Marketing’s transformative questions don’t start with ‘how?’

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As marketers, we deal with a lot of questions that start with “How?”:

  • How do we improve our NPS brand?
  • How can we go deeper to get deeper insights for consumers?
  • How can we reactivate expired DTC clients?
  • How do we ensure that we maintain our premium?
  • How do we motivate the agency to higher elevations?
  • How do we increase the loyalty of our customers?
  • How can this brand use the latest innovations of our R&D team?
  • How can we jump on market number two?

These “how” questions are a feature across all levels of the marketing hierarchy, from CMO (“How do we grow a double-digit portfolio?”) to the most recent graduate trainee (“How do I raise sad likes on Instagram?”)

They are practical questions, they matter, and when handled with due diligence they can bring great things to us, because they cannot be answered without a thorough understanding of the fundamentals and all relevant data in our market, our brand and our consumers.

But the “how” is also a restrictive construct. This means that higher order decisions have already been made with judgment and vision. It begins with the acceptance that this path is the right path, and that what is important from now on is to overcome all the obstacles that may prevent us from getting there. “How” is a practical question, not transformative. It takes you to the details, not to the stratosphere.

The key component of your brand – and sector – is missing

So it’s a good idea to come for air every now and then. The simplest way for marketers to spark their prospects, and play their part in bringing about transformative change for the brand and organization behind it, is to turn “how” questions into questions that begin with “why?”. And from there, to head to the crazy, open sky Big Questions that begin with “What if…?”.

basic. But uncomfortable. Because what you’re doing here is questioning introductions that, too often, seem too intuitive to be open to a challenge at a distance.

Ask silly questions

For example, take the perfectly reasonable “how” question at the top of the list above – the question about NPS optimization. Turn it into a “why” question and you get the weak silliness of “Why should we improve our brand NPS?”

But is this ridiculous? See where it can take you. NPS is a ubiquitous scale. Everyone uses it. Why do we feel that we will gain the advantage of checking the same standards as our competitors? NPS focuses only on existing customers, while growth may come from attracting new customers, perhaps from completely different channels. What if we expanded, to look for better ways to get input from non-clients as well? Can we devise our own super metric that, rather than following the crowd, produces a richer set of data from a broader consumer base?

Or look at some of the other questions in that list above. Agency motivating topic, eg. Why are we still with an agency that needs stimulus? Why are we with an agency at all? What if we discovered amazing talent in freelance work? Why not create an in-house agency and get things done faster, more accurately, and at a lower cost? (Of course, you can deliberately leak these internal deliberations to the current agency and get your answer to the “how” question right then and there.)

What you’re doing here is questioning introductions that, too often, seem too intuitive to be open to a challenge at a distance.

It goes. The R&D Team’s Latest Innovations: Why do we engage with what they create instead of meeting the needs of tomorrow’s consumers? Insights: Why do we rely on them so much? What if we discovered mass quality improvement to hack it? Jumping into the second category: why not aim for the first? What if we put a case on the board to get the number two to fulfill? Customer loyalty: why not prioritize access? What if Byron Sharp was right all along?

There is a caveat here: a little goes a long way. It can get a lot done if you’re the one who questions every 10 minutes. If it comes to “why” and “how”, then absolutely nothing will be done. So, it’s about choosing your timing and making sure you have something to offer other than playing the boring “devil’s advocate”.

But it’s better to do it sometimes than never. Considering it’s the start of the year, I don’t see any reason not to take the tech internally to a personal level as well. Instead of asking “How can I move forward in my marketing career?” Ask, “Why would I want to move forward in marketing? Why would I choose this career?”

If the answers were vague and situational – which seemed like a good idea at the time – then perhaps it’s time to rethink. On the other hand, if your answer revolves around the power of marketers to improve people’s lives, drive prosperity, imagine a future that consumers themselves can’t even imagine, and bring color, fitness and heart to what would be cool business interactions, then you have something to build on, something You can strive to implement it and make it a reality every working day.

This brings us straight back to the “how” of course. But it’s a question that you can now address with passion. Because you will know that the higher decisions behind them have already been made with judgment and vision. Even better, they were made by you.

Transformation power

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