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Updated: May 27, 2020

We know. Everybody loves cool creative. It’s the thing everybody sees and gets excited about. But remember that the work that’s so cool to look at now started being cool far before the creative kick-off. But most of marketing is common sense, and common sense says that you plan a trip before you leave.

If you’re honest with yourself, though, you’ve probably fallen into the fire-ready-aim trap. For example, say you work at a big corporation and a product manager calls wanting a product sheet, campaign or direct mail piece for a new product line they’re rolling out. You want to be helpful, so you make the thing. Asking existential questions about the project could feel like pushing back. It’s your job to support the rest of the team. Or if the CEO wants a flagship brand video or some engineer wants you to name a product or Investor Relations wants help with a presentation; you might just do the thing first and ask questions later.

But asking questions isn’t pushing back. Asking questions before anything is made is the most helpful thing you can do for someone you’re trying to support through responsible, effective marketing. Even asking stupid questions is better than making blind assumptions. And here are some questions that absolutely need answering before you engage the creative team.

1. What is the point of the thing we’re making?

2. Who is the audience? What do they care about? What kind of people are they? How do we know?

3. What are we really selling here?

4. What are the benefits of the thing we’re selling? Which are the most important? How do we know?

5. What’s different and better about this thing we’re selling? Honestly.

6. What are the prospect’s alternatives to buying your thing? Who are we competing against? What are they buying now that we want them to replace with our thing? What do people love about that other thing?

7. What is the general value proposition of what we’re selling? Not just the benefits, but the specific case to the buyers as to how we’re going to help them solve a problem.

8. What’s the most important message? Which supporting messages are relevant? What are the rational reasons why this is the best option for them?

9. What information is absolutely mandatory to include?

10. What do we want people to do after engaging with this thing?

11. What kind of tone, language or feeling should we create?

12. How will we know if it worked? What metrics should we track? How good is good enough for the effort?

13. Is this the best way to accomplish our goal or should we be making or doing something else?

14. How much time and money is this worth?

15. Do we understand the project’s roles and responsibilities, and who will have the power to make final decisions?


If you know the answers to these basic questions, it will take just five minutes to run through them and you can kick off ASAP. If you don’t, the resulting conversations will save a ton of time, money and stress on a false start.

Also, did you notice we actually slipped in 27 questions?



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