ACES: Questions to Ask at an Inflection Point
In a moment of so much turmoil, are you asking the right questions to help you tell your story better?
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Let’s start here:
Turmoil appears to be the theme of Q4. Tech layoffs are mounting, Twitter is watching Twitter eat itself in real time, inflation & recession remain headline drivers across the country. When faced with so much happening, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate what, if any, adjustments need to be made to the way you are telling the story of your brand in culture.
When faced with these types of scenarios, I like to ask some questions that will be helpful when thinking about the broader cultural context, the conversation around your brand, and the world of your consumer. Alexa & I at Quick Study have even created a handy acronym for you to remember them by: ACES.
Are you actually at an inflection point or do you just think that because it seems like a lot of other companies are?
It’s important to keep hold of what actually impacts your brand’s ability to successfully tell its story, and what is just noise. Yes, the broader cultural context is key to how you choose your overall tone & approach, but it can also be very easy to fall into the trap of deciding to make changes just because it seems like everyone else is.
What’s different about how people are using your product or offering and will that difference last?
It’s easy to say, “things are different now, so we must react!” but are they really? What is changing regarding how your product is being used, purchased, etc.? Is that change permanent or temporary? If it’s a subtle change, then consider integrating new tactics into your existing story to be more relevant. If it’s a significant change, it’s likely time to pause and strategically map out next steps. It’s a lot of work to undergo a pivot only to revert to old ways after a few short months, so you must understand the longevity of your new course while you vet shifts in consumer behavior.
Has the way you want consumers to talk about you changed?
I love the park bench test: If you and I were sitting on a park bench together, and some people walked by us while talking about your brand, what would you want them to be saying? What words would you want to hear? What phrases? What tone? In an inflection point, it’s important to consider how others are speaking about you or for you, and whether or not you need to rethink how they came to that message.
Does the tone of your story match the tone of the cultural moment?
Many brands struggle with tone blindness - they assume they can forge ahead with one POV through any and all moments in culture and across any media placement. Yes, brand consistency is important, but reading the room is critical to show that you understand your consumers’ lives and build relevance with them. I’m not suggesting only serious ads during serious shows or sports-themed ads during games on TV, but for more thoughtful treatment of the moments you are forcing your audience to see & hear from you. Remember: most of the time, they haven’t asked you to be there. You’ve inserted yourself into their lives, so show consideration for the moment you’re in.
Is your value clear or are you trying to do too much?
We tend to get lost in our own marketing bubbles and lose sight of the realities around us. Complex content full of RTBs and key messages is good for engaged, interested audiences, but that can take time to build up to. This is especially true when you are at a moment of inflection and trying to adjust what you are saying to meet the moment. Sure, your internal stakeholders may be getting bored of that one tagline or message, but you see it internally way more often than your consumer. Don’t let your restlessness or internal politics hamper the equity you are building with your audience. When it doubt, keep it simple, focused, and impactful.
Who might your message be relevant to that you haven't considered before?
Some of these questions will give you a sense of how well you know your current audience, but what if you decide to broaden your reach? I’m not advocating for a new customer fishing expedition … necessarily. But since the pandemic upended our lives in 2020, consumers have been less loyal to brands than ever before, and more willing to try new things. We often construct a picture of our customers in our heads (hopefully backed by data), but in moments of tumult, it’s important to be open minded about who your next new audience may be. Observe who is really moving through your funnel and see if there’s a reason to change your messaging. And now the caution — don’t let a wider audience mean a vaguer message; the answer isn’t to be more generic, but to stay true to who you are in the real contexts of your consumers, both the ones you’ve had and the new ones you’re finding.
See it through
What does success look like if you do make a change?
Novel ideas die when you can’t get out of your own way or fail to honestly define what a “win” is. Too often, I’ve seen brands make changes to their marketing apparatus but bail when things don’t improve fast enough, or even worse, when organizations don’t set up their teams to succeed so they can see the change through. If you’re embracing an inflection point, plot clear checkpoints to evaluate your KPIs and commit to them, so your adjustments have time to take hold. Small test & learns are always a good option if you have an inkling that something might work, but you also need a plan for effectively implementing those learnings and the wherewithal to see them through. Do you have the right internal team, processes, and external partners to bring your change order to life? Have you empowered the right people to make decisions so that the change can happen with as little friction as possible? What does your organization’s risk tolerance actually allow for? These questions all matter just as much as the decision to make a change in the first place.
When will I get to rest again?
This isn’t part of the acronym, but still a completely legitimate question! The holiday period can be an onslaught for brand and marketing folks, and then you wake up in January and have all of 2023 to worry about. A burned out brain isn’t going to make decision making any easier, so don’t forget to care for yourself even while moments of inflection are making things a bit chaotic.
There are hundreds more questions that flow from the ones I’ve shared today, but the most important thing is that you create an environment where being curious about what you could be doing better is encouraged and appreciated. And of course, if you need a little injection of curiosity for the inflection points your brand is facing, or want to get ahead of your roadmap for 2023, Quick Study would be happy to help. Drop us a line and we’ll help come up with a clear plan that gets you in market fast with a message that fits the moment.
The Other 90 is written by me, Rob Engelsman, a former baby model and now Cofounder & Strategy Partner at Quick Study. To get us involved in solving your problems, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find me on Twitter (for now), Instagram, & LinkedIn.