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Asking the right question

I was once asked to use digital communication channels to contact young disaffected voters during a political election in order to make the party in question more attractive to them.

My response? To ensure a good turnout, the party should first make sure it understands the needs of the young voter and make its policies relevant to them accordingly. Once the party has got clear insight into voters’ issues and motivations, it can then create relevant propositions in the context of their lives.

The truth is, the actual delivery channel is only important to ensure that the message is communicated in an effective manner via the channels in which the young voters live their lives.

Another client approached an agency I was working at, asking for long a media schedule to be costed and booked in a considerably long time before the creative message had been considered. This is all very well but the client brief only had the metric objectives and no indication of who the audience was that we were targeting, just a list of titles that had been previously used.

On this occasion my initial role was to understand who the audience was that we were targeting and whether print media was the most effective solution. Once we understood the target audience, we discovered an insight that led us in a completely different direction in order to effectively deliver on objectives.

My experiences are more than one-off anecdotes. How many times do we find that, before we know what we are going to say, we’ve already decided where we are going to say it? “We need a mail pack…”, “We need an email…”, “We need a calling programme…”

It still surprises me the number of times that agencies still receive aforementioned directive briefs. I’m not saying that clients are always wrong, after all, however much we like to think that we immerse ourselves in our client’s business, they are operating in their marketplace all the time and understand their market conventions. But it’s important the issue of asking the right questions is addressed.

Strategy has the important role of bringing experience from other markets into play and to challenge many of the client’s conventions. The collaboration between client and strategy should always start with an understanding of the marketing problem that can be decoded to discover the insight that will provide an effective communication solution.

Initially asking the right question will, ultimately, get you the right answer.