Sorry, that was rather clickbaity, but we do have an actual answer. The most powerful marketing tool is asking questions. Sounds kind of lame. However, we genuinely believe it’s true. Here’s why:
Asking questions ensures marketing is powered by insights and strategies, rather than lazy assumptions and copycat efforts.
“We should be on TikTok.” OK, but why?
“We need to start a newsletter.” Sure, but what’s our objective?
“We should be promoting our X and Y features.” Can do, but does our audience want these features?
In the marketing world, it’s unfortunately common to see people suggesting specific tactics or campaigns without a clear rationale for why they’re a good business idea. In this blog post, we share ideas for how you can use questions to avoid falling into this trap.
Marketers estimate they waste 26% of their marketing budget on the wrong channels or strategies. – Rakuten Marketing study
Stop assuming, start finding out
You’re less likely to hit marketing gold if you’re working with assumptions rather than insights to develop new offerings, push for specific marketing tactics, and identify what customers truly care about.
So let’s dig into how to use questions as a tool to improve your marketing efforts.
Goal: Build a new website that makes it easy for customers to discover/ find/ learn/ buy what your business has to offer.
- Challenge: The sitemap and information architecture for your new website might seem perfectly logical to you, but how does this translate into real-world user experience?
- Opportunity: Conduct user testing during development to understand what works and what doesn’t.
- Questions: How would you [the test user] go about finding X on this website? What obstacles did you encounter? What would make it easier for you to use this website?
- Impact: You can reduce the potential for users of your website to become frustrated and leave while boosting the likelihood of a positive interaction with your brand. This approach helped us build a more intuitive, user-friendly website for the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.
Goal: Create a pitch presentation and sales strategy to break through in a traditional and typically bland industry.
- Challenge: Pitch presentations tend to follow a predictable structure (our experience, what we can do for you, how we do it, what our clients say), but how does this connect with prospects on an emotional level?
- Opportunity: Focus on asking what truly matters to your prospects so you can flip the script by adopting an “about your needs” approach (i.e. focused on your prospective clients) rather than an “about what we do” approach (i.e. focused on your business).
- Questions: What are our prospects’ needs and goals? What are their lives like? What do they value? How do they want to feel after meeting us?
- Impact: You can keep the focus on your prospects and show that you understand what keeps them up at night. This approach helped us create a fresh and impactful pitch presentation and sales strategy for Chronicle Wealth.
Goal: Produce a whitepaper that surfaces meaningful insights and provides real value to your audience.
- Challenge: Your marketing team can probably whip up a whitepaper based on their existing industry knowledge and a bit of secondary research, but how do you ensure the end product is actually useful rather than full of fluff?
- Opportunity: Conduct interviews and surveys with members of your target audience to understand their on-the-ground experience and gather their real-world tips.
- Questions: What were the keys to your success? What unexpected obstacles did you encounter? What did you wish you had known in advance?
- Impact: You can aggregate ideas and uncover insightful nuggets derived from first-hand experience rather than assumptions. This approach helped us produce an award-winning whitepaper for Raymond James Ltd.
Goal: Gain a full picture of your customers’ buying journey.
- Challenge: Social media and online tracking tools can provide a wealth of data about the channels leading customers to your business (i.e. customer attribution), but are you getting the full picture?
- Opportunity: Ask customers and prospects open-ended questions to understand how they learned about your business.
- Questions: Where did you first hear about us? How did you research our business before connecting with us? What caught your eye and piqued your interest?
- Impact: You can gain insight into some of the non-trackable marketing touchpoints that make up the dark funnel. This approach helped us internally better understand how qualified prospects were connecting with Hyphen.
B2B buyers engage in an average of 27 interactions over the course of a buying journey (up 93% since 2015). – Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Survey
When you don’t know, ask
I started my career working in B2B market research. My commerce degree gave me a basic understanding of different aspects of business, including marketing, management, and finance. However, I was an expert in exactly zero fields.
When my first role out of university took me halfway around the world to Singapore and plunged me into market research about industries I knew nothing about, I had to rely heavily on one key tool: asking questions.
Questions about the higher education markets in Hong Kong and Indonesia.
Questions about the automotive industry in Germany and the US
Questions about the building materials industry in Iran.
This was back before Google search was the ubiquitous tool it is now, so there was a lot of digging for answers through calls, emails, and in-person interviews.
Here are 4 key lessons I took away from that experience:
1. Ask the experts. If you’re seeking data or insights on any topic, it’s worthwhile to speak with subject matter experts. In a marketing context, these may include customers, prospects, sales reps, product teams, and anyone else involved in developing, selling, buying, and using your products or services.
2. Draw on multiple sources. While input from your (ideal) customers or other subject matter experts is crucial, be careful not to extrapolate one person’s views to represent your entire audience. Using data from a broad set of sources will help you avoid paying too much attention to the loudest voices at the expense of other perspectives.
3. Apply a strategic lens. Information by itself is not a strategy. Subject matter experts can share their views, needs, and suggestions, but they can’t tell you how best to market your products or services. You still need to analyze, interpret, think creatively, and yes, make some assumptions to develop a strategy.
4. Be kind. In addition to asking people questions, you’re also asking them for their time and thoughtful reflection. So being friendly, respectful, and appreciative goes a long way in getting a good response to your questions.
Make smarter use of your marketing budget
Asking questions takes time, but it is time well spent. It reduces the risk of wasting resources on things no one needs or wants, allowing you to put your marketing investments to better use. Done right, this makes asking questions the most powerful marketing tool.
Of course, you’ll never have 100% certainty. Waiting for all the answers so you can develop the perfect strategy isn’t going to end well.
So ask enough questions to gain a solid understanding of your situation and develop a strategy for how to proceed. Then be nimble in testing, analyzing, and adjusting your strategy based on real-world results.
And of course, keep asking questions.