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Is Your Marketing Asking the Right Questions?

Compelling questions serve as your marketing campaign's foundation. Today, we'll talk about the questions you need to ask before you start putting your campaigns together. Then, we'll talk about the questions you need to ask within your marketing materials.

"So what?" and Other Questions You Should Ask:

Businesses often focus on how great their product or service is -- its features -- rather than its benefits. As you think of your product's or service's features, always follow-up with this question: "So what?" The "So what?" should lead you to focus on how your product or service benefits your customers.

For example, if you're a caterer offering an extensive menu for business lunches and dinners (a feature), ask yourself, "So what?" The answer might lead you to this almost-benefit: "My catering company offers plenty of variety for business lunches and dinners."

Keep going. Ask again, "So what?" You might come up with this benefit: "Our extensive menu options mean that you'll satisfy everyone at your next catered business lunch or dinner -- from finicky eaters to vegetarians to those on special diets."

Keep going. So what? Finally, you might hit on this: "Remember, a well-fed crowd is an attentive crowd. When you use my company to cater your business lunches and dinners, your guests will never go hungry -- even those finicky eaters or people on special diets."

Now you've hit on a unique selling proposition -- something that speaks to the value of your service because it effectively (and persuasively) answers the "so what?" that your prospective customers are asking.

Here are some other questions to ask:

  • How are my customers better off after working with my company?
  • How do I get people to see this value?
  • How is my business different from my competitors' businesses?
  • How can I get people to see these differences?

Using Compelling Questions in Your Marketing Materials

The "So what?" questions are geared to helping you -- as a business owner -- recognize the value statements that'll be key to your marketing initiatives. Now you have to lead prospects to see this value. Oftentimes, this involves "asking" questions of your customers -- in the headlines of print ads and brochures, in the bold print on websites, and the lead copy in radio and television commercials.

There are three ways to approach this:

  • Positive questions focused on positive motivation
  • Negative questions focused only on negative questions
  • Negative questions focused on ways to reduce any discomfort created (the theory of cognitive dissonance)

Positive questions use positive motivation to get a prospect to buy a product or service.
Example: "Want to know the weight-loss supplement that'll help you lose 20 pounds in one month?"

Negative questions and negative body copy focus strictly on what will happen if you don't heed the message in the question and body copy.
Example: "Can your heart afford a fast-food diet?"

The rest of your copy would speak to all the negative things that happen to your body from eating too much fast food, such as heart attacks. The ultimate (and often implicit) message is to stop eating fast food, but the persuasion method explicitly plays on people's fears of dying.

A marketing campaign that deals in only negative messages is difficult to pull off (it can also raise ethical questions since many people don't believe appealing to people's fears is responsible advertising or marketing). But the problem with negative messages also has a scientific basis: the brain takes more time to process negative messages. We're wired for the positive (think of babies), so it makes sense to use positive questions and positive motivation.

If you feel strongly, however, about using a negative question, then make sure you follow-up with positives. In the Communication field, this form of persuasion is known as The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. With cognitive dissonance, you'll open with a negative question that will create discomfort in the prospect's mind. Your job is to then quickly reduce that discomfort.

So let's go back to our catering example and apply these concepts. You might open with this positive question: "Would you like more variety in your catered business lunches and dinners?" Then you'd follow-up with your company's main benefit -- its extensive menu.

By contrast, you could use the theory of cognitive dissonance and use a negative question: "Are your catered business lunches and dinners lacking variety?" If the prospect is thinking, "Yeah, I hate business lunches. It's always the same thing," you have effectively created dissonance -- or mental discomfort -- in the prospect. Now, your job is to reduce the discomfort, which involves being positive: "When you use us to cater your business lunches and dinners, your guests will never go hungry -- even those finicky eaters or people on special diets-because we have the most extensive menu around. And remember, a well-fed crowd is an attentive crowd, which is just what you need for a working lunch."

As you probably noted, there's more energy with positive questions and positive body copy. But creating dissonance with negative questions and then reducing the dissonance with positive motivation can also be effective.

Bottom line: leave your prospects with a positive and/or empowered feeling. While negative motivation occasionally has its place, you won't go wrong if you keep things positive in the end.