Decide on the “Why,” Not the “What”

Decide on the “Why,” Not the “What”If you have kids, you know that they all pass through the “Why Phase,” where they keep asking “Why?” until you ultimately resort to the conversation-ending phrase “Ask your Mother (or Father).” You probably are also familiar with the “5 Whys” technique of asking “Why” at least 5 times to get to the root cause of an issue. So why do most marketers decide on the “What” instead of understanding the “Why” behind the “What?” Why don’t marketers work harder to understand the fundamental consumer insights that are represented by the “Why behind the What?” and use those as a basis for decision-making?

Here is a real world example (names and ingredients changed to protect confidentiality). I recently helped a food company develop and test a multitude of concepts for new flavor combinations on a traditional product line. In consumer testing, flavor combinations that contained a certain ingredient (let’s call it “chocolate”) blew everything else away. The client was happy and quickly said “thanks, now I know what to launch.” But that was deciding on the “What,” and not the “Why.”

They were not interested in conducting additional research to understand why consumers felt this way, but I felt that this was a mistake. The inclusion of “chocolate” in these products was unusual, and I, for one, was curious as to why consumers responded to it so positively. The research I designed captured consumer comments, so we had a little bit of guidance, but I wished we had had the opportunity to learn more.

I did some additional digging on my own and found some “food trend” syndicated research that established “chocolate” as the new hot ingredient, which helped support the case. I also explored some recipe forums and observed that “chocolate” was a hot topic of discussion. However, that was simply additional support for the “What,” not the “Why.”

So what could be the consequences of focusing on the “What” and not the “Why?” Well, we all know the statistics on new product launches–over 80% fail within the first six months. What if “chocolate” was a fad just like those teeny cupcake shops? That could mean that the fad could be over just as your new product shows up on the shelves. What if people liked “chocolate” in these products as a novelty item, i.e., “I’ll buy this once just for fun, but I won’t make this a regular menu item”? That could lead to a quick spike in sales for the novelty effect but a severe drop-off as the number of repeat purchases approaches zero. What if people were picking the flavors with “chocolate” because they were the “best of the worst” choices that were offered to them? That is an accident waiting to happen!

Deciding on the “What” is dangerous. Understand the “Why” behind the “What,” and you will make better decisions. You need to understand the consumer insights behind the actions, or you are taking a significant risk!

imagecredit: intervju

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Mark PrusMark Prus is a marketing consultant who offers a name development service called NameFlashSM. He is a proven marketer with 25+ years of generalist experience in the fields of marketing, consumer research, strategic planning, and finance. Expertise in name generation of new products or services.

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4 Responses to Decide on the “Why,” Not the “What”

  1. Paul Waring says:

    “Decide on Why” sounds strikingly like the 2009 book “Start with Why” The premise – people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Chocolate probably isn’t a fad since it’s been around and popular for 3500 years.

    • Mark Prus says:

      Thanks for pointing out the book Paul…I have not read it but I will! As for the secret ingredient, which I called “chocolate,” I can’t reveal it for client confidentiality reasons, but I can assure you it was an unusual ingredient that would not normally have been included in these types of products. This is exactly “why” I wanted to understand the “Why!”

  2. Great article. In my opinion too, the insights as to consumer / shopper purchases are the real deal. Insights as to “why” the decision was made, what brought it, allows us to know how to communicate the launch, and what further innovations can arise from this insights.

  3. A timeless lesson, which needs repeating in the current age Mark. With increases in e-comms over the last 20 years, virtual companies and comms often start with what can we do together rather than why.

    I am presently involved with a hugh IT implementation for a train company. They have had the wisdom to have a series of face to face project kick off events to explore a whole series of important questions which will largely determine how successful the project is. The head of sales for the IT company caught me afterwards and told me that nearly every time they have a problem with the implementation phase of a large scale project, it can always be traced back to an inadequate or non-existent start. This is about the why and a stack of other questions that flow from it.

    Perhaps we canot be reminded enough about the importance of ‘why’.

    Peter Cook – The Rock’n'Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence

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