If you’ve worked in marketing for more than a week, you’ve committed an RAOM – a Random Act of Marketing. It can take many forms. Mine have looked like tins of inedibly strong mints, a shipping pallet full of Lands End boots, a print ad with a deer in it and, I’m ashamed to say, dozens of branded duck calls, all for really no reason at all.

An RAOM can be caused by many things including the dangerous combination of an executive, an airplane, an abundance of vodka and an ad sales guy. They are also caused by neighbours with an embroidery business, spouses raising money for worthy causes, excited sales people and, sadly, even level-headed marketers who build a six-figure campaign around blinking yo-yo. But these are not reasons for RAOMs, they are excuses.

The reason we market randomly is that we forget to breathe. My favourite speaking coach will tell you that the key to a good presentation is not asphyxiating publicly (I may be paraphrasing), and the same is true of making good decisions about marketing. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the execution of the thing that we skip that whole step that involves taking a deep breath and actually thinking critically about it. Maybe asking a few basic questions of ourselves, and the person standing enthusiastically in front of us with a sponsorship contract and a leaking travel pack of lobsters.

There are many questions you can ask in the face of lobsters but you probably know what those are. And you know to ask about cost, revenue, corporate overlords, Pantone colours and deadlines. What easily excited marketers sometimes forget are the Big Three Questions:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. How many calories are involved?
  3. How will we know?

I think the most important of these three is the first: what problem are you trying to solve? It’s amazing how many RAOMs get that way because nobody’s actually solving a problem. Just in case nobody told you, the thing marketing is supposed to do is solve problems like not enough customers, a lack of awareness about a product and pricing that causes eczema.

If you don’t know what problem you are trying to solve, how can you possibly know if the thing you’re doing is a good idea? In my experience, this is an excellent question to lob at the person shoving beer cozies, radio ads or products named after fruit at you. It is nice if at least one person in the room actually knows what problem you’re trying to solve. If nobody can quite nail it, I’m inclined to say no to whatever it is.

Next week, we’ll look at marketing calories. Oh, and frogs too.