The Importance of “Why”
by Stan Hazen

  • Asking Why Questions
    Marketing is essentially about creating, communicating, and delivering products and services that have value for customers. (Hopefully at a profit.) Marketing research is about gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information to help accomplish that as effectively and successfully as possible.

    In marketing, there’s almost always a need for research—a need for information to help identify or assess challenges and opportunities, or to guide decisions and actions. There’s a vast range of research tools and techniques available for gathering and analyzing needed information, including qualitative, quantitative, and advanced analytics methods. There are also all kinds of questions that might be asked.

As examples, research questions might ask about:

  • Awareness, image, and usage or purchase behavior related to the category and brands.
  • Who uses the product or service, when they use it, where they use it, how they use it.
  • Where users are located.
  • Best media for reaching users.
  • How users shop for the product or service, or how they gather information about it.
  • Where the product is purchased.
  • The purchase decision process—who influences the decision, who makes the final decision, what factors are considered.
  • Evaluation of concepts, messages, packages or actual products or services.
  • Likelihood to purchase new products or services, and expected purchase frequency and volume.
  • Likelihood to purchase at different price levels.

All of these are good and useful questions. But they’re not the most important questions. Because the most important questions in marketing are always about “why.”

“Why” gets at why the customer buys. “Why” gets at what’s important to them. It helps us understand what they value. “Why” tells us what drives the customer’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction, or their likelihood to recommend us or not recommend us. Understanding and focusing on “why” helps us create products and services that offer superior value, and helps us communicate about them and market them more effectively. Understanding “why” is key to being customer-centric. It's the heart of the “story” in storytelling. It's crucial to success in any business.

Below are examples of some important “why” questions. (The wording here implies consumer products or services, but they’re equally applicable to B2B products and services.)

  • Why do consumers use the product or service category? What is the key value it provides for them?
  • Why do customers use your product or service rather than a competitor’s? Why do noncustomers not buy your product or service?
  • What product features or benefits drive the purchase decision, and why?
  • What do customers like most or enjoy most about your product or service, and why?
  • Why are customers satisfied or not satisfied?
  • Why are loyal customers loyal? What drives loyalty?
  • Why do some customers leave or switch to another product or brand?
  • Why do consumers purchase where they do?
  • Why do consumers shop where they do, use the information sources they use, or trust the information sources they trust?
  • When new products, new technologies, or new distribution channels cause consumers in your category to change their behavior, why did they change? What drove the change?

Keep in mind that “whys” are moving targets. They’re different for different people, or different segments, or for different usage occasions. Also, they can change as people’s life stage or life situation changes, or as tastes and fashions change. “Whys” can also change as the marketplace changes—as new competitors, new products, new features, new technologies, or new distribution channels become available.

Learning and understanding about “whys” can come from simply asking good “why” questions in qualitative or quantitative research, but it can also be achieved in other ways. For example, it can come from ethnography or observational research, or from motivational research techniques used to discover underlying, unconscious reasons for behavior. It can come from advanced analytics techniques, such as experimental designs, choice modeling, segmentation, and key driver analysis. It can come from analysis of previous research. Or it can come from any combination of ways.

In marketing it’s important to always be asking questions, learning, and trying to improve. And, in general, all questions are good questions and can be useful. But all questions are not equal.

“Why” questions are always the most important questions. If we don’t understand the “why,” then the who, what, where, when, and how won’t help us much. We need to always remember to keep our eye on the “why.”

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