Strategy’s Starring Role: Don’t Let The Supporting Actors Steal The Show
by Felicia Rogers

  • Marketing Strategy

    I was listening to a conference presentation about marketing innovation when a question was asked of the speaker, “What is your brand doing to address issues like sustainability or diversity, equity, and inclusion in your advertising? Aren’t those important messages for your audience?”

    The CMO very astutely responded, without missing a beat, that his brand would not pursue more than one strategy. “Our focus is to deliver high-quality products, and that’s the message we want our audience to hear.” He explained that multiple themes would risk diluting the main message, confusing the audience, and quite likely causing the brand to lose momentum. Spoken like a very wise, very experienced leader. He went on to mention that those issues are indeed important, and they can be woven into the advertising as reasons to believe. For example, sourcing sustainable ingredients is referenced in the copy, but the message is that using these ingredients results in a superior product.

It seems so simple but brilliant at the same time. Messaging strategy, like any other strategy, should have a singular focus. If the recipient takes away just one key idea from your message, what should it be? High quality? Sustainably produced? World’s most comfortable pants? Guaranteed fun? When we think about brand-building campaigns, whatever your brand’s core promise is, that’s where the messaging strategy should be focused.

Of course, messaging plays out most commonly in advertising. To maximize the likelihood that advertising is on strategy, it’s wise to conduct research with the target audience. Here are a couple of ways to engage your audience in research to optimize a campaign’s focus on the key strategic message.

  • Qualitative exploration. By sharing creative with even a relatively small number of end users and having them tell you, one by one, what the ads are saying to them, you can begin to grasp how well the key message is being communicated. Conducting one-on-one, in-depth interviews (IDIs) is the best way to get clean, honest feedback and avoid the bias that can come with focus groups when one person announces their interpretation of the ad that the moderator just shared with the group. IDIs can be tremendously helpful, especially with early-stage executions, to ensure the creative is on target with the communication goals. If you uncover opportunities for improvement, as we frequently do, there is still time to make those changes and get the campaign back on track with the strategic focus.
  • Copy testing. Quantitative pre-testing is another valuable tool, often used at mid or later stages of creative development. A survey is conducted among a relatively large number of target-audience members, again to ensure the ads are communicating as intended. Through a variety of question types, the research can help both predict an ad’s potential for success and identify ways to improve the creative’s effectiveness through various diagnostic measures. Many good copy testing tools exist, including Decision Analyst’s suite of testing systems.

What about A/B testing? Great question. Especially with digital advertising, A/B testing is often used to determine which ad drives more traffic (if that’s the goal), and that’s great. But it won’t tell you whether or not the key strategy elements were communicated as planned. For this deeper understanding, message pre-testing is important, even for digital content that is easy to A/B test.

As I think back to the conference presentation I watched today, I’m proud of this person—who I don’t even know—for his commitment to sticking to the strategy and letting the secondary messages play their supporting roles. I can tell you his products are very successful, and that hasn’t happened by chance.

About the Author

Felicia Rogers ( is an Executive Vice President at Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.


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