How to effectively evaluate marketing ideas and spot a “dead duck”

Marketing ideas are plentiful.  Whether you are a business owner, a marketing professional, or simply a consumer, we all have those moments of inspiration when we come up with a killer marketing idea for a company or brand or new venture.  Depending on your personality type, you will either “sit on it” and it never sees the light of day, you will carry out some research and explore it further, or you will rush off at 100 miles per hour energised by your new idea.

The issue is never coming up with an idea.  Most of us probably have multiple ideas per day.  The skill is knowing which ideas are the good ones, which are the great ones, and which are the “dead ducks”.

So how can you effectively evaluate whether your marketing ideas are a stroke of genius or borderline insanity.  This article takes you through a few elements to consider before you proceed all guns blazing, or discard it to the dead duck pile.

Below are 10 key questions you can ask yourself to evaluate on whether your latest marketing idea is a good one.

1.Who benefits from the marketing idea?

Now, this sound a little odd?  Surely marketing ideas are designed to benefit the business – i.e. more sales and more profits?  This is ultimately true, of course.  But unless there are also tangible benefits to the customer as well – why should it take off?  Too many businesses introduce new products, services, processes and campaigns because it benefits them. It may create economies of scale or save them time and is driven by internal efficiencies.  However, if there is little benefit to the customer, or worse still, detrimental to the customer experience, then it is highly unlikely to be a success.

2. Has this marketing idea ever been tried in the past?

So often the initial bubble of excitement surrounding an idea is pricked when it is realised that the idea is not original after all.  Someone has already done it.  However, don’t let that dishearten you.  This only means that the idea is not an original one, it does not mean it is not a great one.  If you realised that someone else has previously tried something similar, find out what happened.  Was it a success? Was it in your industry or in something completely unrelated.  Were there some obvious flaws in how it was executed before, could you improve it?  If it has been tried before you have a better chance to evaluate it before it costs you too much money.

2a. If not, why not?

So no-one has had the idea, or at least no one has implemented this before.  Great….but why not?  Is it because the idea has a huge fundamental flaw that you haven’t considered yet?  Or is it because your idea is a stroke of true genius that know has yet considered? 

The best way to test this out is to run it past a couple of people (not close friends or family) and see what they think to it.  Someone who is not excited and emotionally attached to the idea will be able to view your marketing ideas far more objectively, rationally pointing out things you may have overlooked.  Again, this doesn’t mean that the idea cannot be evolved further, but it highlights potential flaws before you make them.   Instinctively, you will feel it is a good idea because you came up with it.  An independent advisor does have that same bias and they can trust their own instincts.

3. What is the cost versus returns?

Sometimes, when we have great marketing ideas, we get so excited by the concept that we don’t fully consider the commerciality of the idea.  What I mean by this, is how much will it cost to make this happen, and what does it need to deliver back to make this worthwhile (and how long will it take).  Often, the idea can be fantastic, but the payback is over such a long period that it just cannot be justified.  If it just isn’t financially viable, it may go some way to explain why no one has ever done it before. 

Unfortunately with a lot of marketing, the return on investment isn’t always tracked carefully, so it can take quite a long time, and a lot of money invested, before you realised that it was wasted investment which could have been spent elsewhere.  At the outset, work out all of the figures involved so if you can gauge a sense of realism of the financial impact the idea could have on the business.

4. Could the idea have any negative impact on existing clients?

We often see marketing campaigns centred upon a main objective of attracting new clients, which is understandable. After all most companies are looking for customer growth.  However, there is little point in attracting new clients at the top of a funnel, if existing clients are leaking out at the other end.

So, before you start full steam ahead with new marketing ideas, consider all of the stakeholders in the business and make sure that none of them are being negatively affected.  For example, does a special offer, for new clients only, communicate that existing customer loyalty isn’t valued.  Or will the additional resource needed to make your new idea happen detract from other areas – such as customer service.

4a. If so, are these clients I still want?

If your new idea does have a negative impact on certain other clients – does this even matter?  Are these clients that you actually want to keep?  Not all customers are good customers. Sometimes it is possible that during the previous years of customer acquisition you have taken on customers that are unprofitable.  Either they are priced too low, on a service package you no longer offer, or just plain difficult and take too much time to service.  If this is the case then perhaps your idea might help to streamline them out of your client base.

5. Does the marketing idea alter our brand positioning or conflict with our values?

We have written many articles in the past about the importance of positioning and brand values, so you need to sense check that your idea doesn’t contradict or clash with either of these.  For example, if one of your values is “simplicity”, you have to ensure that you idea is not too complicated.  If you are positioned at the premium end of the market, you don’t necessarily want an idea that is competing at the value end of the market.  Is the idea targeted at the right sort of audience, or is it going to dilute the impact of the messaging you currently utilise?

Basically the idea has to naturally slot into the essence of what the company is all about.  A good way to consider this is to think about the idea in isolation.  If you were starting this as a separate business – what would be the obvious way to position this and who would it ideally be targeted at.  Then compare how that fits with where you currently are!

6. Do we have the resource to develop this marketing idea to fruition?

Marketing ideas are always great in concept – having the idea is the easy bit.  But in order to take an idea and mould it into something real – you have to work on it and dedicate resource to it. 

Now, you may be in a position to bring in additional resource to get the concept specifically off the ground?  If you are, that is great. You just need to still evaluate the cost versus returns analysis in point 3.  If, however, you are not blessed with the cash reserves to invest, then you may need to redirect existing resource – which obviously has an opportunity cost.  Walt Disney always used to have the most amazing ideas and then carry out a “Yes, if….” analysis.  Can we make this happen…..Yes, if we do “x”, “y” and “z”.  Once you have this list of things that need to happen to make it a reality, you can make a judgement call as to whether it is worth the pain!

7. Could my marketing ideas be easily replicated by our competitors? Would they want to?

Sometimes, your position in the marketplace dictates that only really you can deliver this idea.  However, often the idea cannot be protected.  How long would it take for a competitor to follow suit, and would this eradicate any USP you had created overnight?  Similarly, if we flip this on its head, maybe a competitor of yours has introduced something really innovative and you want to follow suit.  Being the first with an idea is one thing, but being the best is more important. 

8. Have our clients been involved in the development of the idea?

Where has the idea come from? Has the seed of the idea originated from client feedback, or something relayed from staff who deal with customers on a regular basis.  Typically, if the idea has originated from the customer, or trying to create a better experience for the customer, the concept is one which will be openly adopted and embraced by them.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that it ticks all the other boxes in terms of commerciality, brand fit and resources available. 

If on the other hand the customer has played no part in the idea whatsoever, you cannot be sure (without carrying out further research) whether it will even create any demand.  There is an argument that people don’t know what they want until it is available. After all, no-one was demanding a pocket sized gadget that could house your complete music collection so that you could listen to anything, anywhere….but still the iPod was borne.  However, consumer research was undoubtedly carried out in the early stages of development to ensure that there was a potential audience for it, at the right price point.

9. What is the “why” behind the idea?

Although this is listed down as number 9 in the list, it is probably the first question you should ask yourself.  What’s the “why” behind the idea? What benefit does it bring? Does it solve a specific problem?  Why is this idea better than any other marketing ideas that we are currently running or developing.

If the idea is a good one, you should be able to answer this straight away.  If not, the chances are you on to a dead duck!

10. Will this idea still excite me in 4 weeks from now?

Entrepreneurial business owners get their buzz out of new ideas.  It energises them and consumes their complete focus……until something new and shiny comes along.  So, one way to evaluate an idea sensibly is to consider all of the above points, evolve it, and then lock it away for a few weeks.

If, when you next look at it, you still feel it is a winner then the chances are it is probably a good idea.  If, on the other hand, your enthusiasm has dwindled for it (because it is not as new and exciting any more) then maybe it wasn’t as good as your first considered.

Closing thoughts….

Without marketing ideas, innovation and development cannot occur.  Ideas are the lifeblood of any business.  However no ideas are better than bad ideas, which can actually kill a business.  Make sure your marketing ideas are great, or even good, before investing wholeheartedly in them.  Out of 10 ideas, one might be great – make sure you don’t miss out on that golden nugget!

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.