Great creative strategy always starts with a clear articulation of a business problem, and a rational strategy for solving it. This is the outer layer of the onion that peels away to expose a marketing strategy -- or a sales strategy, or a need to retool existing products or services due to customer feedback, etc.
To forge the right approach, quantify the business problem, qualify the competition, and distill what you've learned to show understanding of their need. Let's talk about quantifying the business problem in this post.
Quantify the Business Problem(s)
New clients can articulate a wide range of business needs, but most often, their business requires short-term sales generation and stable, long-term growth in revenue that leads to profit.
Short-term sales are contingent on tactical marketing decisions. Long-term sales require a holistic view of all marketing communications and a full awareness of the client's brand equity and its increase in value over time. Solving a long-term business problem often requires making large assumptions, and since they are often not in your direct control, your marketing solutions will require some measure of flexibility.
Even if a client walks in the door requesting an awareness-generation campaign that has no sales metrics, it's inevitable that in the long-term view, they need to make money from selling their soda or flat-panel TVs.
With this in mind, I try to strip away the tangibles from a client request -- we need a new identity, help us improve our advertising -- and work backward into what business need is driving their request. I always try to understand how they arrived at this decision, and what needs to happen after the decision in the short and long term to ensure it has an impact.
Here's how some of these client requests can be translated from tactical requests into business needs, and then attacked as creative challenges.
If it's a short-term problem (1-3 months): I need to sell 5,000 loaves of bread by May 31st.
Why? Because I am $100,000 short on revenue this quarter and I need to fulfill our budget objectives to maintain our profit margin.
Why is this valuable to know? It allows us to determine if there are more creative approaches to bringing in the million dollars in revenue. Could we sell more pastries and dinner rolls along with the loaves of bread? Creative thinkers are good at thinking around business challenges to find these novel approaches.
If it's a long-term problem (4-12 months): I want to launch three new MP3 players over the next year and gain a 6% share of the MP3 market in sales, while raising our brand equity by 10%.
Why? We've lost 20,000 customers to our largest competitor in this space and our research has shown that our brand equity has decreased by 4 points due to our competitor's behavior. If this continues, we will take a net loss that may require selling off this portion of our business.
Why is this valuable to know? Knowing the reasons behind their request creates an opportunity to do due diligence. Can their business problem be solved with marketing alone? Over the long-term, what activities from both a business and a marketing perspective would be necessary to forge a clear plan of attack?
Remember to be respectful in how you ask clients for this information. Often, they are in trouble when they ask for your help, and want you to approach their request as an opportunity (a positive challenge), not as a problem.