Monday, November 21, 2011
To Ask or Not to Ask: The Dilemma of a Marketer
The 25th alphabet “Y”, a web-acronym for the word “why”, has a very interesting anatomy. It denotes a junction from where we pick a route based on the questions we ask. As a prospective graduate student of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) at Medill School, Northwestern University, I faced the question ‘why do you want to do an MS when you already have an MBA?’ And then as a student at IMC I religiously used the word “why”- questions about marketing, about marketers and about the complex interrelations of businesses and consumers.
My journey through an MBA, an MS in IMC and corporate exposure to both Eastern and Western business worlds has facilitated different perspectives, giving me a more holistic view. It makes me feel that marketers today are running after answers and have forgotten to ask the right questions. This article tries to probe into this dynamic between questions and answers and their importance in marketing and in business as a whole.
The system is programmed for answers. How can we blame the marketers for not asking the right questions then? We are conditioned for answers and we have to respond in a defined time frame. Right from schools to offices it is just answers that earn one the accolades. From my experience I can say that the net time required finding the “correct answer” will remain constant even if one spends time on asking questions before trying to “answer”. But how often do we stop a moment to think what it is that we are looking for?
“Data” has become the new buzz word. Organizations today are trying to become more analytics driven. They are sitting on peta bytes of data and still acquire little knowledge out of it. So why is it that we have all the sophisticated technology at our beck and call and still know so little? Do we even need all of it? Intelligence is the mother of knowledge and that makes inquisitiveness the father!
Analysts jump into the data with their complex modeling theories and techniques because someone asked for an answer. Do they really know what they are trying to find in the very first place? To design a query and shoot at the data bank is like querying a dead target. Human intelligence can never be replaced by gadgets. All those sophisticated techniques mean nothing if we do not ask the right questions at the right time. Tools and techniques are just the means to the end. It is the attitude and the thought process at the beginning that lays a strong foundation for reaching that end. Job descriptions these days talk endlessly about tools and recruiters “follow” and entertain candidates with specific tool knowledge. It makes me wonder, are they trying to hire a sophisticated robot with the “right technology” or a human being with the “right thinking”?
While organizations are spending thousands of dollars today on being “social”, do companies really know what they are trying to earn from it? “Likes” on facebook? “Followers” on twitter? “+1 on Google+?” What is the end goal? “Social” has become a badge to get entry to the “privileged club”. But how many companies actually ask the questions about what social media actually means? Why do users turn to social media? How can the company actually “connect” with these people rather than just flash “badges”?
Amidst this scrimmage the purpose is lost. Do marketers lack the guts to ask the right questions or are they simply too reluctant? As a marketer and a student of IMC at Medill, I believe and recommend cultivating a more inquisitive breed of marketers. We, as doorkeepers to this exciting transition, should encourage curiosity and reward the attitude to learn. Let us all start questioning ourselves, our assumptions and our environment. Only when we start asking better questions will we get better answers and embark upon a journey to build stronger processes and foundations for the future.
Graduate Student, Medill School, Northwestern UniversityTwitter: @payelb