto for vertical magazines and
No matter what you decide, your marketing message must be coordinated
with your sales team. Inside and outside, house and reps. Because those
selling your product, your service MUST be a part of what you say to your
marketplace. You have many options on media ... meshing marketing and
sales together is not an option. It is mandatory.
Q#12). HOW will response be handled?
It is better to plan before going to market how you will handle response
after you go to market.
Often it is "assumed" a certain team will take care of it.
Without including that team in the circle you leave the door wide open
to big time problems. So, up front, ask "how will response to this
promotion be handled? What comes first, then second, and third, and onward?
In the handling, follow-up and follow-through process? And ... who is
responsible for coordinating this effort inside our company."
Sound simple. And it is ... when you think it through before you
go to market. Be sure to do so.
Q#13). WHAT else do you need to know, vs. nice to know?
The last question in the series could be first. Establishing the truly
important elements, vs. those that could be interesting, helpful, even
beneficial, yet, are not necessary.
Far too often marketing and sales becomes a contest with the prospect.
Requiring in depth details when surface information would be just fine.
We must always remember the reason for our marketing message; to turn
a prospect into a customer. Period. Or, getting another order from a current
customer. Again, period. Anything more is "nice", and rarely
Recently a visitor to my web site asked why all his prospects always
wanted the lowest price. Why did they not give value to his value added
services. Once I looked at what he offered, it was obvious; price was
the key selling point in his industry. People, when they bought
that type product, made price a top of the ladder factor when making a
My recommendation was to ask one or two money questions first! Make certain
the prospect was truly a prospect. Get that out of the way - and do it
first. Then close the sale with those that want to buy what he sold. Weaving
in the extra services after being convinced he had a real prospect. The
need to know here was how much they would pay for what he sold. Period!
The end. This list is not meant to be complete. All encompassing it is
not. I feel it includes the minimums - the absolute musts. Yet, it is
equally true ... some of these questions will not apply to your program.
And others, if not all, will cause you to ask another.
It's time to start asking questions. And listening to the answers.