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The Basics of Marketing: Why? How? What? and...?

The six important questions in good marketing: Who? When? Where? How? Why? What?

November 14, 2017
Alexis Wilke

A TED Talk

In September 2009, Simon Sinek gave a TED talk at TEDxPuget about why marketing works for some companies and why marketing fails miserably for others.

The main point of the talk could be resumed with those three questions:

  • Why?
  • How?
  • What?

Simon placed these three words in circles to give a strong visual representation grouping those questions in a very specific way. This was to make it easier to explain his idea of how marketing works.

The Why? is in a small circle, around that circle you have the How?, and emcompassing them both you have the What? circle.

Why?

The main concept he talked about is the fact that most people do not buy things as a "what" or even many "whats", unless it is an absolute necessity such as food or a phone system for a company, although even for those you could argue that there is choice as multiple brands are usually available. But there is no question about the fact that food is necessary and in the twenty first century phones are necessary.

How?

The How is used to describe the functionality of the product you are offering. For milk, it can be resumed as: Drink it.

It's simple. That's how it works. Drink the milk and all of it's goodness will apply to you.

In most cases, this is useful in your marketing to show how easy it is to make use of your product or service:

So call me at +(916) 220-6482 now and in 15 minutes you'll have a Facebook ad ready to generate hundred of leads just for you!

Here I tell you to call me. This is how you get the service done for you. Also, it is easy. Take you phone, dial my number, talk to me. You're done. If you're on your smart phone, you can just click the link! Don't even need to dial anything.

What?

Laces on the back of a wedding dress.

Finally, Simon talks about the What? question. This tells you what you get when you purchase my product or service.

For example, when you purchase a dress, you get a piece of cloth made of various materials such as polyester or coton. It may include a zipper so you can easily close the dress behind your back. Remember those dresses with laces? These are beautiful and definitely great for your wedding. Every morning? Anyone? Yeah. Zippers are great! (Okay, I know, today we have even better: strenching clothing, no zipper needed and even though you won't have to tigh laces, the back of the dress may still look like such!)

One area where the What? are most often counfounded with what sells (i.e. the Why?) is in Tech. When you create a new software or a new device, you tend to talk about all the What's? of that new product. But people are not going to be impressed by those. Instead, they want to know why they are going to purchase your product. For example, SMS From Me allows you to easily and Automatically start one on one SMS conversations. What it does, take a message from your Online Landing Page and converting it in a Text Message on Your Phone and send it to your prospects... is not going to sell my service (not much at least.)

Why does that work?

This is actually basic psychology. By describing the Why? you create emontions, at least in people who are interested in what the Why? represents. If it is going to be at least somewhat useful to them, then the emotion will be strong and they will listen to the rest of the message, up to the call to action.

Put in a different way, many people will purchase a product because they know why they have to purchase it. I think this makes it easier to remember why the Why? question works.

As I just mentioned, but I wanted to emphasis the point, by talking about the Why? first, you create the emotion first. This grabs the attention of the person listening to your speech and that's the main reason. You want the person to stay around and listen until you give them the call to action and actually purchase your product.

On bigger product sales, say a $1M puchase of computer and software equipment, you end up with many long meetings. First you meet with various sellers who offer the product. Once that part is done, the various employees representing the buyers talk about the product under all of its angles. One job at these meetings is to work on understanding what the Why? part is to make sure that they only buy something because of its What?. This may sound contradictory, but I've been at such meetings. I am not saying that this allows you to avoid buying something on impulse, but it does help in making sure that the solution sought is going to furfill all the needs of the company. Instead of ending up with an expensive piece of equipment, which will only resolve 50% of your problems. This is most certainly the main reason why so many technology companies will list the features they offer rather than the Why? you should purchase their product.

Where lies the difficulty?

Most people, when they create something, speak of the features of the product. This is the What of the product. I have to say, as a software engineer, the Whats are the things that excite me the most while I am creating the software. The other two questions are much less important. Actually, in many cases, whether the How is even implemented is the least of my concern...

Obviously, this is where many engineers fail at marketing. That even happens to larger companies such as Tivo (mentioned by Simon) that end up with marketing describing their product by what it has to offer instead of why you need it (or at least why you want it.)

Is that all?

Further research has shown that you should add one another answer even before the Why? question. Your product probably targets a specific segment of the population, not just everyone. Even milk, there are people who are lactose intolerant. You just won't be able to sell them milk. This is translated as the Who? question.

Click to see more details on Amazon.com

You are selling a product that primarily mothers use? Then you want to attract mothers, so your first sentence in your marketing should specifically target mothers. Say you are selling a baby holder made of cloth. It wraps the baby against your chest, keeping her warm (and you too!) and also very close.

Examples of What? are:

  • The carrier is made of soft cloth,
  • The carrier is made of coton or polyester,
  • The carrier comes in three colors,
  • The carrier is available in two sizes,
  • The carrier is easy to wrap,
  • The carrier is machine washable,
  • The carrier is imported,
  • The carrier is strong (will hold large babies),
  • The carrier comes in various patterns,
  • The carrier keeps your hands free,
  • Etc.

Examples of How? are:

  • The carrier goes behind your neck,
  • The carrier goes around the baby on both sides, just the head appears,
  • The carrier is attached by making a knot behind your back,
  • The carrier is attached by coming back around and making knot under the baby's feet.

Examples of Why? are:

  • Easily carry your baby around,
  • Maintain a good posture whily carrying your baby,
  • Carry your baby and still have your hands free.
  • Baby can puke right on you!

I think you can quickly see why the last three examples would be more important about the fact that the cloth is made of cotton. Actually, knowing that it's made out of cotton, maybe you could do your own baby carrier because you still have that fabric you were going to do a dress with and did not get around to do it... Whereas, telling you that you're going to be able to carry baby and go on with your usual tasks since your hands are going to be free, you listen because you want that magical piece of cloth!

Now, if we add who it applies too, people with new babies, especially mothers, then it reinforce that you are to have that if this is your current situation.

  • New baby on the way?
  • New mom?
  • Mom wants free hands while carrying her baby?
  • Dad help carrying baby the smart way!

Now we know that's a mom or a dad with a baby. Our direct target.

Crossing the Chasm (click to view on Amazon.com)

Who are your customers? A book I read a while back, called Crossing the Chasm (which I strongly recommend to read especially to all thinking of starting a new business), describes how new technology goes from:

  • Early adopters (left side of the bell),
  • Then to mainstream adoptors (top of the bell), and
  • finally to late adopters (right side of the bell); those are the people who purchased your product because their good old ones are not available anymore!

Who you will target will therefore depend on where you are on that bell curve.

As a side note, the bell is an important aspect to how you can create a company, kickstart the sales to go to or close to the top of the bell, and then sell it at that point in time. This gives you a way to ripoff as much money as possible with that company. Large companies purchase small ones for two reasons: (1) it gives them a new product for which you've done all the leg work; (2) you have tons of customers to whom they can sell their other products and services. Note that this bell curve is not limited to technology companies. However, this is where it has been shown to often quickly go from the usual slow start to an incredibly large amount of sales before fading out.

Why is this important? Your product is here to help your customers. Knowing who your customers are you can better target your product because you can better identify what the problem or pain they seek to resolve is and as a result, provide a service or product that resolves that exact problem.

Where?

Oh yeah! There is that question of Where?. Don't we say Location! Location! Location!1 in Real Estate? Well, with the advent of the Internet and drop shipping at a mega scale (i.e. Amazon.com) we now have somewhat obliterated the importance of the Where?. Except when it still matters such as where you can buy your food or get your car fixed. In those situation, you must make sure that your ad includes a location.

Actually, when Internet marketers offer a webminar, they still answer the Where? question by telling their prospect that the event will happen online. When I setup my calendar, I often put online as the Location. For phone calls or conferences, I may put phone.

In case of SMS From Me, I answer the question of where the software is available. The application is installed on your Android phone and the online service is on the Internet.

Notice that the Where? for a company like Starbuck is just everywhere. You see new Starbuck being built at every corner! On the other hand, Disney amusement parks are given a different name depending on their location. So Disneyland is in California, Disneyworld is in Orlando. The one in Paris was first named Euro Disney. So Disney understood that by changing the name of their amusement parks, they could incorporate the location and answer the Where? just by giving the name of the park.

For events, I've seen Where? used mostly at the end, you know, something like, oh by the way it's at this location in our favorite city. In most cases, you are targeted by such marketing because you live there already.

When

The last question not mentioned by Simon is When?. I think that this one is very important in your marketing. There are several points about the When? question.

First of all, marketers love to push people to purchase their product or service by making them think (sorry, by making them know) that it is going to go out soon. You may have a special where you can lock the low price of $99/mo. for another 12 days. After that, it will go back to our regular price of $299/mo.

Scarcity works for products that are manufactured. For services it works too if you have a limited number of seats available. For example, my dentists in the US have a set of customers and generally they don't just accept new customers (to my very surprise!) From asking them why, they told me they could not handle that many customers. I have been wondering whether this was a joke or not. You tell me!

As an example, in Real Estate we target buyers and sellers. Both have quite different needs and even if both are required to conduct a transaction, when you create a marketing piece, you specifically want buyers or sellers. This is our Who?. For example, you may ask the question: Looking to buy a house this winter? Notice how I included my When? in that sentence? I want customers now, not in three years, so I have to tell them that now is a good time to buy a house by including a When?

My Conclusion

Just like in the good old days, marketing has not changed. You want to incorporate all six elements: Who? How? What? Where? and When? in your marketing.

What may have changed is the order in which you are expected to use these. If you have real scarcity, When? may work better early on. Yet, Who? still has to be first. This is what makes your sales speech sizzle, «It's the sizzle that sells your steak.», Elmer Wheeler (see this book at Amazon.com: Sizzlemanship by Elmer Wheeler, 1940.) Yes. Sales processes do not change that much over time. Human psychology is most certainly changing, but that's a very slow process. What does change is the technology one uses. Actually the SMS technology is one of the latest technology and in terms of marketing, it is currently booming.


The following is Simon's Talk at TEDxPuget Filmed in September 2009.


1 I work at Diverse Realty as a real estate agent, and I know that the Location! Location! Location! saying is a really bad way of marketing a house. If your home is at the right location, potential buyers will already know about that. Instead make sure to describe what you love about the home, the view, the warmth, the wide open space, the kitchen, the pool... things other than its location. Maybe you like your neighbors too, or the fact that's it's close to certain shops, or downtown. But you should not point out that this is the only factor that will matter to your buyer purchasing your home. Again, the buyer drives there to purchase the home. She knows the location.

 

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