I often advise clients on their marketing, and I do this for large companies like SONY as well as for small companies who are only just starting out on the market. What's interesting is that, in both cases, the marketing people nearly always have the same problems. The scale of the problems is different, but the actual problems are the same. Whoever you are, sooner or later, you need a communication strategy.

So I thought that I would create a kind of checklist for this — five questions which you must answer if want to be sure that the basic elements of your marketing, the so-called "low-hanging fruit", are where they should be. Then, and only then, should you try to set up the more complicated elements of your strategy.

So here's the checklist.

Who is your ideal client?

Whether your approach is to focus on appealing to consumers or whether you are a visionary who is following his or her own path, at the end of the day the customer is always your boss. And if your customer doesn't like your product or service, then he or she won't be interested in paying your bills. So be sure that you know who your client actually is.

Defining your client is often synonymous with quoting a demographic profile such as: women aged 18 to 45 and who live in a large or medium-sized city. I'm sorry, but that's not really a definition. How can that kind of information actually help you? Lots of products are aimed at "everyone", at least, that's the impression you may be under.

Use the "Key Moment" principle. Put yourself into your customer's shoes at the moment when he or she is ready to buy something from you. What is their context? What will make them take action? Answer those questions, and then you can forget about things like age-range and where your customers live.

Benefits and attributes: what exactly are you selling?

If your customer wants to buy yoghurt, don't try to sell him or her cabbages - it's simple. So your first task is to put yourself and your company into the kind of category which your customer is interested in. Don't invent a completely new category in which you will be the one and only supplier of something. Not unless you have a huge amount of money to create a lot of hype about your personal views on which categories do and do not exist.

Here's an example from my own area of expertise: MIDEA, my company, helps in creating strong brands. We see ourselves as a branding agency, but we advertise our services as an advertising agency. And that's because our clients generally don't understand the difference between the two.

An inventor of an electric vehicle would be silly not to call it a car, and the mistake Segway made in their marketing was to think up a completely new category for their vehicle, whereas it would have been good enough to have called it a scooter or electric bike. Electric scooters took off, right? So, what exactly are you selling?

Functional benefits: what are your customers buying from you?

Let's assume that you've found the right category for your product or services. Great! Now it's time to define what differentiates you from everyone else. When your client asks you: "Why should I choose you?", you need to be ready with a good answer.

Avoid saying that things like: you're offering "high quality". Remember that you're looking for differentiators, and anyone can offer "high quality" because everyone has a different idea of what this means. Find something concrete and repeat it loud and clear.

But don't forget: find something which is concrete and which is important for your customer in his or her context (rather than something which is important only to you or your team).

Have you built a „package of benefits”?

Often what counts is not a particular product or service on its own, but a unique combination of benefits which will help your product or service sell better than others on the market.

Take Kia cars for example. As cars, they have nothing special about them and offer no reason to be bought more often than other cars. But they come with a 7-year guarantee. That's what makes them seriously worth considering.

A package deal might be a product plus some kind of service or it could be a service which includes some kind of special experience. For example, you can go to a restaurant just to eat something or you go to a restaurant to have an eating experience (as when, say, the food is served in pitch darkness). The darkness is neither a product nor a service - it's an experience.

„Package deals” are also important from another point of view. As customers don't know your particular market as well as you do, they often don't know exactly what they can get for their money. If you create a package deal for them, you'll be making them happy.

Emotions and personality: how do you want them to feel?

At a certain point, there's no perceptible difference in the service offered by different taxi firms: large taxi companies can get one of their taxis to pick you up in less than ten minutes, and there's also no real difference in the taxi cars themselves. So what can make a difference in this context? The taxi driver can make the difference. Some passengers like a driver who is chatty; others like a driver who is a man of few words. A particular driver can be attentive and courteous, or just concentrate on doing the driving.

This is where your client experiences your brand on a purely human and emotional level. And you should also plan that customer experience. Decide whether you want to be perceived by your client as a serious consultant or maybe that the most important thing is for your client to get out of your taxi with a smile on his or her face. There is no right or wrong approach, but it's certainly important to also have differentiators at this level.

If your brand was a person, who would your brand be?

Before you go public with any kind of marketing strategy, first work on answers to that question inside your company. At MIDEA, we call this creating a brand's communications strategy. You should have one. Written down, not just sitting in your head. Ready? Good luck!