Every single one of our clients has an extremely unique set of marketing needs based on their specific challenges, objectives and budgets. So the mix of solutions we recommend is also extremely unique to each client. However, there are certain actions we believe every client should take before launching a new campaign. Truth is, very few organizations are willing to invest the time and effort into our recommendations. Bad for them. Good for you. Experience and research have taught us that doing these 17 things will deliver much stronger results in the short and long run.



Make sure you allot plenty of time for any research needed, internal feedback, approvals and creative development and production on the back-end. Begin by picking a start date for when you want new advertising to launch. Subtract two months for creative development and production. Subtract two more months for any internal and/or external quantitative, qualitative and/or media research that needs to be done. Subtract one month to write your Situation Analysis and get internal approvals. Add in even more time to find and select researchers, media planners and creative service providers if you don’t have these resources locked down. 



Before you even begin thinking about next year’s plan, you need to show bias the door and don’t let the screen smack its butt on the way out. Cognitive bias or the tendency to doggedly incorporate certain advertising tactics, media and technologies - despite objective evidence to the contrary - is a real problem that’s costing marketers big time. A recent study by Ebiquity shows there is a huge disconnect between what media most marketers think is most effective and what really is. Complementary research by Trinity Mirror Solutions reveals that marketers have enormous cognitive biases that cause them to:

• Believe new technologies and media platforms are better despite evidence to the contrary
• Seek recognition and approval for their ads from their peers as opposed to consumers
• Be obsessed with developing “brand relationships” even though research proves brand relationships are
weak – if they even exist at all

And that’s a shame because one of the biggest benefits agencies offer is an objective point of view. If you, your marketing team and third-party partners are not 100% agnostic in considering, recommending and choosing research, strategic, creative and media solutions your plan will underperform. That’s an unbiased fact.

3.   Conduct A Stakeholder Survey 

Stakeholder surveys should be conducted at least once a year and go to all key decision-makers in your organization. We use them to do two things. The first is to determine if and where there’s any friction among your team regarding your current tactics, marketing goals, target and competition. Once identified, these friction points can be addressed and resolved before they turn into bigger problems down the road. Secondly, we compare and contrast responses to objective, evidence-based findings from customer and competitive research and measured ad performance. Questions should be customized to your specific company and industry and are divided into the following three sections:

Your Company:

• Product/Services - benefits/weaknesses, upcoming launches, distribution weaknesses and opportunities
• Defining Success - what are your goals and how much should it cost to achieve them
• Communications - what's working/what's not/what’s missing
• Elevator Pitch – what you tell people your company does

 Your Competitors:

• Identification – who they are
• Perceived Strengths + Weaknesses

 Your Customers:

• Who They Are - demographics + psychographics
• Perceived Wants & Needs
• Media - how do customers find out about you

NOTE: We recommend using Survey Monkey to ease distribution and analysis of responses.

4.   Research Your Customers

Understanding your customers’ real wants and needs are absolutely critical to developing an effective marketing strategy. You can utilize data analysis and quantitative, qualitative and ethnographic research to identify and confirm the ones that can impact your business most.

Qualitative research provides insight into the emotional reasons people engage with a brand. Focus groups, one-on-one interviews, phone surveys, triads and ethnography are qualitative tactics we utilize to get at the why’s and what’s and emotional hot buttons that drive consumer/customer behavior.

Quantitative research such as online surveys and controlled testing and field trials (A/B testing, test markets, creative pre-testing and analysis of primary and secondary data) provide measurable, statistically relevant data from the marketplace. Generally speaking, quantitative research allows us to speak to a large number of people, in a relatively short timeframe cost effectively.  

To get the best understanding possible, we recommend starting with qualitative research to uncover insights and inspire direction for future messaging and tactics. Then conduct quantitative research to statistically confirm the insights and suggested messaging and tactics that are most relevant and likely to work. For both we recommend questioning three types of customers:

• Current customers
• Customers/Consumers who have left you for a competitor
• Potential customers

In order to optimize short-term sales activation tactics, we like to employ our data analysts to identify potential customers most likely to buy now, define their personas and report on their behavior. This analysis allows us to maximize reach while minimizing wastage by locating people just like them in any geographical market. Once we know who they are, where they live and what they like to do, we can connect with them through hyper-targeted online channels like social platforms, and banners and offline tactics like direct mail, billboards, guerrilla and even targeted TV. 

NOTE: While short-term sales activation efforts are crucial, they should not constitute more than 25% of your total marketing spend. At least 75% of your total budget should go to long-term brand building efforts. More on the studies that support this below.

5.   Investigate Your Competitors

Identifying and understanding whom your real competitors are is critical to successfully differentiate and position your company against them. Doing so will allow you to capitalize on their weaknesses and failures while protecting you against any threats they may pose. A basic competitive analysis should detail your competitors’ current:

• Strategic positioning
• Brand personality
• Customers
• Strengths
• Achilles Heel (biggest weakness)
• Threats to your business
• Products + services
• Geographic influence
• Messaging + communications tactics

 6.   Survey Your Vendors

Want to know how you’re really perceived by the market? How about what’s working and not working for your competitors? Ask your vendors. It’s their business to know your business as well as your competitors’. Create an abridged version of your Stakeholder Survey and offer some sort of incentive to encourage response. Make sure they understand all their answers will remain strictly confidential. Chances are, you'll be surprised by what they tell you.

7.   Write A Situation Analysis

Based on responses from your Stakeholder and Vendor Surveys, Customer Research and Competitive Analysis, compose a summary of the current state of marketing. The objective is to give your internal and external teams context and a rationale for next year’s marketing budget, goals and potential tactics needed to achieve them. With the facts you’ve gathered, you’ll be able to nip in the bud any misperceptions/conflicts revealed by the Stakeholder Survey. Your Situation Analysis should cover these topics and answer the following questions:

Marketing Situation

• What does your annual sales curve look like and how has it been trending over the past three or four years?
• To date how is marketing performing overall in regards to meeting short and long-term objectives?
• What marketing tactics and initiatives are performing best? Why?
• What tactics and initiatives are not on track? Why?
• Are there any external factors that have helped or hurt your marketing efforts? Why?
• Are there any internal factors that have helped or hurt your marketing efforts? Why?
• Are there any internal or external factors that will help or hurt next year’s performance?
• What is the biggest marketing objective you want to achieve next year?
• What is the biggest marketing objective you want to achieve over the next 3 – 5 years?

Customer/Consumer Situation

• What does the customer landscape look like? (growing, diminishing, why?)
• How would you describe your best customer?
• What does the broad cross-section of your customers look like? (demographic, psychographic, social, income, geographic)
• Are there enough customers to go around?
• Are there any new customer/consumer insights uncovered by research?
• If so, how should these insights be utilized to make next year’s plan more effective?

Competitive Situation

• How many competitors do you have?
• Who is your number one rival? Why?
• How big is your business compared to theirs?
• How do your competitors attempt to differentiate themselves?
• What is their primary image? (quality, price, exclusive lines, service, etc.)
• Are they fulfilling their claims?
• How much are your competitors spending on advertising annually? What unique customer/consumer benefit do you provide that competitors can’t or don’t?
• In regards to customer/consumer needs what are the competitive advantages your rivals have over you?
• Are there any initiatives tactics that have been successful for your rivals that you should consider adopting?

Product/Service Situation

• What products/services did marketing specifically support last year?
• How did each product/service supported by marketing perform? Why?
• Based on insights from the research, what products/services best address current consumer/customer needs not being addressed by competitors?
• Based on evidence, what initiatives/tactics do you think will be most effective promoting them next year?

Distribution Situation

• How are you currently getting your product to market?
• What distribution channels are most effective?
• What distribution opportunities should be pursued? (Direct to consumer, third-party online platforms, third-party bricks and mortar, etc.)

Opportunities & Issues Summary

• What are the current opportunities available in the market?
• What are the main threats that business is facing and may face in the future?
• What are the business strengths you can rely on?
• What are the business weaknesses that may affect performance?
• Does your business have a weakness or bad public perception in any area that must be overcome? (i.e.: poor quality or service from previous owner, old facility, etc.)

Once you’ve written the first draft, share it with your marketing team, sales, CEO, COO, CFO and/or anyone else who has a stake in marketing for feedback. Once you’ve incorporated their input share your second draft with them and get consensus. Getting everyone who has a say in marketing on board early will pay huge dividends when you present your plan and budget later.


If you have a complete Brand Platform, compare it to your new Situation Analysis. Does it accurately reflect your current situation in regards to your ideal customer, their needs and your competitive set? Do your higher purpose, vision, mission and promise work together to differentiate your company from rivals, rally employees while attracting new customers? Does your current tagline convey your main message while paying off impossible to ignore, hard to forget advertising and customer experiences that positively distinguish you from your competitors?

If you don’t have a Brand platform you’ll be about as likely to reach your marketing goals as a ship is likely to reach its destination without a rudder, engine or compass. Here are the key components every brand platform should have and the key questions they should answer:

Market Description: Whom Are You Marketing To?

Your market is anyone who is currently or is likely in the future to buy your product or service. It includes everyone who is important to your success both today and tomorrow. It should be divided into two segments:

  1. All the people who could potentially buy your product. This is the market you should be going after to ensure long-term growth through a top of the funnel, integrated campaign designed to increase awareness and build brand affinity. To maximize ROI, recent research by Les Binet and corroborated by the ARF shows 75% of your budget should be focused on marketing efforts to this broad audience.

2. A highly targeted and more-narrowly defined subset or subsets of the above mass market. These are people who are already aware of your brand and likely to buy it in the near future. Warning: Don’t define your target too narrowly or you want reach enough people to get the return you need in sales. Niche or segmented marketing is where most companies are wrongly focusing their attention and spend. Only 25% of your budget should be spent on “harvesting” sales and the rest should be spent on growing awareness and consideration with your mass market described above.

Some questions your Market Description should answer are:

• What are the demographics of people most likely to buy your product or service?

• Geographic Location
• Age
• Gender
• Marital Status
• Family Status
• Income
• Education Level

• What are the pain points your products/services solve for them?
• What media channels (on and offline) are most likely to reach them?
• How do they shop?

Vision: What Do You Want To Achieve?

A Vision Statement looks into the future and expresses the ideal state your business wants to achieve. It is aspirational and should inspire employees. A few questions vision statements answer are:

• What problem are we seeking to solve for our customers?
• Where are we headed?
• If we achieved all strategic goals, what would we look like 10 years from now?

Mission: How Are You Going To Achieve It?

You Mission Statement affirms how you intend to fulfill your vision, as expressed in your Vision Statement. This is not a place for specific tactics. Your Mission Statement should only be about the long-term strategy or strategies you will pursue to achieve your vision. Great Mission Statements inspire and guide employee actions and emotionally connect and resonate with customers and vendors.

• What will your company do to achieve its vision?
• How is that beneficial to your customers?  

Brand Promise: What Differentiates You From Your Competitors?

Your Brand Promise clearly articulates what differentiates you from your competitors. Sometimes this is obvious if you have a distinct competitive advantage. But in most cases, a brand promise - or unique selling proposition (USP) – takes a bit more work to tease out. Your competitive advantage must be real – something concrete you can point to and demonstrate. The best way to uncover your real differentiation is by interviewing customers through qualitative research tactics. You’ll also want to review your Competitive Analysis to make sure your USP is truly distinctive from any of your rivals.

Higher Purpose: Why Do You Do What You Do?

People don’t by what you do, they buy why you do it. Higher Purpose statements articulate your why – your company’s fundamental reason for being. Good ones are intrinsically linked to growing your business – not solving a social justice or environmental issue. The most successful brands know there is no higher calling for a business than to make a profit. It’s noble for businesses to support and champion causes – but never at the expense of long-term revenue and growth. After all, revenue and growth are what allow companies to give more to causes they believe in.

Therefore, we define brand purpose as the nexus where your company’s highest passions and profits fulfill your market’s true wants and needs in ways your competitors cannot or will not. Put another way, Higher Purpose is the unique and profitable way your products and services benefit people in ways your competitors can’t or won’t.

Effective Higher Purpose statements are a mission statement, positioning statement and brand promise jacked up on steroids and rolled into one potent line. Our clients use them to inspire, integrate and improve their products and services and every communication tactic and customer experience possible.  

NOTE: Do not attempt to write your own Higher Purpose statement. Leave this one to the pros. We have a surefire approach for this called Brand Enlightenment. Read about it here.

Tagline: What Is The Creative Expression Of Your Higher Purpose?

While your Higher Purpose statement is used internally, you also need a short, memorable way to express it in your advertising. For example, Nike’s purpose is to help everyone release their inner athletes through products and service designed to get them off the couch and onto and into fields, gyms, courts, etc. and their tagline is “Just Do It.”

9.   Audit All Your Past & Current Communications 

Gather all past and current marketing and advertising elements. These materials may include but are not limited to:

• Mission, Vision & Positioning Statements
• Any Existing Customer Research
• Print ads
• Online ads
• Online videos
• Broadcast ads (TV + radio)
• Tradeshow/Event Materials
• Social content
• Testimonials
• Landing pages
• Banner ads
• Outdoor
• Emails
• Direct Mail
• Website Copy
• Sales Sheets
• Presentations
• White Papers
• Business Cards
• Promotions
• Signage
• Collateral

Go through each piece and evaluate what is and isn’t working and why. What is and isn't consistent in tone, design and messaging. What does and doesn’t support your company’s Brand Platform and specifically your Higher Purpose. What does and doesn’t meet the creative standards of impossible to ignore and hard to forget. When developing new work, having this knowledge will allow you to capitalize on effective tactics while avoiding those that are not. In other words, a communications audit will ensure you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater when developing new work. This exercise also helps identify missing customer touch point opportunities and the prioritization of specific tactics that need to be developed.

10.   Set And Allocate Your Budgets

According to the August 2018 CMO Survey, the average budget as a percentage of overall revenue is as follows for the following business sectors:

• B2B Services 7.1%
• B2B Products 5.4%
• B2C Services 8.9%
• B2C Products 10.1%

Be very careful how you allocate your budget. Most marketers are investing way too much of their money into short-term, sales activation marketing tactics and as a result are ending up short-changed. According to the Advertising Research Foundation, the optimal mix for maximizing advertising effectiveness for most businesses is 78% long-term branding and 22% direct. A new study by renowned marketing researcher, Les Binet corroborates the ARF’s findings.

TIP: Cut Out At Least One Sales Promotion

It’s been proven that short-term price promotions have little if any effect on long-term sales and brand growth. Evidence suggests most people who buy during promotions are brand loyalists who more than likely would have paid full-price anyway. The best thing price promotions do is solidify your relationship with retailers. Remember, the strongest brands are rarely the cheapest.

Despite claims to the contrary, studies show (here & here) online sales activation advertising alone is not very effective. Here’s why. While online sales activation is really efficient at harvesting demand, traditional brand building is much, much better at growing demand. Instead of attracting more, newer buyers, sales activation tends to target those who are likely to buy anyway. Without an investment in brand growth through long-term, mass targeted, emotional driven marketing, sales activation tactics will never reap the harvest they should. What’s more, Binet’s study found traditional media such as TV, print, outdoor and radio are all gaining in effectiveness and not getting weaker. 

The other big finding is that attribution models tend to credit online channels for sales at the expense of media channels that are not easily tracked. This in turn, fuels an unhealthy cycle where more and more money is pumped into ineffective online sales activation instead of more effective offline channels.

Finally, make sure you allocate money for the following:

 • Media

Include analysis of your current plan, developing a new plan, buying paid media, trafficking ads and reporting.

 • Production

Include video production, photography, radio production, stock image licensing, coding, illustrations, printing, postage, mailing lists, email lists, bidding oversight and mechanical production for resizing and repurposing concepts. Don’t forget any travel and meals if needed.

Agency Fees

Include fees for creative development (creative direction, copywriting, art direction, graphic design), strategic planning, research services and project management.

• Research

Include fees for recruiting (focus group, surveys, one-ones, etc.), research facilities, moderators, lists, travel and meals.

• Tradeshows

Before during and after show communications, giveaways, contests, booth talent, booth space, booth production, booth signage, shipping booth elements, on-site booth construction, Wi-Fi fees, special events, travel and meals, etc.

• Promotions/Contests

Discount/prize costs, attorney fees, etc.

• PR

Agency fees, travel and meals if needed.

11.   Write An Overarching Strategic Brief

Every company that markets needs an Overarching Strategic Brief (OSB). In short, it serves as a condensed brand platform that strategically defines your business objectives while guiding and inspiring the development of tactics and executions to fulfill them. From Media Planning to Creative Brand Experiences to Internal Messaging, every tactic must also have its own tactical brief that defines how it will integrate with the rest of the campaign and support the OSB. A solid Overarching Strategic Brief will contain the following:

• Situation Analysis
• Your Top Competitors - products + services + key benefits + key weaknesses
• Your Long-Term Customer Profile – demographics + psychographics
• Your Short-Term Customer Profile - demographics + psychographics
• Top Barriers To Purchase + Possible Way To Overcome Them
• Your Higher Purpose Statement (Key Message)
• Why Your Customers Should Believe It
• What You Want Customers To Feel & Do?
• Tonality Of Messaging
• Success Metrics (Short-Term – first 6 months, Long-Term – after first 6 months)
• Suggested Media To Consider - paid + earned + owned
• Production Budget
• Media Budget
• Call To Action
• Contact Info To Be Included
• Desired Launch Date
• Presentation Deadlines

12.   Construct A Media Plan That Delivers Continuously – Not Just In Short Bursts

Use your Overarching Brief to guide your media planner. Make sure your media planner is unbiased and equally versed in buying traditional as well as online media. Research shows the most effective media buys are ones that deliver messaging continuously throughout the year to everyone in your market – from potential buyers all the way to loyalist heavy buyers. Instead of just marketing to niche personas you must also market deep and wide to everyone who needs your product or service. Make sure your plan includes multiple media channels. Studies show campaigns that appear in and on 5 or more media channels perform best. Use both online and offline media. Offline, mass-market channels are best at connecting with people emotionally and growing awareness and consideration. Online, targeted channels are best at harvesting sales from those you’re long-term efforts have connected with.

13.   Create An Evergreen Integrated Creative Campaign With Short And Long-Term Tactics

Remember that over-arching brief you created? Pull it out again to brief your creative teams. Ideally have your media planner work directly with them to figure out the best on and offline media channels and creative ideas to max out both short and long-term effectiveness. Don’t settle for any work that doesn’t meet the standard of impossible to ignore and hard to forget. Creativity has the biggest impact on effectiveness and can boost performance by a factor of 11x. Creative ads are also more memorable and more likely to be talked about and shared so you can actually spend less on paid media and get bigger returns than you would spending more on ho-hum executions. One more thing. Demand that your agency create a long-term creative campaign that can last for multiple years. McKinsey found that companies with long-term creative campaigns had 47% more top-line growth than other companies and 36% higher earnings.

TIP: Enter Award Shows.

This one sounds pretty self-serving, coming from a creatively driven ad agency, right? Well, the truth is award-winning work has been proven to be more effective at generating revenue and growing companies than non-award winning advertising. Winning awards is also one of the most effective ways for agencies to attract top talent to work on your account. So instead of only looking at award shows as vainglorious, self-serving events for your agency (which they no doubt are) consider the fact they’re also a great way to measure whether your agency is delivering the best work possible and recruiting top talent.

14.   Develop An Integrated Marketing Communications Plan (IMC Plan)

Once you’ve developed your Media Plan, and agreed on a production budget, you need to put it all together in an IMC Plan. The IMC Plan is a 12-month calendar detailing deadlines, production schedules, delivery dates, run times and success metrics for every single paid, owned and earned media tactic in your annual campaign.

15.   Create An Employee Pledge

An employee pledge is an internal rallying cry, brand manifesto and oath all powerfully combined in a beautifully written document. Once finished, it should be a work of art worthy of prominent display inside your company. Everyone – from the CEO on down plus all new employees – should sign it. Nothing makes a clearer or stronger statement about who your company is, what it stands for and what customers can expect from you.

16.  Rally The Troops

Every quarter bring your ad agency in and host a lunch for as many people in your organization as you can afford. Have your agency put together a presentation that shows off all the new marketing work you’ve done. Include your very best executions, publicity and results. If you have a sales team make them part of the show. Give them a platform to report on all the sales they're making and the great feedback they're getting from customers.

NOTE: This is the perfect event to introduce the Employee Pledge and have people sign it.

17. Do Something Surprisingly Generous For Your Customers

Think of four doable ways to thank your customers. It doesn’t have to be something big – just surprising and of some emotional value. Ideally, do something that reinforces your company’s higher purpose. One of our clients, Burkely Student Communities, offers rental discounts to residents who make the Dean’s List. This fits in perfectly with their positioning as the only off-campus student housing option 100% dedicated to helping students succeed academically.

This list is by no means exhaustive but by now you’re probably exhausted reading. So we’ll stop here at 17. If you need help with any of the above items listed, please contact us. We’d love to help.

Eternally Yours:

David Smith | Founder & Creative Leader

919.667.3717: c | 919.969.7500 ext. 3717: o


About Immortology

Immortology is a full-service agency specializing in creating legendary creative and strategic solutions that help our clients outsmart, outdo and outlast – not outspend – their competitors. Our secret? We help companies find their true calling and align it with their customers’ true wants and needs in ways their rivals can’t or won’t. Then we unleash it through unforgettable brand experiences that interest and entertain their customers, rally their employees and strike fear into the hearts of their enemies for years to come.


About David Smith

Over the past two decades, David has been the creative force behind some of the world’s most memorable and successful ads. His campaigns have been covered by the NY Times, Adweek, Ad Age, Time, The Wall Street Journal, LA Times and Media Week. Shows such as Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Inside Edition, CMT and CNN/FN have featured his work. The 4A’s recognized his movement, “Stop The Adness” as the “most transformative idea of 2011”. His campaign for Smirnoff Ice was the most successful product launch in United Distillers and Vintners’ history and his Lipton Brisk campaign has been included in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. Over 60 million people have viewed his videos for Triumph Boats worldwide.