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12 Questions for Marketers

Entrenched beliefs and habits drive much of what we humans do. Asking ourselves a few questions can help clarify our thinking and expose assumptions we might not have been conscious of. This article poses some questions for marketers.

Editor’s Intro: One of the problems with today’s fast-paced, multi-tasking world is that it is way too easy to get caught up in everyday tasks and not pay attention to bigger questions around what we are doing and trying to accomplish. Kevin Gray discusses twelve questions that marketers need to stop and ask themselves periodically to keep themselves on course.  I am sure that the market researchers, consultants and others among our readers can think of analogous questions they should also be asking themselves regularly.


Though marketing has changed in many respects in the past decade or so, people are still people and entrenched beliefs and habits drive much of what we do, marketers included. Asking ourselves a few questions can help clarify our thinking and bring to light the assumptions and cognitive biases we are unaware of.

Here are a dozen questions marketers can ask themselves. I’ve added a few thoughts of my own so that the meaning of each question is clear.

Is my marketing myopic? In the 1960s, Theodore Levitt coined the term “marketing myopia” to describe a narrow, short-term focus on selling the company’s products. Though not new, this all-too-common tendency seems to have worsened with the arrival of digital marketing. Some marketers appear to confuse marketing with sales and ignore the upper part of the marketing funnel. The marketing mix is much more than price, however.

Do ordinary people see my brand as I do? Some brand teams come across as obsessed with their brand and divorced from the real world of consumers. Ethnography and other traditional marketing research can bring them closer to their customers, but asking this simple question is a good place to begin.

Am I defining my category too narrowly? This is a common mistake. Unlike brand teams, ordinary folks normally do not think of brands as belonging to product categories. When they do, their definitions are typically very different from ours. Brands compete for share of mind and wallet with many kinds of products, not just the brands marketers regard as their main competition. Think of snacks and drinks, for example.

Have I ever researched non-users of my category? Much of marketing is share-focused and growing the category does not seem to receive the attention it once did. Part of this may stem from demographic trends and the maturity of many products, but I think mindset also plays a role – it simply does not occur to many marketers to investigate why people don’t use their product and to look for ways to encourage trial.

Am I fixin’ stuff that ain’t broke? Some people are stuck in their ways and unwilling to change course…even when a metaphorical iceberg lies directly in their path. At the other extreme, there are fidgety people who seem to need constant change. The latter type is more common in marketing in my experience, and one result is constantly tinkering with positioning, packaging, logos, websites and other aspects of their product and how it’s marketed. This is good for my business, but not necessarily for theirs.

How do I know my segmentation strategy is profitable? Segmentation can be used for targeting or to simply learn about consumers. Unfortunately, it’s often done poorly, and clients wind up chasing “targets” which are arbitrary, minuscule or fictitious. This is not a new problem – lengthy screeners in consumer surveys are one testament to its longevity.

How well do I understand marketing mix and attribution modeling? These are technical topics and there are competing claims about them. Another consideration is whether the people doing these analytics for us have a conflict of interest. You may find Marketing Mix Modeling: What It Is and What It Does and Time Series Analysis: A Primer helpful. Northeastern University professor Koen Pauwels is an authority on mix and attribution modeling and has written an excellent non-technical book entitled It’s Not the Size of the Data — It’s How You Use It: Smarter Marketing with Analytics and Dashboards. Many marketers are squandering valuable time and budget chasing meaningless metrics.

Do I really understand statistics? Many business people have had “Stats 101” but no more than that. That’s not even the tip of the finger – follow this link to see what I mean. Rather than being shoved aside by “AI” and “machine learning,” statistics plays a prominent and increasingly vital role in data science, and I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that innovation in the field is exploding. Survey Research Analytics gives a snapshot of some tried-and-true methods that are underutilized by marketers.

Are my products too complex for most consumers? This is an old issue and more common in certain industries than others. Many ordinary folks don’t want a lot of gadgetry and complicated choices that dazzle engineers – they just want basic functionality that’s easy to learn and simple to use. Opportunities are going to waste.

Am I turning off my customers with CS surveys and targeted ads? We should occasionally reflect on our own lives as ordinary people outside of the office! I personally want companies to leave me alone. When I need them, I’ll find them. I suspect there is a place for some smarter marketing.

How are psychology, sociology and anthropology relevant to marketing? Many newcomers to marketing nowadays have a thin background in the behavioral and social sciences – the bedrock of marketing and marketing research. The courses I took in these fields as an undergrad are still valuable to me today. Fascinating and fun subjects, too.

Should I use the word “consumer” or “people”? Marketers have gotten into the lazy habit of using consumer to mean shopper, customer, decision maker, purchaser and user. I am also guilty of this. All these words also refer to people and we shouldn’t forget that or that we are people too. My MR Realities co-host Dave McCaughan has strong opinions about this. We should listen to him.

Many marketers are under pressure to do more with less, and to do it faster. Under these circumstances, it’s very easy to do what we’ve always done or to follow fashion. Either could be a mistake, and hasty decisions can prove costly. Stepping back and thinking through questions such as these will be time well spent.

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