Stop With Why

The world of research derives much of its raison d’être from the question “why”. No-one has ever been called stupid for asking “Don’t we first need to know why the consumer wants this?” You can’t say no to that. And yet I’m doing it myself today. Because asking the question “why” can often wrongfoot you. Why? I look at three reasons in this blog.

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Stop met Why

1. The question “why” is not necessarily the most important question

People often don’t do things for a conscious reason but in response to subconscious triggers. Much of our behaviour is subconsciously controlled. We often do things out of habit, intuitively, impulsively. We often rely on our gut feeling. And rightly so; as various studies show, decisions we make based on feeling (emotionally) leave us feeling more satisfied than those we make after weighing up the evidence (rationally)*. Ap Dijksterhuis described this in his book Het slimme onbewuste [The smart unconscious] at the beginning of this century.

* This greater satisfaction is particularly evident in relation to more complex decisions.

In other words, we are therefore often rewarded for not thinking about things. And so we do it again, and again. Is that our gut feeling? Is that our instinct? No, it’s just in our heads. Our brains are so incredibly smart and work so fast that we (our conscious selves) often don’t even notice it; we are more or less completely unaware of it. In fact, we often think we have come to a decision on something rationally even though the decision has long since been made by our subconscious.

So far this is not necessarily anything new for many marketers. But, knowing that, what do you do with it? Do you know what heuristics there are around your category, your brand? Have you actually ever sat down to think about what hooks you can use for your brand? Or are you still mainly focusing on the question “why”? (Which, by the way, would be very understandable, because that’s what you’re used to – exactly the way it works with consumers. Well, we’re only human after all 😉)

2. The answer may already be there

If a new product launch doesn’t go well, a commercial doesn’t seem to work or numbers of repeat purchases are below expectations, then often your first gut reaction will be to get some consumers together and ask them where you are going wrong. That’s an understandable response, and this may sound strange coming from a market researcher, but: count to 10 and do a reality check first.

Often the answer is already there if you think about it logically. Because the numbers might simply be following a pattern. Maybe there is no problem, but based on all the media pressure, share of voice and distribution intensity, maybe that’s the best you can expect. And check again whether your commercial does in fact follow the golden rules. Also check out papers by SWOCC or publications by Binet and Field, for example.

3. What people say is not always what they do

This not only applies to how people will behave in the future but also how they have behaved in the past. People are not always good at explaining their own behavior. Asking the question “why” won’t necessarily deliver the right answer. Even if someone answers honestly, what they say might not necessarily be true. This makes the work of a researcher both fascinating and difficult at the same time.

That’s why we have developed a method in which the question “why” is banned. Our objective is to map the context of the decision/purchase/use and to search for the hooks that will trigger the desired behaviour. It’s the triggers we are looking for. The things that should lead consumers to your brand. In his studies, Byron Sharp calls these the Category Entry Points (CEPs).

At one point in the distant past we did that for Cup-a-Soup. This eventually led to the concept of a “4 o’clock moment”. We have now dusted down this approach again, having left it on the shelf for a long time, until three years ago. And now this Category Entry Point machine is running at full speed. Both for FMCG and durables, both for B2C and B2B, both for products and services.

Why am I writing this? To give you as a marketer a trigger to start thinking differently about how you can give your brand growth a boost.