The following 100 questions will help every chief executive and chief marketing officer establish the strengths and opportunities of his/her firm’s marketing efforts.
Clearly, not every question applies to every business, but I suggest that rather than dismiss out of hand those that seem irrelevant, see if you can adapt them to your situation.
After all, identifying a problem is the first step in building a stronger business.
Strategic and Marketing Planning
- Given the changes in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace, what are the key “climatic” changes taking place in your industry? Economic? Demographic? Competitive? Marketing? Technological? Environmental? Public Policy? What systematic approach are you using to monitor these changes?
- What do these changes mean for the way you do business? What have you done in strategic and marketing planning to adjust to these changes?
- How are your customer and prospect needs and values changing? How will these changes affect the decision-making of customers and prospects? What are the best methods to capture these shifts and trends quickly and reliably?
- How are these trends reflected in the new products/services you are developing and introducing?
- How can you get rapid unbiased consumer feedback to know if you are addressing their needs?
- Do your marketing plans mirror your strategic plans, and do your strategic plans reflect the marketing climate and marketing decision-making processes?
- What exactly is the vision—in one or two sentences—for the company and for each of your major products or brands? Are these visions inspirational, aspirational, transformational?
- Do you have your corporate and brand mission on paper—what the company and its key products are to achieve in, say, the next five years? Do the mission statements tie back to our vision?
- Do strategic planning, marketing, finance, operations, corporate communications, information technology, and other key functions collaborate to develop and implement the vision and mission statements?
- Is there consensus in the organization around the corporate vision and mission? What are you doing to inculcate both in all of your people?
- Have your customer targets changed in the last few years, or are you pursuing the same targets you have always gone after?
- Have you segmented each market in which you operate to identify and profile the most profitable customer targets to pursue?
- For each of your core businesses, how do you describe—in words and numbers —the critical customer target?
- What was the rationale for selecting these targets? What process did you use to find them? Was it based on judgment alone, or a rigorous analysis of unimpeachable data?
- Can you prove that these targets are profitable? Can you show that they have made money in the past, or will make money in the future?
- Is there some other target group or targets that might be more profitable? What are we doing to investigate this possibility?
- If you use demographic models to project the U.S. population forward in time, and assume constant penetration among key demographic groups, how many customers will you predict for 2015, 2020 and 2030?
- Do you have a clear, powerful, preemptive positioning strategy for your company and your brands?
- Describe your positioning(s) in words.
- Did you develop and formally evaluate a broad spectrum of possible positionings in order to find a winning strategy?
- Does your positioning tap into what you have determined to be the market target’s key motivators?
- Is this positioning based on something your company or brands can deliver?
- Does the positioning truly distinguish you from the competition?
- How well have you imprinted this positioning in the minds of your key targets in advertising, digital communications, promotion, direct mail, website etc.?
- Do 50% or more of the customers and prospects in your key target markets recognize this positioning, and uniquely associate it with your brand?
Product and Pricing Strategy
- Are your products/services designed with a specific target audience and positioning in mind?
- Before introducing a new product, do you examine and test a constellation of alternative product concepts in terms of sales potential? Does marketing take all marketing and delivery costs into account to examine alternatives in light of projected profitability in addition to sales?
- Do you select financially “optimal” product or service designs, or are you pursuing maximally appealing offerings?
- Are you committed in words and actions to offering buyers the highest quality products and services at a fair price, or are you chasing sales with low prices and promotions?
- How exactly are your prices tied to the target and to your positioning?
- What is your pricing strategy, and how did you arrive at it?
- How did you test price elasticity and its relationship to sales and profitability?
- How will projected profits change with shifts in pricing? Have you applied marketing science as well as judgment?
- Do you prepare detailed plans for each of your major marketing programs each year? Are these plans prepared well before the program is launched so that you can comment on, and perhaps improve them, or are they developed late in the process, when there’s no time to change anything?
- Were many different groups throughout the company representing different functional areas involved in developing these marketing plans or were they created by a few people who think of themselves as the kings of strategic planning?
- After the plans were developed, was a consensus reached with all the individuals and groups involved in the planning process? Was the process democratic or autocratic?
- Have you done modeling to connect the dots in your marketing plans, to tie together strategy, tactics, investments, and objectives? If so, if you change one element of the plan, can you predict changes in another? For example, if the ad budget is increased from $160 million to $185 million, do you know what the effect will be on sales and profits?
- Was sensitivity analysis employed in order to assess the relationship between every component in the plan and sales and profitability? Were these insights used to develop even better plans?
- Are your advertising strategies and tactics clearly linked to the climate, the target, the positioning, the product, and the price?
- What do you do to ensure that your positioning is reflected in the advertising strategy? How can you determine if this is the case quickly?
- Do you evaluate many alternative ad executions in terms of attention getting power, enjoyment, information content, message strategy, persuasiveness and other criteria predictive of sales before selecting one campaign to take into the marketplace?
- Do you employ market response modeling approaches to help determine how much money to spend, and where and when to spend it?
- What financial return does your advertising investment produce?
- Have you selected media vehicles based on their impact (i.e. engagement value) rather than the number of people they reach? How do you determine impact in an ever-increasing digital world?
- Given the proliferation of so many new forms of “alternative media,” are you sure that you’re taking advantage of these newer and more targeted ways of reaching consumers? Are you careful not to choose media just because it is in vogue; rather it can play a specific role in communicating positioning?
- Given the preceding questions, are you sure that media planning is coming early enough in the advertising development process to influence the creative messages being developed?
- How much campaign penetration (registration of the message strategy expressed as a percentage of the target group) are you achieving per $100,000 spent, and how does this compare to competitors and to world class metrics?
- Do you have a serious formal research and measurement system to track advertising performance over time?
- Do you incorporate this information in a marketing mix model to help forecast and diagnose advertising’s effects on sales and the bottom line?
Digital Presence & Strategy
- Why are you really using digital? Does your presence take advantage of the unique capabilities that digital channels offer, or are you just replicating your non-digital efforts in an additional silo?
- Is your digital strategy active (because digital channels meet your goals) or reactive (because everyone else seems to be using them)?
- Who, specifically, are you trying to reach or engage through digital? What do you know about them? Do you understand how and why they use digital tools and media? What do you know about their behavior patterns and motives? And, just as important, how are you going to learn from them, and integrate what you learn into your approach?
- What do you want to accomplish with your digital presence? Are you hoping to inform consumers? To persuade them? To build relationships with them? To communicate? To conduct transactions? To establish or reinforce our desired brand image? Assuming you have multiple goals, how will you prioritize them?
- Even more important: what do your consumers want from your digital presence? Is your digital presence a reflection of what your consumers want, or what you want your consumers to want?
- What are the active components of your digital presence? What platforms, services and channels are you using to engage with your consumers? Are you delivering a consistent brand message across all components?
- Are you communicating AT your consumers or WITH them? How do you know who you should engage with online? How can consumers initiate meaningful communication with you? How will you respond if they do?
- How are you evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, impact and overall performance of your digital presence?
- What are the most important metrics and goals? Are you gathering the relevant analytics and user data you need to refine or rethink your approach?
- Does the structure of your organization allow your brand to innovate in the digital space? Are you able to launch/fund digital efforts that don’t fall cleanly into pre-established and budgeted silos of effort?
- Are your organization’s leaders comfortable with change and experimentation? Do key executives use and understand the platforms and tools that are part of your digital presence?
- Have you organized all your digital touchpoints into a coherent architecture (ie your website, social media outlets, micro-sites, etc)?
- Are you treating search at a tactic or a fundamental change in the way people seek information and interact with your brand/category?
- Are you choosing your digital assets and keywords for search engine optimization and marketing programs based on consumer feedback online?
- How are your direct marketing programs performing? Are they improving or declining over time?
- Are you using the latest in data mining technology to improve your knowledge of the best prospects to go after?
- Is your customer and prospect selection system state-of-the-art? Can it produce the names and addresses of people you know will respond favorably to your products or services?
- How customized are your direct marketing communications? Are you sending the same packages to everyone, or are you communicating very different messages to different prospects and customers? How close are you to completely personalized, individualized communications?
- Do you have a system to simulate a direct marketing program’s performance—including one done in conjunction with a mass media campaign—before you make a heavy investment?
- Do you evaluate direct marketing programs not just in terms of response rates but in terms of all the steps required to achieve success?
- Do you test your marketing programs for both new and established products before you do an expensive national introduction?
- And do you do this testing in situ in the real world (i.e., an actual test market) or in vitro using a simulated test marketing methodology? What’s the rationale for whatever choice you make?
- Before you do any kind of test do you set action standards (i.e., objectives) for every step in the marketing process from awareness to sales and market share? Are you obsessive, as you should be, in comparing actual performance to these objectives?
- Does your testing system provide you with diagnostic information you can employ to improve performance?
- Once your plans are made and tested, have you “sold-in” the plan to everyone in the organization and intermediates who can help make or break it? Have you persuaded them that this is the absolutely best plan you can implement?
- Are you absolutely certain that the targeting and positioning decisions made earlier are reflected in the advertising, public relations, direct marketing, sales activities, packaging, etc., etc., so that everything you do communicates the same message to the same people?
- Has every aspect of the marketing program been integrated? Is everything tied together? Are all elements of the plan consistent with each other?
- Have you developed a check list for each element of the plan that is necessary for success and put a system in place for assuring conformity? Do you employ implementation metrics, practical heuristics to help gauge the extent to which the plan is being implemented correctly?
- Have tools, processes, or software been developed that can help “automate” some of the mundane processes of implementation to help managers focus on critical issues?
- Does your company employ, using a word that has become popular in Washington these days, a "czar" for implementation? That is, someone who is responsible for making sure that the strategy and plans are implemented.
- One final question before launch: How confident are you that this program will end up on the right side of the Bell Curve? That it will be successful? What is this confidence based on, hard data, management judgement or both?
- If there are serious doubts, what are you doing to allay them or are you going to launch anyway because that’s the courageous, masculine thing to do?
Customer Satisfaction Evaluation
- How satisfied are your customers and intermediaries overall, especially on those critical factors that drive your business?
- Do you have performance evaluation systems in place to track customer satisfaction generally, and service satisfaction in particular?
- What is the empirical link between customer satisfaction and customer retention?
- How are you performing in terms of customer service and satisfaction compared to your competitors?
- How many customers do you lose each year (or every quarter) because of poor product or service?
- What would it cost to keep these unhappy customers, and how does this compare to the cost of finding new customers?
- Does a commitment to customer service and satisfaction mean that we must offer “zero defect” products and “exceptional” service?
- Do you know the precise relationship between improved product/service quality and customer satisfaction and retention, and between customer satisfaction/retention and corporate profitability?
- What are the “optimal” levels of customer satisfaction and retention for your various businesses?
Marketing Performance Evaluation
- Have you audited the 20 key marketing decision processes and compared them to “best practices” standards? Have you read the book Counterintuitive Marketing, which describes these 20 processes and the more than 700 metrics which are used to measure them?
- Which processes are strong and where are significant improvements needed?
- Is there a marketing performance evaluation system to track campaign penetration, marketplace attitudes and behavior, consumer satisfaction, brand equity, sales, and profits?
- Is this data collected and analyzed at least quarterly?
- Does the evaluation system provide you with reports that measure marketing performance compared to competitors'? And, does it go beyond mere score keeping? Does it provide you with real marketing intelligence—a blueprint for action?
- What financial return do your marketing dollars deliver? What is the overall ROI of your marketing activities, and also for specific aspects of the program such as your advertising and web site?
- With the increasing nature of information sharing and conversations driving opinion in digital media, how has your company evolved its thinking of the value of earned media versus traditional media ? How are you determining where you generate more ROI from a mix of tactics in these two approaches ? Are there trends helping you shift your spend and tactic mix accordingly?
- What return do you expect? What ROI do you anticipate? How big is the gap between plans and performance? Which aspects of the program are doing well and which poorly?
- What changes can be made to next year’s plans to increase performance? What wasn’t done on this checklist which can make a difference the next time around?
- What is the “brand equity” and “customer equity” for each of your brands and for the company as a whole compared to competition and compared to market share? Stated differently, what’s the financial value of each brand?
* Kevin would like to thank Nick Royle, a brilliant marketing consultant, and Puris Bernbach and Partners, some of the most creative people on the planet, for their contributions to this list.