Maybe the questions aren’t new, but they certainly can save your boat, budget and behind!  But I’m getting ahead of myself… let’s start at the beginning.

If you’ve done any reading, research or just owned a business for more than 6 months, the odds are you’ve figured out there’s a reason any marketer or designer worth his salt spends a lot of time talking about “your Target Audience.”   Small business owners often spend a fortune on branding and advertising only to find out AFTER they have parted with that hard-earned cash, it did not perform well.

Perhaps there were crickets on the phone lines, or  internet sales lagged… What was supposed to be the “key” to your growth strategy is now lining the bird cage or died a slow death in the SPAM box.  Sigh… hundreds of dollars you needed to return multiplied are now just gone.

So how do you prevent such a disaster?
Ask the six questions you learned in first grade:

1. Who? — Who do I want to see and respond to this advertising?  If you’ve been in business… take a look at your financials.  Don’t “assume” about who makes up your most valuable client base.  Where does the positive cash flow come from?

Case in Point:  Our firm recently talked with a consultant regarding a possible partnership.  The consultant made some assumptions that were quite interesting.  We are a creative firm, a NC Hub Certified Female Owned Business, and have primarily female management.  This led the consultant to assume that our primary client base was younger females.  In fact, the largest sector of our sales come from males between the ages of 35 and 65.  Lesson: Don’t just guess at your “perceived” who… find your actual who.

If your new to your industry and don’t have a sales record, do a little digging.  A few well place phone calls to peers (out of your sales area) can yield much helpful information.  You can also find helpful information for industry trends online.

2. What? — What do I want them to see, hear, feel or do?  What’s the desired outcome of your effort and expense? This may seem painfully obvious, but it’s a question that can’t be skipped or the boat sinks in the harbor.

What is your purpose?  Are you working on image control?  Community awareness?  Consumer loyalty?  Sales conversions? New markets?  This awareness of purpose will steer your efforts and help you or your marketing professional obtain the desired responses.

Whatever you want to accomplish, make it clear and make the next step easy for your “who” to complete.  Consumers make decisions based on relationship and emotion far more than just “the bottom line.”  Your marketing designs should elicit the right feelings and responses.

Case in Point: Let’s talk Customer Loyalty.  I have a favorite restaurant in town.  Yes, I love the food, but it’s more than food that keeps me coming back and parting with my cash plus 20%… it’s the way I feel.  When I walk in, I am treated like a very special guest.  Everyone I see stops, smiles and warmly greets me and my guests.  I could eat cheaper elsewhere, but I’d rather enjoy the  lunch experience.  I’m not just paying for chicken & salad… I’m paying for the feeling.  And I’m happy to pay a little more.  Have I been loyal?  You bet!  And I’ve told many friends,  taken guests, and hosted meetings there.  (Confession… I ate lunch there again today!)

3. When? — This one is easy.  When does this campaign or item need to be completed and launched?  Look at your target date for results and work backwards to set goal dates and benchmarks.  For example… if you’re looking for Christmas sales… you will probably start working on your plans in September.

Case in Point: As a professional design firm, we often are contacted by individuals or businesses who need a campaign or a website.  Sometimes it is the last piece of their implementation strategy, and sadly the last item addressed on their “to do” list.  By failing to ask “when?” and get a little timeline information in order, they can be put in a “panic mode” instead of having time to create and launch an effective strategy and reap the rewards.

4. Where? — Where will my ads, materials, video, time and money be invested?  Is this going on the side of a truck?  barrel of a pen?  staff shirts?  billboard?  magazine?  website?  internet advertising?  Having a plan for the “where” ensures you have appropriate designs and files for various applications. And as with all aspects of the process, it hinges on the “who” we started with… Where you place your advertisements and materials should be driven by who you want to reach.

Case in Point: Client:  Custom cabinet builder.  Male.  Prefers tools to chatting.  Smart, hard-working.   He may want to advertise in a tool/trade magazine.  But that’s not necessarily the way to go… He is a carpenter who loves tools, but it’s the wives who typically order cabinets for a home.  His ads need to be where women – who have the income to get custom cabinetry – will see them (hint:  this is not in a tool magazine!)

5. Why? — Why should they care?  Why is it important to take action?  It’s the old “What’s in it for me?”  And that’s not necessarily a cash discount or special offer… (Remember my favorite lunch spot?  Full price + 20%)

Why should they come back?  Why should they refer friends?  What is the “trigger” for the feeling you want to create that will make it easy for your target “who” to take the next step? Again, keep it memorable and clear.  Don’t patronize your audience… but do engage them.

Your design team can help with this, but if you’re taking it solo, look for successful models.  Don’t copy, but do model.  If you’re selling shoes, you’d be wise to note the marketing habits and decisions of Nike, for example.

And finally… drum roll, please…

6. How? — How do you start?  How do you pull all this together?  Get help!  Hire a professional.  (yes… call us.) Seriously, get a professional involved as soon as possible.

Don’t wait until you have a logo you hate (or clip art that at least a dozen others have used) plastered on cards, trucks, signs, etc. The sooner you have your brand together, product packaging and campaigns in the works, the better.

If you’re not able to hire a pro, then get lots of advice and outside input on the questions noted here.  Don’t just ask you immediate circle of folks who love you and will praise your efforts and not want to hurt your feelings…  get input from your “who” crowd, other professionals, etc.  Be willing to look at the feedback you get honestly.

Asking Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? can save you time, money, and stress.  You will have a smoother implementation and better results from your time and investment.




Cindy is the founding President at 17blue Digital Marketing. She's passionate about helping businesses reach their goals and impact their communities.