Are We Asking the Right Questions?
BY John Miller
February 16, 2021

As marketers, all of us tend to rush right in with answers. We pride ourselves on assessing a situation quickly and then proudly proclaiming the answer.

But the last thing your business or marketing strategy needs is knee-jerk hot takes.

Here’s a real-life example of someone (okay, me) not asking the right questions. A few weeks back, our less than two-year-old refrigerator died. Not good times. We frantically transferred a bunch of food to the itty bitty fridge (um… beer fridge) in the basement, where we also have a freezer. But the fridge in the kitchen was on the fritz. The lights were out. The icemaker had crapped out. And the repair crew couldn’t get to us for days.

We hit Google hard, trying to figure out if there was some way we could fix it. Nothing of our queries turned up anything that worked.

We still had some things in the fridge, operating under the it’ll stay cold if we don’t open it too much theory. A couple of days in, we realized that it actually was staying cold. Was the refrigerator not really broken?

That’s when the brains of the family (my wife) stopped Googling “what’s wrong with the refrigerator?” and instead Googled “why are the lights out on our fridge?” And then we learned about “Sabbath Mode,” which many modern appliances have to allow Orthodox Jews to avoid the lights and sounds that come with using refrigerators. We’d mistakenly turned on Sabbath Mode by pushing too many buttons at once.

What seemed like it would be a big unwanted expense, or at least a $100-plus maintenance visit from a smirking repair person, turned out to be nothing but a quick lesson about making assumptions.

As kids, we ask a ton of questions. A 2007 study estimated that kids ask about 40,000 questions between the ages of 2 and 5. Forty-thousand! That’s a lot of questions! We’re just trying to learn. Perhaps more importantly, we know we don’t know. As we get older, we tend to rush through the question-asking process. We already know some of the answers, so we speed ahead.

Except sometimes we miss the obvious questions.

We don’t ask them because we’ve developed expertise. We are saddled with the Curse of Knowledge. And, sometimes, we don’t want to look foolish in front of the client, or our peers.

We might ask what blog posts should we write for a campaign targeting construction managers? when the better question would be how do construction managers consume information? It might not be blog posts. We might ask how do we get more website traffic? when the better question is how can we engage with the people already coming to our website?

Of course, asking insightful questions is what leads us to truly imaginative answers. If we ask a lot of questions—ideally smart ones—we’re going to get closer to what the customer wants and how we can meet that need. We’re going to spark a conversation that goes beyond the surface level and gets to the underlying emotion of a particular challenge. We’re going to work our empathy muscles so we can get to a place that builds a true connection.

And we’re going to come up with better content, better marketing and a better business.

Let’s not pretend we have all the answers. Let’s make sure we have the right questions.

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