Why Ask WHY in B2B Marketing?

10th June 2018

Why is the sky blue? Why is grass green? Why is the sun hot? Why is ice cold?  ‘Why?’ ‘Why??’ ‘WHY???’ Children have been bombarding adults with this question to the point of exasperation and often making us a little nuts in the process. I’ve read one study that says children ask on average 300 questions a day and another that said pre-schoolers can ask a staggering 75 questions an hour!

Start with WHY in B2B MarketingPhoto by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

‘Why’ is one of the 6 basic questions – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How – we all ask as we explore the world, gather information and learn new things, whether as children or adults. Children ask questions – and particularly the question ‘why? – all the time because they’re innately curious and they want to know and better understand the world around them.

In the context of B2B marketing, last week I attended a BMC event on the ‘Future of Marketing’ (I know, big topic!). I came out of it wondering if we as marketers are asking enough questions; not only that, but are we asking enough of the right questions. We are tremendously good at what we do. But do we really understand why are we doing what we do?

‘Question everything’ is a quote most usually associated with Einstein, the point being that you have to ask the right question in order to find a solution. In other words, you can’t focus on an answer unless you actually understand the heart of the problem you’re trying to solve.

As marketers, we tend to focus on the answer – a marketing tactic – without asking why we’re doing it in the first place. We then go on to ‘prove’ the value of this answer by using metrics that make us look good, but don’t actually matter to anyone else except marketing.

Start With WHY

We should all be familiar with Simon Sinek and his famous TED talk and subsequent global best-selling book Start With Why. In this talk and in his book, Sinek introduced his concept of the ‘golden circle’ – ‘Every single person, every single organisation on the planet knows what they do, some know how they do it, but very few people or organisations know why they do what they do’. He’s talking essentially about Purpose and almost a decade on I still find his argument compelling.

I’m not talking about brand purpose here, which has gotten a lot of negative commentary for the past number of years, primarily because companies across both B2B and B2C have gotten it horribly wrong. The irreverent Mark Ritson continues to scathingly deride brand purpose for good reason (see his column on a new low for brand purpose ).

But if we look up the definition of the word purpose in the Oxford Dictionary it’s defined as: the reason for which something is done or created. In this context, purpose becomes critically important for all B2B marketers.

When was the last time we asked WHY? Why are we doing this, what is the reason for which we’ve done this tactic, created that campaign, or produced this output?  Why is simply another way of asking: what is our Purpose, our purpose being the reason we’ve done or created a specific marketing activity or programme. In other words, are we clear on the outcomes we want to achieve and how this will benefit the business?

Do we even know what’s of value to the business? The flip and easy answer is ‘revenue’ or ‘return on investment’ or – the word of the moment – ‘growth’. But this is not always the crux of what we need to achieve with our marketing activity. These are goals with many layers of meaning and purpose to them. And we don’t know because we don’t get out of our marketing silos and ask. What does our CEO actually want from marketing? What about the CFO or COO? Or our Sales teams?

We talk endlessly about our aspiration to help shape business strategy and influence at Board level. But we persist in believing that only way we can do this is by ‘educating’ or ‘informing’ the business about what we do. Instead, we should first be talking to the business, asking them what’s important to them and why.

Have we lost the innate curiosity we had as children? While solid technical marketing skills combined with a desire to continually learn and hone those skills throughout a career are vitally important, I’ve found that the best marketers are infinitely curious. They ask questions, lots of questions, of both themselves and the business. And they aren’t afraid of what might be perceived as the ‘stupid questions’, because they understand that these questions are the door that opens up a more meaningful dialogue, giving us insight into other parts of our organisations, forging stronger connections outside of marketing and ultimately building better relationships that enable us to become more effective marketers.

Just like with our children, we need to see that asking WHY is an opportunity to connect and explore outside of our marketing silos.

So, the next time you’re initiating a new project or marketing activity, ask the following 2 essential questions:

  • Why are we doing this? and
  • Why does it matter?

Start with WHY.

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I’m speaking at B2B Ignite in London on 10 July on the ‘3 Fallacies of B2B Marketing’ just after the morning break at 11.30am in the B2B Gurus stream. If you don’t have your ticket yet, be sure to book now: https://b2bmarketing.b2b-ignite.net/

It promises to be an amazing day! See you there!

B2B Ignite 2018


Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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