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Using the “Five Whys” for Marketing

You wouldn’t expect that a problem solving technique developed by an auto manufacturer would catch on to become the darling of process refinement, but Sakichi Toyoda’s (of Toyota Motor Corporation) iterative “Five Whys” have earned a place in much of business from Six Sigma to creative brainstorming. How do the “5 Whys” work, and how can you make them work for you? question The “5 Whys” are an iterative process that forces you and your team to drill into an opportunity to find the root cause or misconception. Start with a statement of the problem, then simply state your understood cause of the problem. Next, what led to that? Now what led to that? Now… Well, you get it. As tempting as it will be to declare victory by the third ‘why,’ keep pushing. When the conversation gets uncomfortable for the room, you’ve hit pay-dirt. Problem: Sales is greatly missing projections.
  1. 1.       Why? We’re earning more new customers, but at smaller engagements.
  2. 2.       Why? Most customers are buying a specific portion of our offering.
  3. 3.       Why? We’ve been heavily promoting this portion of our offering.
  4. 4.       Why? We felt it’s an entry to larger business from customers.
  5. 5.       Why? We projected that new customers would see even more value from this smaller component when they purchased our full suite of services once we got our foot in the door.
In the example above, “sales not meeting projections” turns out to be caused by an overestimation of the effectiveness of an ‘entry’ service offering. With this, the fix may be in more realistic projections based on actual performance. A follow-up ‘5 Why’ round for the problem ‘Most introductory customers are not graduating to premium services’ might yield even more insight and improved performance. wedüites use 5 Why’s to test everything from coupon redemptions to social media engagement on a particular kind of post content. While it’s typically best to answer each iteration with some data, it’s a simple and informal enough exercise to use as a guide for mental experimentation. Go ahead, get all Einstein with your marketing self. If you’re going to bring a co-worker or boss into the mix, you may want to dress it up a bit so as not to sound like an incessant two year old at the grocery checkout. I use a script similar to the below to sugar coat the why’s a bit. My name is [your name here], and my biggest business problem right now is _______________________________.
  1. Alright. Can you tell me what you believe is causing that?
  2. OK. And what do you feel leads to that?
  3. Understood. Why is that occurring?
  4. Can you expand on what is behind that?
  5. Now, why would that be?
The five whys are a way of life. They’ve proven infinitely valuable and quick to yield insights in business, but it’s also been the difference between a new sink and a cheap o ring to stop a drippy faucet, the occasional ‘personal reality check’ and as a way of reaffirming professional and personal goals. As a business owner or marketing professional, a few iterations of why can yield in minutes what might have taken months to become visible through normal day to day both when the problem is obvious, such as missed sales goals, and when it’s not, like that weird tendency for status quo that can sneak in and gunk up the workings of an otherwise high performing business.
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