The Great Inquisition

Ask the right questions to unearth authentic pain points

Anyone in our industry will tell you marketers are all about solving problems. And a problem can’t be solved without understanding, truly understanding, the root of an issue, what caused it, how it impacts a key audience, and the circumstances that made it a problem in the first place.

There are no real shortcuts to marketing solutions that work. At The Creative Department, we don’t actually feel we’ve gotten to the core of a client’s issues until we can honestly say, “We feel your pain.” Since our success depends on the success of our clients, it’s incumbent upon us to dig in until we get to the real issues, and to work together with them to map out actionable solutions. The same is true of marketers working with an internal communications team, creative folks gathering input for a project, or agency staff getting to know a brand and its issues for the first time.

Teamwork makes the dream work

At the risk of sounding like a private investigator interrogating a witness, it’s smart to ask as many questions as it takes to help you get a grip on a marketing problem. Don’t assume you know. Don’t think it’s probably the same as it was last year. Don’t hesitate to ask for evidence you might be able to find elsewhere. Just don’t. At the outset of a large project or an annual planning session, schedule a face-to-face meeting, and ask away. Chances are, the team will appreciate both your curiosity and your preparation. More often than not, questions lead people to think about issues from different perspectives, resulting in new insights.

Preparation. preparation. preparation.

Before the questions start, make sure you’re properly prepared.

  • Know the situation. Are you up-to-date on what’s been happening in the marketplace? Are you familiar with the plight of key competitors?
  • Assemble the players. Do you have the right people in the room? Are key stakeholders represented? Do you know who will make the final decision? Who is empowered to take action when action is prescribed?
  • Gather your assets. Have you asked the appropriate people to provide research, trend analyses, or internal documentation that will help illustrate specific problems? Do you have an agenda?
  • Don’t forget the preamble. Be ready to give a brief intro summarizing key points as you know them, as well as the purpose for the meeting. Emphasize that the ultimate solution will emerge from the work you do now. Encourage everyone to dig in and open up.

Then, let the questioning begin. Of course, this shouldn’t be an accusatory cross-examination. We’re all working to solve the same problems. The goal — for everyone — is to get the most complete information possible in order to formulate effective solutions from authentic pain points.

Here are some sample questions to get you started:

What’s changed since the last time we met?
Questions about industry, economy, competitors, customers, key personnel, new product or service offerings, etc.

Is there a new audience we should explore?
Has the target changed? Are there new perspectives or challenges we should consider? What’s hurting? What’s helping?

Let’s talk about measurable goals for this project (or year, or plan, or whatever).
What’s feasible? What’s a reach? How do we measure success? What’s keeping you from meeting those goals? What baseline information do we have to get started?

When things go wrong (in the sales funnel, for instance), what causes that?
Where, in the customer journey, do you typically lose a customer? Why? What tools or insights are missing? Put some numbers to the churn. Show me what it looks like.

What solutions have you tried?
What’s working? What’s not? Why?

What concerns you?
What’s your boss worried about? What keeps you up at night? Where could we fail? How can we succeed?

Have we explored alternatives?
There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Even if some solutions are awful, put them on the table. Sort through them and land on the BEST idea.

What sort of constraints do we have?
Start with deadlines, budgets, and personnel; then work to understand what is driving those decisions. A lack of resources, itself, can be a pain point.

No pain, no gain

At the end of an intense question-and-answer period, you should have some idea where to focus your collective resources and energy and what it will take to deliver a powerful solution. Without pain points, it would be impossible to produce ideas that are truly built to solve problems. The same holds true for the creative process: without doing the critical work upfront, any marketing project is doomed to underperform for lack of accurate and actionable information. Don’t fall into the trap of rushing to solve problems based on what you think you know or what you hope to be true.


Need our help identifying and solving those pesky pain points? Give us a call or email us today.

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Category: Expertise
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