14 Nov

Marketing Manifesto – #4: It’s all about asking the right questions.

I am writing this Manifesto #4 while my class of MBA students are writing their International Marketing case exam.   As the exam started this morning, I listened for the type of questions they asked. Inevitably, I got the usual process questions and the disorientation questions, such as “what is this product [in the case] and what is it used for?”  (natural for a mix of international students as many come from very different cultures than North America).

However, a few questions indicated to me that some pretty significant investigation and analysis was happening, even as the exam started. And as I watched student behavior when they examined the physical samples of the product that were on display, I noted how some students looked for deeper cultural significance..

Over the last decade of teaching business students, I have come to listen more to my students’ questions than to their answers for evidence of their learning and progress.

For myself as a marketer, teacher, business person, and parent, I have also come to understand that the quality of my own questions indicates where I am in understanding something and getting at truth.  If I ask the wrong questions I get lost.  If I ask the right questions I get interesting answers that lead me to interesting truths.

This insight led me to my next Marketing Manifesto Principle…

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#4: It’s all about asking the right questions.


 

The ability to ask the right questions at the right time is infinitely more powerful in marketing than thinking you have the right answers.

 

MBA classroom

What do we learn in classrooms? To ask good questions? I hope so...

When I was doing my own MBA, I remember one student, who after a particular class, left our group and walked over the loading dock of our building to chat with the crew of a commercial delivery truck. “So, how much do you guys make per hour?” he asked them. “How is business?” and “what’s the economy like?” were two other questions he asked. We all laughed at our fellow student, thinking at that time that he was just pretending to be a Big Business Man or something. I mean, what can you learn from delivery guys? The REAL learning was in the classroom, after all.  “We are MBA students, destined to run the free capitalist world!” (groan)

But he wasn’t pretending, nor was he wasting his time when he should have been focusing on classroom learning. In fact, he was a lot smarter than the rest of us.

After all, who would better know the state of the economy than those people who deliver the goods in it?  Who better to know the state of the economy before it is publicly announced in the media than those actually directly involved moving it? And how better to know the state of the economy than by hearing how much commercial shippers are making per hour – those who are invaluable to the economy?

No, he wasn’t playing the fool. I was, by believing that what I put into my head was more important than the questions I asked.

He knew the right questions to ask, the right people to ask, and the right time to ask them.  I didn’t.

How do you learn to ask the right questions?

I could write a book full of professional and personal stories about how I asked the right questions, the wrong questions, or no questions at all, when I should have asked some. But this is not the time and place. I think you get the idea:  Marketing is not about data, information, or your wisdom or someone else’s wisdom. It’s about asking the right questions.

So how do you learn to ask the right questions?

(Good question!)

Some practices to get you started in asking the right questions

1. Stop filling your head with information. In fact, you might consider consciously emptying your head of information.  Stop reading the newspaper, get rid of the big screen TV, sign-off of the torrent of e-newsletters, and donate your already read books to the local thrift store. Seriously. You cannot make space for new questions, and their answers, until you empty your head of what you already know.

 

Meditate...just do it

Meditate...just do it. No freaky postures or zen forests required.

2. And if you are really seeking truth, you have to go further and create awareness space, too. Admit to yourself that your already acquired information, knowledge, beliefs, and learned behaviors are history and of little use to you if you want to understand the “now”. Try meditation, running, yoga, or any other technique that works for you to bring your awareness into the present moment, free and clear of…your own thoughts about the past and the future. Being present in the moment is a habit that you must practice to get good at.  And it is a habit that is essential to being ready to ask the right questions at the right time.

3. Break habits every day.  Eat with the opposite hand you normally use. Walk home from work a different way as many times as you can.  Go to a new place you have never been to at least once a week. Walk slowly rather than your usual fast gait. Bring into your conscious awareness your own habits and purposefully break them – every single day.  Feel the discomfort of doing so and the immediate liberation of your mind from the usual stream of thoughts about the past and planning for the future. Live on the edge of awareness rather than in a fog of mental noise. Breaking habits is about asking questions…good questions about yourself – which allows you to start to asking good questions about other things.

4. Be ready to be a little afraid, a little lonely, and a little sad.  Sorry to tell you this:  Asking really good questions will likely result in other people getting emotionally triggered by the nature of your questions (truth hurts). Your questioning mind will isolate you somewhat as you come out of the mainstream mindset, and will disillusion you to much of what you thought was “true”. All this can make you feel a bit sad and lonely at first.

5. Be ready to be a bit brave, a bit free, and a bit excited.   NOT sorry to tell you this:  Truth is empowering! Asking really good questions is the gaining of power that will help you feel more confident and brave, free from your old fears and doubts, and quite excited about what you are learning and how you are living.  Getting good at asking the right questions at the right time will change who you are into someone quite…well, “strong”, I guess.

(another little secret side benefit: Seeking and offering truth has an incredible affect on your relationships. Get ready for fewer but deeper friendships, more loving connections, and intoxicating passions like you never thought possible.  Incredible people are going to come into your experience when your focus is on seeking and offering truth…ENJOY!)

 

The 4-Hour Workweek

Tim Ferriss asks scary questions...are you ready to ask some too?

6. Start learning from the right people.  Try Tim Ferriss, author of the eye-opening book The Four-Hour Workweek.  This book and Tim’s practices will reshape how you ask questions. He is pretty extreme in his views, but his modus operandi is not.

Check out TED talks for any number of fascinating, insightful, and inspiring people who “walk the walk” of asking the right questions (ted.com).  Find a person who really inspires you? Go to one of their workshops or talks for real and learn from them in-person. And make an appointment with your local hypnotherapist, Buddhist monk, sports psychologist, or “20th Dan” Karate black belt. They all know how to clear their minds, stay present in the moment, and ask the right questions.You can learn a lot from them.

Oh, did I forget to tell you to get rid of the TV? In case I didn’t:  Get rid of your TV.  You can’t learn to ask the right questions by watching people in commercials and sitcoms on TV. You have to practice it, for real in the real world, with real, live people, who can help you learn the skills you need to get good at the practice.

So where does this get you?

Another skill that you need to get really good at marketing.

What happens later?

If you gain some good negotiating and diplomacy skills on top of your ability to ask really good questions, you will be ready for your own marketing and advertising consultancy.

Why a consulting practice? Where does this angle come from?  Why won’t I simply be able to get a great job as a marketer in a big company?

Sorry:  You will be way too smart and way too threatening, to be hired by any normal organization. You would scare the hell out of their staff with the power of your questions and the uncomfortable answers that result!

Most people are not ready for truth.

(Are you?)

02 Nov

Marketing Manifesto – #3: People don’t really know why they are buying what they are buying.

Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box - YUM!!

Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box - YUM!!

I really love eating out at restaurants, tasting the wonderful richness of a Pad Thai dish, the mouth-wateringly subtle mix of flavors in a Japanese Yam Tempura Roll, or the oh-so-addictive Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box.

I am truly a Foodie.

But when I start to think about why I choose to go out for a noodle box on a particular day, I find that I am not really going out to buy a noodle box, even if I am addicted to the Singapore Cashew Curry. No, when I dig down and be truthful with myself, it is for another, quite surprising reason that I choose a noodle box. It is because I can trust that it will be just what I remembered it was last time. I choose a Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box as my lunch because I need to take care of myself and I can trust it to consistently please me.  My choice is not the kind of food I want for taste reasons, but how I want to feel that day – in this example I need to nurture myself.

And I didn’t even think about this until now. 2 years of Singapore Cashew Curry noodle boxes. Not one thought about the real why in all that time.

Which leads to my Marketing Manifesto Principle #3:

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#3: People don’t really know why they are buying what they are buying.

Most purchases are determined by completely hidden subconscious reasons.

People think they are making a particular purchase for conscious, logical reasons.  Not so. These reasons can often be quite illogical to the rational mind, and they are almost always different than the conscious reasons.

As a marketer, figuring out the subconscious factors is absolutely necessary if you are to accurately and consistently deliver what the customer really wants – even if the customer, themself, doesn’t know what they want on a conscious level.

Unfortunately, figuring out these subconscious factors is a challenge because regular surveys, focus groups, and even direct feedback can give you what the customer consciously thinks are the reasons they are buying the product – but most often not the real, underlying reasons.

And pushing to get a the underlying reasons is not usually a good idea:  People don’t like talking about things at a deeper level – doing so generates all kinds of uncomfortable emotions.

Oh, and the subconscious reasons can all be grouped under two headings: Fear and Love.   (surprise, surprise!)

Fear:

We are programmed in our first 7 years of life with a comprehensive set of rules, beliefs, instructions, and lessons. These 7 years form the foundation for everything else that happens in the rest of your life.

The problem?

Being an adult right now in history requires programming that is different than that which you gained in the first 7 years. But you are still playing by those childhood rules, largely without even knowing what they are!

And much or most of that programming is based on fear.  “Touch that stove and you will get burned!!”

Love:

Barbecues and family values - what a combination

Barbecues and family values - what a combination

That same subconscious childhood programming makes people buy things for reasons of deep love.  For example, many people absolutely love a barbecue.  Just the smell of cooking meat on a grill brings a happy smile, excitement, and even a warm feeling of love. Why? because as children, these people had some of their fondest family events centered around a barbecue. For them, a barbecue represents family love, not food.

“OK, so how can we figure out the real reasons people choose to purchase what they purchase?”

I thought you would never ask.

This is my most favorite part! Now we get to do what I consider REAL marketing: Unraveling the mysteries of the human mind and spirit.

(“Oh, boy, oh boy, oh boy!!”)

To start, you have to have develop in yourself a few attitudes and skills. Like never being satisfied with anything that doesn’t feel like absolute truth. And never settling for a simple, logical, unemotional reason. And nurturing the determination of the world’s best detective. And practicing the listening skills of the most sensitive deer in the forest. And fostering the observation skills of the finest eagle, circling a thousand feet up but able to see the tiniest movement of a mouse on the ground. And cultivating a fearless openness to learning things you didn’t know before that challenge your beliefs and values.

Yes all these, and you have to be really hungry for truth.

Then you will figure out why you yourself really buy things.

And from there you will begin to see why other people really buy things.

The world will never be the same for you.

Some tools

Using your newly developed attitudes and skills, the tools fall into your experience easily and quickly.  You observe behavior that doesn’t match with words and you immediately try to figure out the source of the behavior (words come from the conscious mind, subtle behavior from the subconscious). You pick up books you would never have read before and suddenly they have clues and insights of use. You begin to ask new questions that dig deeper and farther than you could have imagined.

For you are learning that marketing is a practice, not a set of knowledge. It is an arcane and intuitive mix of left and right brain thinking.

"The culture code" - A marketer's treasure trove.

"The culture code" - A marketer's treasure trove.

And you gain new marketing heros, like Clotaire Rapaille, author of ” The Culture Code – An ingenious way to understand why people around the world live and buy as they do. “.  Clotaire has the directness and audacity only a Frenchman could have to dig subconscious truth out of people by literally hypnotizing them to do it.

Or behaviorist’s old friend Abraham Maslow, for his so very simple by so very useful “Hierarchy of Needs” model. Sometimes “pooh-poohed” by academics, this model continues to deliver truth, even if those who consider it don’t like what the model implies for them personally.

Or education’s Neil Postman, for his bravery in challenging what the subconscious really learns in those formative young years in school, in his book “Teaching as a Subversive Activity“. Seldom has such a heretic dared challenge the pious sanctity of the school system in a manner that delivers hugely uncomfortable truths…and breathtaking clarity.

Welcome out of the Matrix

Want to be a great marketer? Get yourself out of the Matrix – find out what is really going on under the conscious surface of human behavior.

Uncomfortable the journey will be at times, but also very exciting as the insights and truths about “where it all comes from” begin to pour into your experience…