Before I became a marketer, I was a forensic scientist, responsible for responding to crime scenes, collecting and photographing evidence, processing evidence back at the lab, and testifying in court. You may think this has nothing to do with marketing; however, a shift from forensics into marketing merely required a different application of my investigative skills.
Step One: Gathering Input
Imagine yourself as the responding investigator to a burglary. You arrive on scene, locate, then speak with the officer in charge. She debriefs you on the information her team has gathered before your arrival and walks you through the situation at hand. As she recounts the details they have uncovered, you listen. The side door is the perceived point of entry and the suspect is believed to have taken a specific route through the scene. A, B, and C are the items that were touched, moved or taken; and, this is how the perpetrator exited the scene. You may ask a few probing questions to ensure your understanding of this officer’s summary. “Why” or “can you help me understand how you came to this conclusion” or “would you explain…” are likely your lead-ins. As a Subject Matter Expert, this officer gives you a perspective of the events and a theory to consider, but this is not necessarily the entire story. It is at this point that you truly begin your investigation, with the goal of determining whodunit and how.
As a marketing strategist, this is a large portion of the discovery phase with a client. Your purpose is to understand the initiative, gather the facts, understand the target audience and the intended communication, and get clear on the final deliverable.
Step Two: Reviewing the Landscape
You begin to investigate beyond what you know. The task now is to challenge the starting theory and avoid making assumptions without evidence or fact. You walk through the scene, looking for what you expect to find. And then you look harder. One of your primary responsibilities is to inspect the granular details. Another is to step back and take the 5,000-foot view.
The process of an investigation isn’t only to determine if the glass of the window broke inward or outward or if the suspect entered any other rooms. Many other factors may require consideration and some of them may have yet to appear or even be considered. You think beyond the building you are in to the block, the community, the environment. What else is on this block? What is a block away? Why would this building or business be a target? What could have motivated the suspect’s choice? As you step back to review what lies beyond the immediate scene, you look for anything that might seem out of place or to be too perfectly in place. You establish patterns, question possible witnesses, review camera footage, and begin to distinguish fact from unfounded assumption and fiction. Then, you follow the leads.
Marketing strategy requires that you look at what has been provided to you, then you start from the beginning. What do we know about this company? What is their brand messaging? What are their core messages, tone, voice, and visuals? Who do they want to talk to? What do they want to say? You look beyond what you know and ask about the details beyond the immediate, building your case file, and finding the instances where you have no information to go on. Perhaps you need to talk to other less obvious “witnesses” in the organization, say sales or IT. Here, it is important to remember to leave preconceived notions, stereotypes, and assumptions to the side, allowing the facts to speak for themselves.
Step Three: Determining Priorities
At a crime scene, you must decide which items should be processed on the scene and which should be processed at the lab. An item’s ability to be transported or its fragility may determine that it requires processing at the scene. These details are an important part of the process and by applying a system, you minimize the opportunity of making a mistake or misinterpreting a result. Based on the interview with the officer in charge, a 5,000-foot view, and your own findings, you begin to separate the important from the trivial.
As you begin a strategic deep dive in marketing, beyond the information, assumptions, and materials the client has provided, you determine what else you need to know. Perhaps this is a deeper dive into the business’s customers, organizing them by segment, goals and pain points. Or, maybe it’s a thorough probing of website analytics, seasonal trends, or other details that help to clarify the full picture.
Step Four: Winnowing out the Truth
Back at the lab, you determine how to process your collected evidence, take photographs, swab for DNA, review video footage, compare tool marks, and subject items to different chemical processes for latent print examination. Eureka! Upon examination, there is an anomaly in the pattern you expected to find; however, due to your skillful review of details, you see that it is not out of place at all and lends itself to a hunch. You’re almost ready to write your final report.
Not surprisingly to the seasoned marketing strategist, from these seemingly insignificant or unrelated pools of information, something of great importance often surfaces. Ta da! A forgotten audience, an underestimated demographic, or the value of a specific subset within either of these areas are likely findings at this point in your investigation.
Step Five: Evaluation
Based on investigation, deep brand dive, customer segmentation, and defining what the business or product truly is at its core, you hone in on its differentiator. You understand how many types of target customers exist, and what each of them wants. You now understand why the organization does what it does, how it communicates, and where it should invest time and money.
Step Six: Giving the Profile
Back to our crime scene, while you may not be able to name a specific suspect due to the lack of a fingerprint match in AFIS or DNA match in CODIS, you now have a story to tell. You understand the methods, the motive, and the character of the perpetrator. This allows you to describe the suspect in such a way that you may identify or eliminate suspects to narrow down the pool. You’ve also done enough to eliminate new possibilities that are the wrong answer.
Marketing strategic planning doesn’t always end in a nice, neat package; however, your hard work has allowed you to make educated decisions to achieve optimal results. Your review of all the facts affords you the ability to present tactics that will prevail and provide qualitative and quantitative results, ensuring your client’s success.
A first-rate marketing strategist can investigate, evaluate, prioritize, and recommend a solid approach just as a forensic scientist can take a case from evidence to probable cause to closure. The effort to clarify the brand message, step into the shoes of the target audience, and create a plan based on all the information gleaned, is invaluable and can mean the difference between solving a mystery or shelving a cold case.