5-Whys for Marketing

The 5-Whys is a tool that helps you get to the root cause of a problem.  It was created by the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation and has been used heavily in manufacturing operations for decades. The premise of 5-Whys is that by asking the question “why” after each explanation of a problem by the fifth “why” you will get to the root cause.  Here is a simple example:

  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not working. (second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
  6. Why? – Replacement parts are not available because of the age of the vehicle. (sixth why)

You can see how this iterative process causes you to dig deeper by looking beyond symptoms to get to what is causing the problems.  It helps avoid fixing symptoms and to focus on what is really causing the problem.  The 5-Whys are just one of many problem-solving techniques that rely on effective questioning to unearth information that helps identify root cause.

So what does this have to do with marketing?  I think we marketers need to be more effective questioners.  For example, by asking the question “why” five times (or more) you can get to the real reason a potential customer should consider your product or service.  Here is an example:

  1. Why? – We offer the best business owners insurance policy (BOP) on the market. (first why)
  2. Why? –  Our BOP in the most comprehensive (second why)
  3. Why? – It includes coverage for cyber risk (third why)
  4. Why? –  Small businesses are increasingly the target of cyber theft (fourth why)
  5. Why? – Their cyber protection is not as strong as larger companies (fifth why)
  6. Why? – They don’t have the resources to dedicate to cyber protection (sixth why)
  7. Why? –  A cyber breach can cost a small business tens of thousands of dollars in fees for notification, which is required in 47 states (seventh why)

This line of questioning helps get beyond features to the true benefits of those features.  This example moved from a broad benefit (most comprehensive coverage) to a more specific “why” the coverage is the most comprehensive and why that is important.   Being specific helps prospects understand clearly what is different about this coverage and consider a risk they may not know they had.  If they do business on the internet and collect or store customer information where it could be illegally accessed, they might consider this coverage.  If the BOP is priced similarly to or even a little higher than BOPs offered by other companies, business owners might buy this policy because it provides additional coverage.

Sometimes we think we must have all the answers, but often it is more helpful to have the right questions.  Even if you think you have the answers, walk through the 5-Whys to make sure you are answering the key questions prospects will need answered when considering your company’s products or services.


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