Keep the cart behind the horse

Resist the temptation to jump to the marketing solution before you even understand the problem, says Ashgrove Marketing’s Terry van Rhyn

I guess it is human nature to want something and not quite appreciate why you need it, or whether you will really benefit from it. The lure of a new bright shiny thing is enough: we simply WANT it, and we are going to justify it to ourselves somehow – whether it makes economic or rational sense or not.

We use the term cognitive dissonance to explain this kind of thinking where we try and minimise any feelings of discomfort we have about decisions we make. You could also call it suspension of disbelief, the shelving of normal objections in the readiness to believe a particularly narrative.

I sometimes see examples of this behaviour – which is often driven by fear of missing out – in new and prospective clients. They will typically come to us for a rebrand, marketing campaign or new product launch and a list of what they want us to create or do. This might include prescribed communication channels, specific executions such as GIFs for social media, 30-second radio ads or video clips, even specific outlets or publications.

While some of this is based on experience to date and general knowledge of their market sector, it frequently means that a stage in the process has been skipped over. They can visualise the shiny new thing that they believe is the answer to their problems but, on many occasions, the “problem” has not been adequately identified or understood.

Yet this stage is the crucial piece of the jigsaw – unless you have a firm grasp of what it is you are trying to solve and why, it’s impossible to put the other pieces into place.

This is where talking to a third party such as an agency or consultant can be really beneficial. Third parties are able to take a dispassionate and much more objective view of your “problem” and challenge many of the assumptions that may have grown up in your business over time.

It’s only when the problem has been properly identified that you should move on to how to solve it. And even then, consideration needs to be given to the “what” and the “who” that will help you solve it before you pin down the “how”.

The “how” is all about deciding on the most appropriate channels to use to get your message to your target audience and it’s naturally more appealing to jump straight to a full-page ad, radio commercial, social media campaign or a PR editorial. But it may turn out that you do not need any of these communication channels. You may only need a direct mail campaign, or even a series of breakfast meetings with your target audience, to tell your story and achieve the desired results.

One example of this was a client who was convinced his company needed to change its branding and reposition its service offering as it was not achieving the desired results with its target audience. On closer examination, the problem turned out to have nothing to do with the branding, the communication channels or the positioning of the service offering; it was the way the message was conveyed.

The only thing wrong was the tone of voice and the fact that the service was explained in a very confusing way. All that was required was to simplify the message, and to find the appropriate tone of voice to appeal to the target audience in order to fix the problem. This solution was a lot less expensive and easier to resolve than a repositioning of the whole service offering.

In another example, we worked with a business owner who believed his brand positioning and brand image were perfectly fine. It had worked for many years and his clients were loyal – why change? His only desire was to introduce a new service to promote on social media to attract a younger audience.

However, once we conducted our initial “soak and scope” research into the competitive environment, it was clear his brand had remained static while the market sector he operated in had grown and expanded. It was not a new service that was required, it was a repositioning and rebranding of his business if he wanted to remain relevant and to increase his market share.

Quite often you see successful businesses afraid to change for fear of losing their loyal customer base. But if you are not growing with the times and bringing new and younger clients/customers into your fold, you will become irrelevant. Complacency is the death nail.

My advice to my clients has always been to spend the time making sure they truly define the problem, and we’ll take care of solving it. It’s amazing how many times a proper investigation has revealed that the problem is actually an internal operational or client/customer support issue and there was nothing wrong with the message or reaching the right audience via the appropriate channels – it has all been to do with the delivery of the services.

Good ad agencies who go the extra mile to really understand your business are your partners in solving a problem. Not just the people who “colour in” the creative idea and provide that shiny new promotion that perhaps you didn’t even need!