At the time of writing, I’ve been in marketing for almost 20 years. My views on the discipline have evolved a bit over that time and I’ve picked up a lot along the way.
For many long and boring reasons, I went back to uni in my 30s to study for an MSc in Marketing, which was one of the best things I’ve done for my career.
I can draw a straight line from there to starting Eximo Marketing, which has been the most fun I’ve had while working.
While at uni, we looked at several models that one of the professors was working on to define how marketing worked in a digital era.
With about 15 years’ experience at the time and the benefit of the professor explaining his model to me, I still didn’t understand it. I was so baffled, I took a picture (below) so I could work it out later.
I still don’t know what it means.
It was academically rigorous and practically useless.
I decided I’d take some of the good stuff from the lecture and spin it round into something I thought would be useful and might help me in my agency role.
Jump forward five years and a couple of iterations and what you’re left with is the 7 Questions framework.
Marketing Strategy Framework
I believe that the best marketing is systematic.
I get seriously annoyed by ‘marketing guesswork’, usually employed by agencies, who meet a client for a couple of coffees, talk about sport and the weather for 20% of those meetings then magically decide they know how to solve all the client’s problems.
At best, it’s hubris.
In most cases, it’s guesswork.
At worst, it’s lying.
I have a three-step process at Eximo Marketing for working with clients which I call D-S-I.
That stands for Data, Strategy and Implementation.
This process is something I don’t budge from. If you don’t want to go through the phases, we’re not a good fit for working together.
In fact, I don’t even do the implementation work! I just help you train your team or find the right partners to deliver.
Think of me as your interim CMO – objectives, strategy and planning before moving into holding the delivery team to account.
The 7 Questions framework sits in the Data stage.
I run a series of workshops with clients to ask these questions and extract (that’s where the Eximo name comes from) the info from the team before moving to the strategy stage.
More on that later, but you’re hear to find out more about the 7 Questions framework, so here goes.
7 Questions To Help You Develop A Marketing Strategy
I’ve said many times that 7 Questions is a slightly misleading name.
The title refers to the kick off questions in each one of the seven sections. There are, of course, loads more questions that I ask as we start to peel the layers off the metaphorical onion.
But, as a starter, the 7 Questions are:
- What does your company do?
- Who are your customers?
- How’s it done in your industry?
- Who has your money?
- What skills do you have access to?
- What stories can you tell about your business?
- What’s it worth to your business when this succeeds?
I’m going to explain in a bit more detail what each of these questions means and why it’s asked.
I’ve got a short, medium and long description for each of these and you’ll get the short one or this blog will become a book (now, there’s an idea…)
1. Company – what does your company do?
It’s an open question and designed to be a bit ambiguous because I want to hear what the group thinks.
Usually I get everyone in the room to write down the answer and laugh quietly to myself when they read out 15 different answers.
If everyone in your organisation doesn’t know what you do, how the hell can you customers understand it?
Ideally I’m trying to find out what the mission, vision and values are for the organisation, not just a literal description of products that are sold or services offered.
2. Customers – Who are your customers?
My favourite question because more than half of the time I get the answer ‘EVERYONE’.
I’m not kidding either. I’ve had this from an international car manufacturer and tech start up. And every time I hear it, I end up doing a Jean Luc impression…
Anyone with a basic understanding of marketing will know that we’re looking for segmentation at this stage.
I’m not always after demographic information – although that can be useful. Psychographic information is great to have too.
Ideally, what I’m after is data to back up the segmentation we’re discussing, but what that looks like is for a different blog.
3. Context – How’s it done in your industry?
Every industry has its own way of doing things.
Think about advertising for a minute. You can spot something that’s for a bank even before the logo has come up at the end. Same with car ads. Estate agents. Perfume. Handbags.
Some of these happen for a good reason – regulation usually – some happen just because that’s the way it’s always done (the scariest sentence in the English language).
But it’s crucial to success of your marketing to understand how things work. You can then decide if you need to abide by these rules or subvert them.
4. Competitors – Who has your money?
You’ll notice when I talk about competition, I don’t ask who are your competitors.
That’s a narrow question that leads to entirely predictable answers.
I’ve worked with ecommerce businesses that didn’t consider eBay or Amazon as competitors because, well, I can’t remember the reason, but it was rubbish.
People were buying the stuff they sold from those two platforms. They have your money. Accept it and plan to fight it.
Remember, at this stage we’re gathering data. You need to understand your competitors so you can work out how to stand out.
5. Competence – What skills do you have access to?
The mission statement at Eximo Marketing is strategy x people = performance.
Many reasons for that, but one of them is because people are critical to the success of any marketing activity.
At this stage you’re trying to discover what skills exist in house, what agency partnerships there are and where the gaps exist.
One thing to be critical of: any in house skills.
We live in a world where everyone thinks they are a writer because they have a blog. And everyone thinks they can take photos because they have a phone.
People on Twitter aren’t kind about shoddy work – do everyone a favour and make sure the people have skills to the level you need.
6. Content – What stories can you tell about your business?
Content marketing is a huge industry that requires more than just a few paragraphs to explain. But that’s all you’re getting here.
Storytelling has been part of the human condition since pre-historic times. Cave paintings told stories of people’s lives, they didn’t list features of dinosaurs.
Find a way to tell the story of your business, product/service, staff and customers. It will resonate with future customers.
7. Capital – What’s it worth to your business when this succeeds?
Marketers love data these days.
It’s the biggest change that’s happened to the industry in my 20 years. When I started it was all about the beautiful pictures, now it seems it’s all about the numbers.
(The truth, of course, is that both are still equally important).
But the push towards data often leads to confused marketers thinking that campaign metrics are important to businesses.
Let me be clear: in a boardroom, no one cares about 3 second video views, click through rate or TVRs. They don’t.
They care about metrics that start with a currency sign.
How many £, $ or € has the marketing activity contributed? How many units did it shift? How many new customers took out credit?
The metrics will vary by business. But understand what the grownups (the board and leadership team) need to know and work everything else out from that.
7 Questions, 1 Order
The 7 Questions framework is in a particular order for a reason.
The questions build on each other. You can’t worry about what stories you want to tell, until you know how you want to stand out from the competition.
You can’t work out if you can achieve the objectives until you know what stories you need to tell.
This order has been the result of academic research, blood, sweat and tears and years of running this clients.
So play around with it if you like, but you’d be wrong to do that ?
The strategy stage – that’s the easy bit. It’s just three simple questions to answer
- Who are you targeting?
- Why would they buy from you?
- What are the objectives for the year?
But to answer these, you’ve got to cross reference all of that qualitative data you’ve just collected, with all the quantitative data you can get your hands on.
Primary data like analytics, sales, footfall, conversion rates… whatever is relevant for the business.
Secondary sources of data such as government data, publicly available data sources (Google trends, AWS etc) is worth digging into.
Remember, there is no such thing as the perfect amount of data. You just need to be comfortable that you’ve got enough to make informed choices.
Then put together your answers to the three strategic questions outlined above and you’re on your way to implementation.
The tactics you need to use are usually quite clear at this stage.
Put a calendar of activity together and get going. Break your objectives down into goals you need to achieve along the way.
Then finish it all off a year later with a fantastic report about how you’ve smashed all the targets and ask for a promotion and pay rise. Simple.