Developing a marketing or communications program can be exciting.  There are many elements to consider – from tone of voice and use of new technologies or design ideas to ways to convey ideas and key messages, the choices can be overwhelming.

Often these conversations move too quickly from high level planning into debating details and tactics – before the ultimate objective has been considered. Once these detailed conversations begin, the project can seem to take on a life of its own. The tactic, in this case let’s use the example of producing a video to illustrate the point, becomes a fait accompli, with questions around things like script wording, costs of the videographer, what music to use and so on.

Before you know it, a video has been produced and released. Often, though, the video doesn’t yield the results you expected. It becomes clear that the money was spent and the work was done but the return on investment didn’t materialise.

This happens when teams forget to begin with the end in mind.

The 5 whys

Before things get too carried away in planning sessions or brainstorms I use one central question to bring discussions back into focus: what are you trying to achieve?

If that fails to work using a questioning technique called the 5 whys will often help to refocus the discussion. (As it sounds it’s literally asking why five times to get to the core issue – often framed better than just ‘why?’ ‘why?’ as you risk sounding like a toddler instead).

You need to understand what you are trying to get the audience to do and the message you want to leave them with before even considering whether a video is an appropriate tactic, let alone getting into more granular details.

Who are you targeting and how will you reach them?

Only once you have a very clear picture of whom you are targeting, and what you are trying to achieve, can you even begin to consider tactics. After all, if your audience is retirement-age couples looking for a cheaper car insurance policy, then an online video is unlikely to be effective. Instead, you might consider tactics like direct mail, advertising in local newspapers, a media relations program or even television advertising. By contrast, if you’re looking to convince young, tech-savvy professionals to use the latest smartphone, then an online video may be ideal.

It is important to realise that the end result is not the video: it is merely the vehicle used to convey a message. Instead, the end result is to define your target audience and convince them to take action. To do that, you need to reach them in an appropriate way with a compelling message. The rest of the details fall into place from there.

Most companies do not have an unlimited budget, so it is also critical that activities deliver a strong return on investment. That means seeing an increased awareness of and preference for the product or service they’re offering. As a result, the best campaigns are the ones that leverage creative thinking to keep costs as low as possible while still delivering a strong, highly-targeted message to the right people.