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Please: Don't Ask Me to Challenge your Thinking!

Unless your really, really mean it, please don't ask me to "challenge your thinking!" Let me explain. Recently we responded to a request for proposal (RFP) where one of the criteria the decision making body planned to use in their selection of an advertising agency, was one who would challenge their thinking.

On face value this looks very open-minded of them. In reality, it wasn’t really what they wanted.

All too often, potential clients will tell us they aren’t certain about their marketing, or they know they do not have the knowledge, skills or experience to make smart or effective marketing decisions. So, they will turn to us for help either by meeting with us one on one to get a feel for what we can do for them, or as a group of decision makers with us presenting our skills and services.

We take these potential customers at face value and in our meetings with them may share our knowledge and expertise and will have a discussion about the challenges they may face, and potentially how we believe they might go about their marketing to meet these challenges. The problem arises when they don’t really want to hear what we might have to say. This was apparent in our recent presentation. Not only did we present our approach to their project, we asked a lot of questions they couldn’t answer. That’s not always a bad thing if the potential client shows a willingness to seek the answers. But that was not the case in this scenario. Instead, they are willing to forge ahead with their marketing projects with very little real understanding of the complexity of what they were hoping to achieve.

The group did not have a clear understanding of who their target market was. They did not have a marketing plan developed which would aid them in making over-arching decisions. They simple wanted promotional tools to help inform the public, even though they weren’t sure to whom they would be informing and if the delivery method chosen would be effective.

For many years, marketing has been considered the stepsister to the real core of a business or organization, which historically has been driven by production. But in reality, it drives everything. As Peter Drucker famously stated, “Business has only two basic functions-marketing and innovation.” In other words, it doesn’t matter at all how great your product or service is if you don’t market it effectively, no one will ever know about it. And to market effectively means doing some homework, understanding your target customer, what product or service will appeal to them, at what price point, and by what delivery method. It is this basic concept that many customers don’t understand. And it is often what we in marketing are forced to convey, often to the detriment of earning the customers’ business, because they often want easy answers to sometimes difficult questions.

The ending to the RFP story, is that we didn't get it and in speaking to a member of the group, we were told we were the only firm that really challenged their thinking. So, while you ask us to challenge your thinking, we ask you; is that really what you want?