Several years ago while brainstorming with a team at an agency searching for a name for their creative process, I tossed out a phrase, quite by accident, that stopped discussions on a dime: Question Marketing. Recognizing an “ah-ha: moment had occurred, the team jumped on the phrase like white on rice and ugly on an ape. For the next several hours we drilled into the concept and captured dozens of creative ideas to leverage it. We knew we had a foundation on which to build a brand and tell our story to clients.
Question Marketing, as we later defined and honed it, came to be the process by which marketers use questions to clearly identify the right messages, the right audiences and the right context. It was and is a disciplined process that drives out assumptions and eliminates arbitrary strategies. Much like the Socratic method helps to teach and inform through sequenced questions, Question Marketing seeks to illuminate what is real, known, true, accurate, authentic and provable in a similar fashion. Because it works, it is a process that I use regularly with my clients today.
At its basic level, Question Marketing has three naggingly persistent questions that are asked most often:
Why? This simple one word question is brief yet extraordinarily important. When someone offers a fact or opinion, asking “why” is a way of framing the sub-text of the information and, equally important, eliciting the context for the information offered. For example, if someone says, “We should price the software at $5,000 per seat,” a simple “why” question will lead to the following likely contributions: competitive pricing, perceived value to prospects, projected ROI, length of sales cycle and other important factors that go into pricing discussions.
So what? Information offered may or may not be relevant to the matter at hand. By asking “so what” one can determine how critical the information, data or opinion is. In the case of the above pricing discussion, asking “so what” to a statement about projected ROI metrics would lead to questions about preferable ways of presenting a crisp ROI story to prospects.
What else? This simple question pushes a team to think further and wider. Because not everything is or can be known, asking “what else?” drives discussions into secondary and tertiary zones. For the pricing discussion example, it might lead to volume pricing concepts or channel/partner pricing models. “What else?” is really like asking “what have we not considered so far?”
Simple though they may seem, these three questions are undoubtedly the most important questions in a strategic marketer’s quiver. In every market planning meeting I have ever attended or led, information flows back and forth among team members. Data, research, product or service features, pricing, etc. In reviewing the portfolio of data, the hope is that the team will reach a consensus as to the correct way to market a product or service. Unfortunately, not every conclusion is tested or probed fully. As a result, decisions about what to do are not fully baked, resulting in arbitrary strategies and less than stellar results. It’s far easier to accept information as unchallenged truths, reach a conclusion and set forth to execute tactics than it is to delve ever deeper into the core data before you.
Let us know if you’d like us to run you through a full Question Marketing audit. It’s obviously much more detailed than these three questions, but if you learn how to ask only these questions, your marketing will improve measurably.